Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The hard part about being a racing fan, and a formal farewell to Fleet Indian

 Both my husband and I know that there is one very difficult aspect of being a horse racing fan: the inevitable loss of horses over the years. From pensioners passing due to old age to breakdowns on the track and everything in between, finding out that a horse you have cherished, followed, and/or met has passed away is never easy.

Although you don't own these horses, they are out there for the public, and a small part of each horse belongs to the fans and followers of the sport.

The sense of loss varies. If I read that a horse I have never heard of had to be euthanized, I will feel a pang of sadness. It doesn't matter if I have never before read that horse's name, or seen any of that horse's races. As a fan of the sport and all-around horse lover, a part of you quietly grieves.

Then there are occasions where I can sit with tears streaming down my face after finding out a well-loved horse has passed away. I remember where I was when I found out Seattle Slew died. I remember bawling on my way home from work after Personal Ensign's death. I remember the deep sorrow I felt when John Henry passed away, and that wound was opened anew when I visited his grave for the first time. This was before the monument, when the grave was a stark patch of bare ground rimmed with flowers. Upon seeing this bare ground, I burst into tears, for it was the first time in two decades of visits that there was no John Henry for me to see at the Kentucky Horse Park.

But this time, I got a deeper look into the emptiness that opens up after the loss of a beloved racehorse.

As I mentioned in my last post, I found out that a mare we had met in May of this year passed away--Fleet Indian. At the time of the visit, I was provided with the email address of a woman at the farm, and she helped me set up the visit. I distinctively remember her telling me, with delight, that I could certainly meet "Ms. Indian" and her filly. The love for this mare traveled strongly over the email! So when I found out about the passing of Ms. Indian, my first thought was to email this same woman again to tell her how sorry I was. Her response was so thankful yet so full of sorrow and loss that it brought tears to my eyes. What a fortunate, lucky mare Ms. Indian was to be with such a loving, devoted farm.

And today, the eloquent Barbara Livingston created a tribute on her blog: Fleet Indian, a.k.a. "Large Marge"

 This inspired me to write my own brief tribute, which I initially posted on the local horse forum.

I had the honor of meeting this beautiful mare and her 2011 filly in May of this year. I was struck not just by her angular features and her towering frame (what a girth on that girl!) but by her sweet personality. She had big floppy ears and endearing, soft brown eyes. At the crinkle of the peppermint wrapper in my hand, she brightened up and waited for me to present the candy to her, then took it gently from my hand. She did the same with my husband.

Never once did she show impatience or a longing to get back to the pasture with her friends. When it was clear to her that the peppermints were gone, she stood patiently for pictures before being led back to the pasture, filly by her side.

I was also struck by the love and admiration everyone at the farm had for her--from the ladies that helped me plan my visit over email, to the woman that not only showed us Fleet Indian but also gave us an impromptu tour of the farm. I know that every person there grieves heavily for this sweetheart of a mare. I was also told that not long before her death, Fleet Indian was playing the role of babysitter for the farm weanlings--and loving it.

And last, but not least, she was also a magnificent racehorse, the champion older mare of 2006. But in meeting her, her character almost outshines her achievements on the track.

Rest in peace, Ms. Indian.


Liz Maddux said...

Thank you Heidi for the beautiful way you shared your memories of Fleet Indian with us....it's so endearing to know that so many people got to experience her as we did.

Anonymous said...

Well said.