My Horse Pilgrimage…Part 2: On the Trail of “My Inner Secretariat”

By NM-GRL

A year has gone by since my first post about “my horse pilgrimage.”  (Scroll down for Part I…).  It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but a series of  “hoof” issues kept me from focusing on doing it! Well, a year later….

So, now it is a little over 2 years ago since I’ve completed my pilgrimage, but the memories remain fresh and inspiring!

***

December, 2015.  It was very dreary and my mood was just as depleted. My mother was in hospice and there were clearer signals as to when she would pass on.   My days were full of  errands, visits and keeping up a cheery demeanor for her.  At night, I would be exhausted, physically and emotionally, and it was hard to settle down and get to bed.

For some reason I will never know…one night/morning at about 2 A.M., just before Christmas,  I went to Youtube and typed in the search box …”Secretariat.” To this day, I do not know why.

The first thing I came upon was a video of the 1973 Belmont, a grainy video with music (from Secetariat–the movie) posted by wyocalboy:

I watched it. I watched it again. And again. And, suddenly I was crying.*  Was it over the time that had disappeared, or was it because the magnificent power of that horse?

Over the following nights, I watched this video every night, multiple times each night.  And I began to realize that it renewed my spirit.  I began to talking to myself in terms of being carried forward by “my inner Secretariat.”   Secretariat came to embody endurance, strength, and the spiritual.  Secretariat became The Source.

***

My mother passed in early February 2016 a few days after my birthday. She passed at 4:18 P.M. and the wind passing through the pine trees outside of her window must have been her spirit. My father died at 4:18 P.M.  I was born at 4:18 P.M.

My mother was only a couple of months older than Secretariat’s owner, Penny Chenery, who would pass in September 2017.  Shortly after my mother died, a “new” video of the 1973 Belmont appeared on Youtube. The NYRA (New York Racing Association) had FINALLY released a full-color version of the race! It was a like a new day was dawning!!

After finishing up a lot of estate work and catching my breath, I decided to return to the East Coast for the first time in 16 years.  I was on the road for about a month and it was an epic trip!

I went up to Saratoga, New York just after the close of the season and enjoyed the National Horse Museum and a kind guard allowed me to take some pictures of the track from inside the gates. I trekked down to Monmouth Racetrack and was treated to a tour of the entire facility by a staff member. What a beautiful place!

IMG_7663 Saratoga Racetrack

IMG_8040 Monmouth Park

Then, came the biggest part of the trip…

I braved the traffic down I-95 to Doswell, Virginia the day after the State Fair of Virginia  closed.  It was rather bittersweet to see The Meadows turned into a carnival site.  Through the disarray, I toured the grounds with Leanne Ladin, the author of
Secretariat’s Meadow….she had even kept the life-size banner of Big Red up for me…and, he WAS big (for reference, I am 5’5” tall). The day I was there at his birthplace was actually the day when Secretariat passed, October 4. That realization literally gave me the chills.

IMG_8518“Twice the Heart”…

A few days later I was at Secretariat’s grave at Claiborne Farm, weeping unabashedly. As the group left, I lingered and the guide patiently listened to my story about my mom and what Secretariat meant to me. He took a rose from the bouquet lying on the gravestone and gave it to me…and I got it safely home. And I also shed a tear for Riva Ridge, who deserves credit for saving The Meadows, a fact that most people forget.

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After the Claiborne tour, I dashed down the Paris Pike to Gainesway Farm. I had made an appointment to visit privately because I could not make it to their tour in time from Claiborne.  Of course, I saw Tapit…but my actual goal was to see the now unheralded Birdstone, who won the 2004 Belmont, robbing Smarty Jones of that year’s Triple Crown.  Birdstone…the sire of Mine That Bird! (another story about him coming!)

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Of course, I visited many other places around Lexington, Kentucky:  Keeneland Racetrack, Old Friends Equine for retired horses, WinStar Farm, Kenny McPeek’s Magdalena Farm, and The Kentucky Horse Park. The Kentucky Horse Park has a special place there which I will muse on in the future. Pictured below is Tinners Way at Old Friends, the last colt from Secretariat’s final crop…Sadly, he passed away in July 2017. I was so lucky to meet him as he enjoyed what would be his last fall.

IMG_8930Tinners Way

And then came the two and a half day trip home. And, along the way I stopped in Ruidoso, New Mexico, home of Ruidoso Downs and the All-American Futurity, the  “richest race for 2-year-olds in North America, regardless of breed.” (!!)

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I toured the fascinating Hubbard Museum of the West (formerly the Museum of the Horse) which is next door to the track.  And right outside, there is one of the largest sculpture installations of horses in the world, consisting of  eight horses, one and a half life-size, representing seven horse breeds — the Standardbred, Morgan, Arabian, Paint (mare and foal), Appaloosa, Quarter Horse, and Thoroughbred — as they gallop over the landscape.

Free Spirits at Noisy Water by Dave McGary

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One year after I was on the road visiting the places where Secretariat and Riva Ridge lived, ran, and are laid to rest,  Penny Chenery passed away on September 16, 2017.

I am fortunate that Penny was still signing pictures and other memorabilia at the time I  started collecting and which I cherish today. My house has become a shrine to Secretariat, Penny, Riva, Tinners Way, and my beloved Mine that Bird, who, yes, has a bit of Secretariat in his blood.

And, now, happily, I have horses in my blood again…

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*That grainy video with the evocative soundtrack still makes me cry.

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