Sometimes a blog just kind of decides for itself what it will be about. I thought I knew  what I was going to write, and had even started but couldn’t get it to flow. Then last night I went and saw a film with the local film club and today is the day before the second anniversary of my Father’s passing. And here is the blog.

The film was The Horse Boy and it was a remarkable experience. Exploring so many things through the true story a family’s commitment to help their little boy diagnosed with Autism, for me it had a particular resonance. The power of love between parents and children, which in this story included a journey to Mongolia and the relationship between horses and Human Beings, Spirit and healing, has vibrated with me throughout the day.

When my father was traveling through his last few weeks on earth, I was there, and it was the foaling season on the horse property where he lived in Australia. The following year I wrote a story about that time and rather than rewrite it today, I include it below in its entirety.

The parallel between the two stories, of Rowan and his parents, myself and my Father may be tenuous to some. To me it is clear. When we can steep ourselves in the world of another with love and compassion even when we don’t fully understand their journey, when we stay open to the world and space about us – nature, horses and the people with whom we share that experience – then we are empowered, enlarged and aware of the blessings love bestows.

There are small miracles everyday and they often come through the mundane, the unexpected and during the times of great emotional turmoil. Whether as the child or the parent, those we love can, simply through their life lived, offer many opportunities for awareness, joy and wonder to the one who loves them.

This was my experience with my Father, and it was the experience of the Isaacson’s family on their journey with their son. May your love bring you such strength and memories and may you know that in turn you will provide the same to those who love you.

FOALING SEASON

The old black thoroughbred stallion lived in a gum-tree ringed, deep sand paddock, with a corrugated tin shed and wooden manger, fresh water trough and a wonderful view. I know that it is anthropomorphizing to say this, and my father would point it out to me, but I am sure Saul appreciated that view.

Whenever I went to visit the thoroughbred and cattle property in Victoria, I always made time to go and visit that horse. We’d stand quietly, almost side by side, with the electric fence between us and after a brief nod to each other – I didn’t have the courage to risk putting my hand through that fence – look out across the green pasture down the lane where the yearlings  cavorted. Some years there were up to 15 of them, boys growing into their legs and trying out their speed in short bursts.

To the right the girls, also leggy and given to heart-stopping bursts of racing through the old orchard, barely seemed to interest this grand old man, any more than the lads did. He still had a mare or two and always came through – gentlemanly, efficient and 100% successful.

The only time he crossed the sand to greet anyone was when my father came down to the yard just beyond the house. Sometimes it was with feed, or to lead one of those dancing youngsters up to the house yards. But more often in the last year it was for a walk, to see if the koalas were still in the big red gum, admire the new grass after the first rain of the autumn, or to listen to the many birds that lived in and around the river and surrounding land. But he always stopped to say hello and the horse always came over.

I remember I was living in the USA when he arrived, this fine new stallion on which my father planned to build his dream of breeding the best racehorse he could, maybe even a Melbourne Cup winner. Glossy pictures and later digital images of this handsome horse crossed the ocean, and while I bred Arabians and had a sexy little chestnut stallion of that breed, this big, black horse effortlessly commanded my respect and awe.

I had grown up with horses, working cattle, riding miles over the property in school holidays, and later helping with breeding and breaking in. Only then it was Arabs and that was what I stayed with. But there were always thoroughbreds in my family and with it that essential optimism in the face of seemingly nonstop setbacks and disappointments. I am an optimist myself but never tested the depth of that gift with the thoroughbred industry.

The first thoroughbred I can remember was a big red horse in my grandfathers’ huge wooden round yard, when I was maybe eight or so. I can’t remember his name but I do remember being told not to go in with him, even though there were other horses I helped with and even a pony to ride when I went there. I stood right up against the rubbed-shiny railings, twisted from the gum-tree limbs of which they were made, and let the smell and dirt he kicked up as he went by wash over me. It was thrilling in a scary way. I am sure that I have seen pictures of that same horse, enshrined in the photos of horses charging past the finishing post, necks stretched out in front of whomever is behind.

The names of the thoroughbreds I knew float through memory not necessarily attached to a horse, but more as a kind of song – Hasty Heart, Rougette, Daylight Dreams, Red Heights, My Pay Packet. My grandfather always had a racehorse or two, my Aunt and Uncle trained racehorses, quite successfully too, for many years. I had a boyfriend who was keen on racing and sometimes, at least when we were together, I went to the races.

But I never got what the fuss was about. It seemed very risky to me and I didn’t like betting, and won’t go to a casino. (I have other ways than gambling to lose my money!)

When my father, years after I had grown and moved to the USA, dived into thoroughbreds it was more for the breeding. Of course if you are a breeder you need winners and thus it is pretty much the same thing, just a different entry point.

I would come back every 3-4 years and the convoluted names and lines of breeding, the numbers of horses filling up the place – neatly separated by age, gender, stage and potential – increased almost manically. Books and magazines, newspapers and photos, a few trophies and other objects won sitting on sideboards and bookcases multiplied. Two more stallions joined the big black one, each a different line, bringing a new hope, a slightly new angle into the dream.

I don’t remember all the horses, or any of bloodlines, or where each of the items of recognition came from. I do remember how my father’s sheer enthusiasm and hard work drew me in, carried me along into the marvelous future, a belief that this time, this stallion, this mare, this trainer, this race would be what we had been waiting for, what he had been working for. When I was there, driving out to a pasture, leading a mare, admiring a new foal, surrounded by all those the beautiful horses, in that rich Victorian river land, I forgot why I didn’t like racing.

Under the spell of my father’s knowledge, his whirring mind embracing the game, and his genuine love of the horses, all I saw was the great hope, the magnificent dream and the incredibly hard work.

He didn’t do it alone of course. He had a partner in life who was every inch the worker and possessed as much knowledge and skill as he did with horses. Together they built up the numbers, prepared yearlings for sales, sold some, leased some and bred more.

He didn’t believe in God or have a particular religion. But he had faith. Faith in the land, birds, animals and the possibility of hard work alone. He struggled to be practical when in his heart he was a dreamer. Inspired by ideas, enthused by stories and powered by an inherent optimism and delight in life itself.

And most of all, he loved the horses even when they were eating every penny, providing the local vet with more work than he could handle, when the time and effort necessary was 24/7, when he could hardly make the walk to the yard where the old, black thoroughbred lived.

I have watched replays of horses who were galloped until their front legs snapped; I have seen horses, rail-thin, in muddy yards with dilapidated horse trailers in the corner; I have attended sales where horses went through simply as dollar signs – as few as possible out against all the potential possible dollars in.

I have also pushed back a great swell of tears as I witnessed a horse miraculously make it past the line of horses in front as it rounded the turn, until its nose bobbed first across that magic line. I have laughed at a field of foals dancing around their shining-coated mothers under huge gum-trees on green carpets of grass. I have seen a man lean on a fence and simply watch the horses in front of him, for a moment not counting money in and out or dreaming, but just marveling.

However it wasn’t until I spent eight weeks at the property, with my father and his wife that I really got what these horses meant to my family. Much of that time was the foaling season. Twelve foals born, always in the middle of night, often needing assistance, while my father was dying. We’d go out in the night and for a while we could tell him the next morning what we had been doing. His face would light up and there would be discussionabout how its legs looked, what its full brother or sister had done, a name.

For a while we were keeping one of the foals alive, encouraging it to drink often enough and long  enough to gain strength enough to keep itself alive, and at the same time the man in the house was becoming less and less interested in food and the world outside.

Later he couldn’t know. The foal alarm would go off, the lights in the house come on, we’d troop out in the rain or fog, and he’d sleep through it, blissfully released from the pain of the cancer that was slowly taking him further and further away.

I remember the last time I went with my father to see Saul. It took a long time to walk what used to take just a few minutes. I had been trying to interest him in what was happening on the place – the dogs, the birds, the garden. It was hard for both of us. I said, ‘Let’s go down and see Saul.’ He agreed. We walked, it wasn’t far. But it was for a man whose strength was fading and whose heart was sad. We did it. I had to slow my pace, reduce the length of my steps, when I used to have lengthen and speed up my stride almost to a trot to keep up with him.

We had to walk through some yards just before the electric fence that kept Saul’s world the safe haven it was. It was muddier than I had expected and I was anxious my father would lose his balance, but I knew better than to reach out to take his arm. He clearly wanted to go back, this was taking far more effort than either of us had imagined. However, the stubbornness of a man who had leapt into the thoroughbred industry at an age when many were quitting it, kept him moving forward. That and the horse standing in the deep sand yard, his head facing away from us watching the view. He didn’t hear so well now and who knows what he was remembering – races, the dreams and hopes, and the times when he was The One.  (Here I go, anthropomorphizing again.)

As we approached the fence, having somehow made it safely across the muddy yard, my father raised his head, the light came back into his eyes and a smile crossed, ghostlike, over his face. He even quickened his step and suddenly he spoke. ‘Saul.’ He sounded like he always sounded. The tenor, volume, confidence and warmth was all there. Saul turned, and slowly came over as he always did. Not hurrying but sure and steady – wins the race.

The two of them stood side by side with the electric fence barely between them, and my father, without thought, in all his old confidence, reached through the fence and rubbedthe old horses’ nose. I stood back a little. This was their meeting as it had always been.

Softly lit in the coming spring sun, these grand old gentlemen didn’t need to talk. It may have been a goodbye although as neither of them were at all sentimental, probably not. Simply two old friends saying hello as they had for years. I was honored to observe them.

Throughout all of my life and still as I ride and care for the horses I have now, the horse has been both a means to an end and a friend. The thoroughbreds that filled my father’s last property and dominated his life became more than that I think. They were, maybe, a mirror of his life.

Watching the first two long soft hooves, knotted together in a neat bundle, pressed against the long nose and long lashed eyes, emerge from the mare, always triggered a smile. As cold as it might be, the night-mist hanging about us, through the anxiety as we waited for the foal to stand and the mare to nuzzle it firmly to her, the miracle of birth never failed to warm hearts and, at least temporarily, even feet and hands.

Each wide-bodied mare with legs and hooves bearing the stress bumps of a few years on the racetrack, each yearling cavorting in the pasture and dashing through the trees, and each gawky, awkward looking weanling had begun this way. Each of the younger stallions, shining in the sun, curious and alert to every coming and going on the place,almost bursting with his own energy and power that seemed to radiate everlasting life – they had all struggled into the world the same way.

Those younger bloods will become like that old stallion, standing quietly in his special paddock, removed from the day-to-day activities both by his geography as well as his dwindling energy. But when I looked at Saul, I saw that the years of wisdom and experience that saved him from wasted shouting and dancing, also surrounded him in an aura of for-ever. He may not always be there but the stories he had given us and the pictures in the thoroughbred books would endure. Most of all, the ex-racehorses, 3 and 4 years olds on the track, a few of the yearlings and a couple of the new foals, struggling to their feet in the cold night air, were his legacy.

For every horse that needed a vet, every slow furlong run, every heartbreaking moment when we realized this one was not quite good enough, there were the times when we caught our breath at the sheer beauty of the animal in motion, admired the spirit of the try-er, or simply inhaled the smell and leant into the warmth of a horse.

Along with watching foals being born or Saul quietly regarding the scene before him, I also observed my father. He was no longer at the center of the activities that continued.

Horses need to be fed, foals will be born, mares have to be served on time. But everything we did during that time bore the imprint of my father’s experience and delight in the horses. I realized that just as these horses, with the potential for bringing to fruition some of the greatest dreams we can imagine, can inspire us to keep working, keep dreaming, so in many ways can our parents.

How many of my life’s choices have been shaped by my father’s and to what extent my attitude toward the ups and downs is informed by his example I don’t know. I do know that as powerful a force in my life as he always was, a large part of that influence was encouragement to go out and be myself. He may not agree with or understand me but he enjoined the debate with love and enthusiasm for my individuality.

The horses, these thoroughbreds with all their complicated bloodlines, careful feeding and preparation regimes, in the end were each their own beings. Living with them for years, withstanding the disappointments and committing every penny to their care, in return for what was often little, if anything, of a tangible nature, it seems to me can do one of two things. You can become bitter and lose your joy, constantly seeking to blame someone or something for why it didn’t work out; or you can celebrate the glorious moments that the unique character of each horse, of this business, gives you.

For my father I think, the vicissitudes of the thoroughbred world in many ways reflected and perhaps even validated his own approach to life. Seize the moment, celebrate the small victories, persevere with the dreams and hopes, get dirty and work harder than you know you can, and take the time to simply watch, in wonder and awe, the life that is embodied in the horse before you.

The morning Dad died one more foal was born. His stable name is, of course, Bob.

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