As it was happening, it was such a non-event, such a nothingburger, that the moment wasn’t even noted by me in any significant manner; but, just a few short weeks ago, I touched a horse for the first time in my life. And I really loved it. Standing in “Tap,” award-winning racehorse trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY, while chatting easily with the living legend and, yes, lovingly stroking the neck and face of one of his beautiful prized Thoroughbreds, my mind suddenly flooded with impossibly happy memories of other notable firsts I’ve been able to accomplish thus far in my fortunate, colorful life. And just how many of those firsts have occurred over the past year-and-a-half as a new resident of Saratoga Springs.
Where to begin? The first time I attended Opening Day at Saratoga Race Course…The first time I placed a bet on my own at the track…The first time I walked onto the paddock on race day…The first time I stood in the Winner’s Circle and smiled for a photograph with a victorious stakes race jockey at my side…The first time the horse I wanted to win actually won going away…The first time I felt like I truly belonged to this proud community. And on and on it’s gone. And on and on it goes.
As life’s clock ticks by sightly faster with every passing year, I now force myself to slow down my experiences just long enough to be able to acknowledge them and to more fully appreciate these key moments, even as they’re happening in real time. That, in turn, has inextricably upped the ante on my happy meter. The faster the images that matter to me fly by, the slower I’m reacting to them. It may actually be working.
I’ve always been that guy—that New York City guy—who considered “nature” something I saw on the Discovery Channel. Sad but true. The very idea of touching a horse, let alone riding one, had never even entered the realm of the possible for me. I mean, more than half of my friends living in Manhattan, as I was for decades, didn’t even drive a car; why would any of us ride a horse? But standing there in Todd Pletcher’s surprisingly tidy barn surrounded by more than a dozen of his stunning, shiny ponies, I realized I was posing the wrong question: It’s not why would I ever ride a horse, but, rather, why wouldn’t I want to ride one?
For the vast majority of people reading this, full on incredulity must be the pervasive emotion they’re feeling. I mean, how many fully realized adults in Saratoga, of all places, have really never touched a horse in their lives? I mean, I’m quite aware that I’m the outlier here. But, here’s where I try to catch up with the rest of the civilized world, even a little bit. I vow to share my late-in-life epiphany with any and all who’ll listen: Horses are extraordinary creatures, here to be revered, championed and loved. If only we could all look at one another and believe the same to be true.
I know! Why don’t we make that a first we all can share together?