mercredi 23 novembre 2011

Gina Rarick's yard at Maisons-Laffitte

Satwa Sunrise and her neighbors

Ever since I was a child, I have been crazy for horses. Like every other kid, I read all the books, Misty of Chincoteague, and everything else by Marguerite Henry, Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka by Mary O'Hara, and dreamed she was my friend, and The Black Stallion series by Walter Farley. It was Alec and Henry and their black stallion who captured my imagination more than any of them. I lived the races with them, and I dreamed of the racecourses down which the black stallion beat out his winning rhythm.

My grandparents lived outside a small city on the Saint Lawrence River in far northern New York State. Up the road were two farms. One in which my uncle stacked hay in the hayloft; the other more majestic. It was just  a little farther up the road and on the other side. The Carlisle's farm. They had horses, paddocks and a ring. My  uncle put a cushion on the crossbar of his red Schwinn bicycle and rode me up to the farm to play in the hay and maybe help me a little, but it was the Carlisle's farm of which I dreamed. We rarely went there.

I remember once, and I don't know how or why, being there with our mother with my sister. We each got to get up on a horse, our first time. I couldn't have been older than 8, my sister 5. I sat on that horse, facing the horse barn, and my mother said, "It's your sister who is a natural, not you." I was stung, but I did not want anyone to know. I don't remember anyone else being there to hear her words or to see my disappointment, but someone must have been holding the lead. That, or it was the gentlest, tamest old horse in the barn.

I supposed it was fair. I loved skiing and waited all the warmer months for the snow to fall, going down to the basement to look at all the ski equipment hanging from and leaning against the concrete block walls. My sister didn't. If she hadn't already, she would soon go out one morning, a blizzard blowing freezing air and heavy snow across the region, the Lake Effect, God love it, and declare to our father, "No. I am not going to ski," and she didn't. She turned around and went back into the lodge, where we found her for lunch. That was her last time to the slopes with us. So, perhaps it was fair that horseback riding was for her, but neither of us got to do any of it, anyway. It was inaccessibly far and expensive, and we each relegated horses to our dreams and met them in our books.

It was a couple years ago, when my stepdaughter was going through a first rough patch, that I asked her if she wanted to ride. Her eyes grew three sizes and her whole face opened in excitement. She nodded yes.

"Mais, Papa ne voudra pas."

"On s'en fou. Tu me laisse gérer Papa. Je veux bien pour toi."

Papa won't want me to ride. 

We don't care a fig about that. Let me take care of Papa. I want that for you. 

Her first session, that July 2009, she was timid, reserved, and absolutely delighted. They learned basic care of the ponies and led them to the paddock. Mounted them, and learned to sit, to hold the reins, to start and stop. To try to change direction. I had no idea where we were going and whether she wouldn't finally decide it wasn't for her; whether she wasn't too timid, afraid, finally. Several months later, during the winter, she had her first galop of the 9, like your first star in skiing, and Julie, the director of the pony club, told me very simply that she was gifted. her father was more restrained.

"On verra."

"Mais tu ne l'as pas vu monter et Julie a vu passer des tas d'enfants; quel serait son intérêt de dire une telle chose si ce n'était pas vrai?"

We'll see.

But you haven't seen her ride and Julie has seen tons of kids; what would be her interest in saying something like that if it were not true? 

Still, he demurred, and his daughter continued to pass her galops "au galop". The second, the third, the first part of the fourth last winter, a year and a half after she had first gotton on Frimeur's sturdy back. She as jumping, and she had competed in her first unofficial competitions without ever losing a huge smile on her face. Jumps, speed, nothing made her afraid. It delighted her. I brought her father to see Julie with me, and she told him, "Votre fille est douée."

Your daughter is gifted.

The French respect what they consider expert opinion, even if we were not seated in front of the director of the national team. At this level, it was enough. He started to come to see her jump, and he realized: she rides beautifully, with grace, composure, assurance and joy.

If I were never going to ride, she would ride as far as her talent and ambition, and our means, stretched, could take her. Not that she didn't want me to ride; when she started, she offered me a crop. It sits at the bottom of the stairs, with the unused backgammon set, a box of bills and my stable boots. I got those a long time ago for walking the dogs, working outdoors and general wearing when I don't particularly care about my elegance, or most of the time. I have made progress, though. I now where Ugg boots for that.

Two weeks ago, Julie scheduled her to finish her galop 4. It was way past time, and not liking dressage is not reason not to pass it, and a little before then, just before the Breeder's Cup, I saw the New York Times was starting their blog, The Rail, again and looked it over, including the contributors. Imagine my surprise when I learn that one of them is a woman, a professional thoroughbred racehorse trainer at the Maisons-Laffitte international training center, just outside Paris, and that she is from the United States. Her name is Gina Rarick, and I sent her an email through her blog on her site,, and, she replied. We were welcome to come to visit her and the yard, and, better still, she had had a number of girls my stepdaughter's age work with them and it had always worked out beautifully.

We went to see Gina and the horses and everyone who works with her last Saturday morning, but that's another story, for another post.

Meanwhile, I have been back to help muck out the boxes, clean up the hay and straw storage rooms for a delivery -- I got rid of as much cough and respiratory problem-inducing dust as was humanly possible; horses are meant to run, not stay home with a cough --, and feed and give water to these gorgeous creatures: Satwa Sunrise ("Sunrise"), Magical Flower ("Magic"), King Driver ("King"), Deep Ocean, Triple Tonic, Hard Boy and Surrey Storm ("Milly"). And I acquitted myself decently.

My stepdaughter will be returning every Saturday morning to help out, and eventually to exercise the horses, if she is ready. I am in training for the 5:30 am weekly Saturday morning alarm, in addition to the ones that will ring Sundays for competitions.

Right now, I need to hurry up and get ready to meet Gina over near the highway to Horse Breeding land, Normandy. We're going to the farm where she rests her horses to meet a young woman coming to take one she had to retire and is giving away in exchange for a good home for her.

As for me, I might not ride, but, who knows, perhaps I will invest in a share in a thoroughbred.

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