September 21, 2011
On Horses: Heading to Kentucky for the First Time
They go a bit like the ones I had of the Netherlands when it comes to stereotypes: long, sweeping luscious green hills with gorgeous horses scattered to your left and right, all well groomed and perfectly manicured.
Of course, all of these horses in my mind's eye were ready for a race at a moment’s notice and I imagined that these horses would connect with people somehow in ways they wouldn’t in other parts of the country. Where the hell that came from I have no idea, but typically expectations of how we view a culture or a place or a person comes from some tale or fable long buried in a childhood memory.
Both of my sisters center their lives around horses as do a few close friends. I grew up not far from Saratoga Springs, New York home to the annual month-long horse races they have every August, known locally as the “track.”
In upstate New York, my niece rides every week (English), participates in regular competitions, and one of my sisters houses nearly ten horses on her farm. She also holds weekly events at her home where people in the community come to ride and compete (Western).
I spent several years living in Epsom Surrey in England some 17 kilometers outside London where they hold races as well on the "Epsom Downs". And yet, I’ve never really learned the “art” of riding nor have I fallen for the spell that many who live in the horse world live.
That said, when I see horses, I melt at their beauty and grace. Being on one makes me feel closer to nature. Looking into a horse’s eyes makes me feel closer to understanding humanity.
Listening to their sounds makes me feel more peaceful. Watching them gallop makes me smile. Seeing photographs of horses in all their grandeur and beauty draws me into their world, eager to learn more.
And yet through all that, I haven’t dedicated my life or even part of it to riding. I think part of it is not through a lack of interest but because of other time commitments and passions.
Living a "horse life" is time consuming and expensive. I’m amazed at how much time my sister and her husband spend keeping their horses happy and healthy.
BUT oh god, are they beautiful. When I go into their barn, I love listening to the purrs and noises they make in the evening at the end of a long day. Since I’m not much for early mornings, my time in the barn has typically been mid-afternoon or towards the end of the day when they’re either bringing them in from the field, feeding them or they're getting them ready for a trip.
Recently, someone who boarded their horse in one of my sister’s stalls, was selling him to a buyer in California. I happened to be in the area at the time, so was there for the pick-up, which ended up being late at night since things always take longer than they we think they will, such as finding a remote farm on a Route something road in the Adirondacks.
A massive horse trailer pulled up on the side of this Route something road, put its flashers on and a man jumped out of the truck. His buddy who was sharing the 3,000+ mile drive across country was sleeping somewhere in the truck, in some tiny enclosed area not dedicated to the 8 or so horses he had on board.
We didn’t know a black stallion would be on board nor did the stallion know that he’d have to share a section of the truck with a non-stallion from upstate New York all the way to California. Territorial attitude, control and high energy set in as we moved the horse onto the trailer.
I could see my sister move to angst as she watched the horse’s eyes, which showed fear as he left his known stalls for an unknown journey along side an aggressive stallion who wanted everyone to know he was in charge.
I started feeling empathy for this horse as well, even though I just met him and didn’t have the history my sister did. The eyes say it all – with horses, with people, with life...Off he went on a journey across this massive wide country, into the unknown, into a new life, like so many of us do and don’t look back.
As I sat on a plane heading to Kentucky, I thought of so many images. I always imagined “driving” through Kentucky since I wanted to greet horse farms and meadows slowly, approaching them from a winding turn, where suddenly you're greeted with beautiful green valleys and hills and horses grazing on a late afternoon.
I imagined waiting for the sun to set as I just hung out with these Kentucky horses whose names I didn’t know, longing for their shadows and their end-of-day laziness to set in as the sun did, with me…..and we'd learn about each other together. And only then, I’d take my Canon out and slowly shoot them in all their glory with the late day sun’s stunning oranges, reds and yellows cradling them from behind.
This is what I imagined for my first encounter with Kentucky. As I’ve learned over the years, life greets you with things in the way life wants to give them to you. This doesn’t mean that I subscribe to fate and destiny and that we have no choice of how we experience a journey we wish to take, but what it does mean is that while we can control so many of our experiences in life, some of them we’re just dished, like spaghetti on a platter and our joy or sorrow comes from how we choose to take in the experience.
While the visuals will remain in my mind and I may see Kentucky again in the future, perhaps the next time by crossing a border from a neighboring state, this Kentucky experience would start by landing at Louisville International Airport late at night without any prior research or knowledge of the place.
I’d land, head to the hotel and see where the next few days would take me through spontaneous exploration, one of my favorite ways to travel. My first encounter with Kentucky may have horses in the journey or it may not, but the one thing remains true regardless of what experience I will have: it will be my first time to his beautiful state. And alas, the pilot speaks. We’re about to land…..
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