jeudi 10 octobre 2013

A place to start

Fibs finds freedom, September 3, 2012

For some reason, the veins standing out against the muscle on his hindquarters and legs, just under the deep copper coat, like tracery in Gothic church windows, make me think about his story and about how destiny works, and whether it exists. He was foaled in North Yorkshire, pretrained in North Yorkshire, and lived the first few years there, as well, before going to Newmarket, to Maisons-Laffitte and finally to "la boucle". He raced, and then he stopped racing. He knew people, and they knew him, but how well? Had he friends? Did he miss anyone, and did they miss him?

"He's grumpy," I was told, the implication was that others were not, or were less so, and possibly better prospects, but I was not prospecting. My name was already on his certificate of ownership. I was his owner. If I weren't, I wouldn't be propsecting.

Or, I would have been, since I wouldn't yet have learned my lesson, that I am decidedly not remotely close to prepared to be a race horse owner. Sadly. I would like to have the sort of disposable income that makes risk fun, exhilarating, and be able to take the losses and the setbacks in stride. Really. Fibs taught me that I do not by teaching me what racing is. Had it not been he who taught me that, it would nearly certainly have been another horse in his place, and the story would have been the story of me and another horse who was not Fibs, a less grumpy horse, perhaps.

In ordinary life, the one I led right up until I heard about Fibs and Flannel and thought breaking even was the worst that could happen to a hapless and unfortunate owner of a single race horse -- I apparently have an amazing ability to hear what suits me and a frightening lack of imagination, which was a surprise to me and has led me to consider the difference between concepts like "spontaneity", "romance", "determination", and "risky" --, I was not looking for a horse. I have a husband, who works, and a child and stepchildren, and we are the sort of people who do not have Great Means, and who see to their children before themselves. In that life, my stepdaughter was riding, at my behest and with my encouragement, and I was not. When she was 12, I took her to the big sports clothing and equipment store and purchased the essentials after her trial lesson at the pony club: helmet, boots, chaps, breeches, and a crop. She was ready to mount. One day, she brought a crop to the house for me.

"Tiens. Maintenant peut-être tu monteras avec moi," she said. Here, perhaps now you will ride with me.

"Ah, c'est gentil, mais non, ce n'est pas pour moi." It is not for me.

The crop sat in a corner, next to the backgammon and chess cases that had travelled from the States, getting a headstart on the thick accumulation of dust the crop would eventually attain. I dust too infrequently.

To be truthful, it was not for me, either, that we had wound up in a trainer's yard in Maisons-Laffitte. First lessons had led to three or four "galops" (like the snowflakes in ski lessons) acquired, and we had also become acquainted with the pricetag of a taste for riding and ambition in it along the way, and I was looking for ways people who cannot afford quite a number of thousands of euros a year can satisfy the desire to ride, bigger, better, faster.

I had noticed that my stepdaughter always smiled in competition and that speed did not seem to alarm her, and reading the racing blog in the New York Times around the Breeders' Cup, nearly two years ago, I came across the story of an American journalist in Paris, who had given up reporting to train race horses full time, Gina Rarick. I went to her website, read about the horses available, including a share in Satwa Sunrise, clicked on the links for the training center in Maisons-Laffitte and watched the France Galop video describing its wonders. The little girl who remembered the Walter Farley books joined me and imagined Alec and Henry and the great Black Stallion and Flame on those exercise tracks in the early morning Parisian mist.

I opened my email, typed a message of introduction and asked if we could visit. I had a young teenage girl who might find a future as a stable slave and exercise rider there.

Two weeks later, the answer came. In true Gina style, it was brief, cheerful and frank, "Sure!"

Instead, it was the little girl who had read The Black Stallion, and every other book about horses she could find, who found her future there, and the husband of her older self who would learn who he had married. I was an architect. A woman who earned her living and keep, from the earliest time in her life, who had provided for her son, and knew what $5 had to buy all the way through college, and who didn't forget later in life. Now, from considering a leg or two in Satwa Sunrise, to having two in Elbow Beach, 6 months later, I owned Fibs and Flannel, and another 4 months later, he was stepping off a van and into my immediate life. Cinderella had found her Prince Charming, and the Wellies he brought fit. Perfectly. He wasn't black, either, like my literary dream stallion; he was red, like Flame, his arch enemy, and he was a gelding. At least that much.

And, he was "grumpy".

So was my husband. And so, I would learn, and already suspected, would we all be. The wrong person in this story had the horse.

Also, he was a little skinny. Nothing some groceries and a little Phosphalugel to protect his tummy couldn't remedy.

I was learning already. The initiation begun at Gina's, where I listened to every word uttered by her, by her assistant, Agata, and by the vet, Jérôme, had just shifted gears. This concerned the horse in my direct care, boarded near my home. The vet was on the other end of the phone line with the owners of this private owners' stable, listening and asking questions. Fibs would need the Phosphalugel for a week, two would be good, unlimited access to hay, and a gradual increase in the grains as he adjusted to being fed regularly again and put weight back on. By my friend's eye, he had lost some 35kg in the 3 or 4 weeks since he had last raced in late July. I took the paper held out to me and headed off to the pharmacy for the bottle of thick, white liquid he, my horse, would be ingesting morning and evening to coat his tummy and protect against colic and ulcers.

I was full of hope, and a little worried: not about my horse, but about how we were going to work out everything around this horse, and what his presence in our lives meant. A former race horse  in a stable is, I suspected (rightly), a lot like an elephant in the room, the one everyone is avoiding discussing. Yes, that one. I suspected that we weren't all on the same page, because we had never been, because we were a "recomposed family" of ill-fitting and missing pieces in a difficult environment, and because just getting a dog a few years before had been "challenging" and nearly led us to divorce court, exposing the insecurities of certain ones with respect to the goodwill of others.

This would be the beginning of trying to hope, while taking things day by day and suspecting that things could go all wrong, beacuse of all the things left imagined and unsaid; of seeing and hearing without knowing what it all meant and why; of taking delight, while not feeling free to do so; for the simple fact reigned and governed everything: the wrong person had the horse.

If the garden had been the place where I could take refuge and reflect, make things happen and find some satisfaction and a little solace in the life and the stepfamily we had undertaken, my consolation prize for the professional life I had left behind, the horse would be the thing that cleaved and laid the bones of our situation bare.

This, I knew, is also a place to start. His story before, I also knew, was going to be nothing next to mine from here on out.
It's just a jump to the left

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