Have you read Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillebrand? I enjoyed that story of the 1938 Horse of the Year so much that I once rattled the silverware on the lunch table when I got so into a race scene that I was banging on the table and saying, “GO, BISCUIT, GO!”
Seabiscuit wasn’t supposed to be a champion. Even though he came from great stock….he turned out kind of wonky looking. He ran funny, with a gait that looked like an egg beater. He was small. In his early career, he had some tough times and they turned him a little bit mean. He was almost worn out before he really had a chance to shine. By the time he ended up in the care of the trainer who would take him to glory, Seabiscuit was 200 lbs underweight and so high-strung he spent most of his time pacing and pacing and pacing in his stall. He was a mess.
Then along came Pumpkin. As Hillebrand describes him: “Pumpkin was amiable to every horse he met and became a surrogate parent to the flighty ones.” High strung Thoroughbred race horses do better with a calm and gentle “lead pony” around. These companions keep the race horse company and walk with them out to the track to calm the nerves. Pumpkin had been a Montana cow pony–there wasn’t much he hadn’t seen but none of it had turned him mean. So the trainer knocked out the wall between two stalls and moved Pumpkin in with the Biscuit. After a little sniffing and conversation, the scrappy little champion and his soothing yellow companion remained bonded for the rest of their lives. And Seabiscuit went on to take his place in the history books.
American Pharoah, who won the fabled Triple Crown just last week, has his own companion pony, Smokey. This buckskin Quarter horse was the second most photographed horse at the Belmont Stakes. He goes everywhere with the champ, calming his nerves and giving him a shoulder to bump against in the crowd of flashbulbs. We all need somebody.
So why all this barn talk about lead ponies? I have a friend who is an absolute Thoroughbred. Just like these magnificently powerful creatures, she’s fast and strong and smart and beautiful. And sadly, like Seabiscuit, she hasn’t been cherished in her early life for the powerhouse that she is. She’s been used and pushed too far and almost got worn out. Her nerves are jangly and she’s pacing and pacing and pacing. She has so much potential and power but gets overwhelmed by the rush of it all.
When she and I talk, I imagine myself as Pumpkin, calm and amiable. I try to channel that unflappable cow pony who ain’t scared a nothin. I want her to draw comfort from my friendship, to feel the steady power of a companion who will always be right by her side. She has great things ahead and already possesses everything she will need to find her place in the history books.
Horses are so much like us in a way–sometimes it’s the mental game that holds us back. Having a few friends around you can make all the difference. They encourage us to run.
Am I writing about you? Maybe so. What’s holding you back, Biscuit?