Tag Archives: horses

Sunset With the God of Horses

Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes, and horses. All the things that thunder. The things that shake the ground beneath us and remind us that we can be moved.

Wild horses on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Wild horses on Cumberland Island, Georgia.

Tonight, when I went walking along the sand bar at sunset, I remembered that title “Sunset With the God of Horses.” I started this post last summer, on the night my sister sounded the alarm about how sick Daddy really was. How he wasn’t going to magically get better with some rest and the right care. How Big Gay had been holding on with all she had but she needed help. Last summer, on that sad and confusing day, I took a walk by myself onto the sand bar at Saint Simons Island at sunset to think.

The waves of the rising tide raced each other to the sand. A long time ago, Richard and I took a small boat from Mykonos to the holy island of Delos. I looked out over the dark blue swells of the Aegean Sea and understood for the first time why the god of the sea would also be the god of horses–the movement of the water looked just like the stretching necks of a herd of running horses. Raw power, thundering out ahead of itself.

And here I sat, missing Richard because he was the only other person in the world who remembered that boat ride on that day. How was I going to live in a world without my dad too? The curve of the sand bar and the beach created a narrower inlet that penned in the waves. They clambered over each other, but by the time they reached the shore, they had sorted themselves into regular shapes, like the scalloped lace on a little girl’s collar.

These were the things I tried to think about so that I wouldn’t think about my father dying.

When I was little, I wanted a pony just as desperately as most little girls do. And it seemed like it shouldn’t be all that hard. My dad was a veterinarian. We lived in the corner of a pasture. There was grass EVERYWHERE for a pony to eat. What was the holdup?

One day, we showed up at my dad’s clinic, and lo and behold, there stood a little spotted grey and white pony in the paddock. Daddy called it a “Pony of the Americas” but all I heard was “blah blah PONY.” One of his clients had turned it over to him as payment on a bill.

Can you imagine what my heart did at the sight of that little horse? Daddy said it was a good cow horse. He got up on it and roped a couple of the calves in the pen. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. My boring old Daddy, who came home every night and collapsed in a chair to read spy novels and fart–riding and roping! Who was this person who could do stuff that we never heard a peep about at home?

Well. We didn’t get to keep the pony. Daddy took it to the sale barn the next week and sold it off for cash money, which we needed way more than we needed a pony.

That night on the sandbar at sunset, I couldn’t get that little pony out of my mind. That little pony allowed me to see a part of my dad I never knew. I saw him rope calves and flip steers in the air like it was nothing. He had this whole other life, of powerful things, that I knew nothing about. That’s what I was thinking about on the sand bar. What else would I never know about my father? Now that we found ourselves at sunset. Sunset and the god of horses.

I sat there by myself and I cried a few tears for the confusion of it all. The end of his life, coming like the relentless waves. The things he had given me, like my love of stories. The things he hadn’t been able to give me, like that pony. All flying away in the wind. All heading to the silent lands in the west, like the setting sun.

Endings and leavings. Here I am a year later, standing beside the ocean with the same questions in my heart.

Seabiscuit’s Best Pal

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.

Seabiscuit and Pumpkin

Seabiscuit and Pumpkin

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.

Guess which one is the international superstar?

Guess which one is the international superstar?

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?