Friday, May 04, 2012

Derby Day

When I was a kid, my parents took us kids on fun vacations. Time and money probably played a part in some of the summer trips for our family of seven.  There were a couple of "big trips": a month in California, and a two-week camping trip to Grand and Bryce Canyons.  And smaller, weekend trips to our boathouse on the lake, where we swam, and water skied, and fished, and learned about frogs and snakes and poison ivy and sun burns.  

There are two vacation venues (nay, three), that hold top slots in my memory.  One, when my parents would take us to Arkansas to go diamond hunting.  There was/is a place there (the name of which escapes me), where we would go with our pails and trowels and spend the summer day digging in dirt for diamonds.  I loved these trips!  Not so much because I knew what a diamond was or anything, but I loved digging in the dirt and coming up with interesting things.  Fossils.  Colored rocks.  Anything.

The second, and tippy-top BEST slot in my memory is when my parents would take me for a weekend of thoroughbred horse racing.  YES!  Either to Hot Springs, or AksArben (no longer).  I was in my element there, looking out at the track, running down to check the line-up in the paddock before Riders-Up, and scurrying back to our seats to give my Dad my Win-Place-Show picks.  I loved (and still do) horses, and this was the BEST vacation.  Better still? Somehow, one season, my Dad managed to arrange an early morning tour of one of the racing stables for us, during their breezing.  In heaven, I was.  

And I grew up, got married, had kids of my own, and what do you know: they asked for horses.  We had the means, more or less, to acquire horses - meaning time and energy, but not that much money.  What type of horse does that dredge up, out there in Pony Club world?  It trailers in the Thoroughbreds "off the track", that's what type.  "Off the track" means, in quick-read, a horse that was saddled at a very young age and trained to run.  RUN RUN RUN.  There is little other training in a young race horse's first few years.  They know no ground manners, no walk-trot. Only RUN RUN RUN.  Once their racing career is over, they are only good for ...poor Pony Club families who will (hopefully) make a difference in their lives.

And, so, vice- versa.

We have enjoyed quite a few horses "off the track".  Two of our best ponies (my lingo) were Zephyr and Socks.  Zephyr was fast, and we chanced to see our daughter Gillian race him one weekend alongside another T'bred "off the track".  Gillian remarked that her eyes were stinging and watering, they were moving so fast.  I only remember the thunder of hooves and a prayer under my breath.  Those horses MOVED.

Mr. Socks was sadly a skittish, terrified horse that trusted no one.  It took us hours to lead him (kindly) into our trailer to bring him home with us.  It was weeks, or maybe months, before our other daughter Claire could ride him without her hands becoming bloodied from his constant pulling on the reins.  Sad Boy Socks turned into the world's sweetest pony in a couple of years under Claire's patience.  He was a good boy, and he died just last summer.

Too, there was Cody, who was a sane giant whose job was as a racetrack pony - one of the giants who "catch" the T'breds as they cross the finish line, and slow them to a mild gallop, then canter, and finally a trot, to walk.  He was the pony who allowed daughter Claire to lie on his back as he grazed out in the pecan grove.  He grazed, she dreamed.

And there are many more horse/pony stories in our lives' archives.  George, Dollie GoLightly, Red, Pearl, Max, and many more.  (In Pony Club {USPC} one has the opportunity to ride/loan/borrow ponies/horses as needed.  It is a great national organization.)

Claire & Cody, 
Graham & Dollie Golightly, 
and Gillian and Zephyr Blue

Tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby.  Though in the past couple of years there have been some trackside heartaches, I will be there - watching the paddock saddling and Riders-Up! and I will have my three picks.  No mint julep in hand, but a thorough look-see of the field and a thrill in my heart.

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