Hippophile – What does that crazy word mean? It means “One who loves horses”. If you’re reading this blog I would bet you would use this word to describe yourself. And those close to you would probably use it to describe you as well. The love of the horse is REAL, it’s palpable, and as most of us know it’s frankly undeniable.
“Like a tremendous machine..” if you are a fellow Hippophile you know exactly what this line means. Emily and I sat down on the couch with my three year old last nigh to watch the Belmont. Even though she was just an infant when American Pharoah won the Triple Crown, I found myself distracted by the thought of her witnessing TWO Triple Crown Champions in the span of her young life. This was a feat I had waited so long to see. And now I was going to have the opportunity to watch it TWICE – both times with my little girl! As we prepared to watch such an impressive colt run for the third jewel in the crown, I thought to myself….. I wonder if the race caller has a line ready. The little girl in me hoped he did. I wanted Savannah Rein to remember a tag line like we did for Big Red.
There was another thought that engulfed me while watching the pre-race stories and the under card. All these connections that come with each individual horse…from breeders with a dream, to grooms, to handlers, to owners, to trainers, to fans. There is one common link. They are all Hippophiles. There is an endless amount of inspiration in these stories for horse lovers. It always seems to come at the right time too. The end of breeding season, end of the year…. the list goes on.
In this industry no matter what capacity you are involved in, it is tough. There is no way to sugar coat it. The horses continue to get better, the cost to roll the dice is greater, and all of us seem to believe we are raising the best. What strikes me most in these stories is the unity. Great horses like Barbaro, American Pharaoh, Justify and the great champions invoke such a team mentality. We are all cheering for them. We all want them to succeed. Of course there are the doubters, the stat gurus, and the gamblers. But they help make the story even more engaging. Deep down inside every Hippohile…we want to see them succeed.
Emily and I are both from a veterinary background. We have had the opportunity to work on these athletes through lameness, and then surgery, as well as recovery and rehabilitation. We have a deep appreciation of just what it takes to make these athletes reach the pinnacle of their sports. As we watched Justify come into the paddocks and head to the gates we couldn’t help but comment on his body condition, size, and maturity. There just wasn’t anything comparable to him… even American Pharaoh! And trust me we are big AP fans! As a kid I had a coach tell me “Don’t wait for the world to recognize your greatness. Live it and let the world catch up to you…”. It was clear that Justify was in a league of his own – and he was about to prove his dominance.
As he entered the gates I laughed and told Emily “Let’s see what my heart rate gets up to watching this race” as I glanced down at my watch….” we both giggled but it was at true statement. There is something about witnessing superior talent in real time. And for Hippophiles, it’s great horses at the peak of their career that just send chills down your spine. Gate to gate it was clear he was above the rest. A stride length that seemed as if it were as long as a school bus, an experienced and humble jockey that trusted his team and horse. Mike Smith rode so quietly for what seemed like an eternity during that ride. We watched in awe as the relaxed Justify galloped, ears flopping as if he weren’t even racing. As they came around the turn Emily and I looked at each other in a panic….. Mike….. SEND HIM….. THEY ARE COMING….. not a movement from him. I looked down at my watch…. HR 110….. back to the screen…. still galloping, hardly any head bob of fatigue, still in front. I couldn’t believe it after so many years of waiting, we were going to get to see TWO!!
As they hit the straight away and Gronkowsksi made his charge from last to second I couldn’t contain my excitement cheering at the screen. My 3 year old mimicking every word I said in excitement. Emily cheering as well. All of us grinning ear to ear….Hippophiles at their finest. SEND HIM, GO ON!!!! And then the line I waited for “He is JUST perfect….. and now he is JUST immortal!”…. Another Triple Crown…. another piece of history.
Perhaps my favorite part of these great races are the post race interviews. There is no hiding Hippophilia – it’s blood, sweat, tears, investments, gambling, long hours for no return other than a soft nicker in the morning or at night before you go to sleep. It’s chasing a dream with blinders on that most don’t understand. It’s staying up all night sleeping in the barn waiting for new life. It’s years and years and years of trial and error crosses to get one step ahead. It’s selling the one you never thought you would. It’s saying goodbye to the last of a bloodline, perhaps one that generations of your family worked so hard to produce. It’s making decisions for the best of the horse. It’s staying up all night waiting on ovulation and perfect insemination time. It’s watching foals grow and sending them off to training. It’s molding to the ebb and flow of the trends of the industry to make sure your program stays above water by maintaining marketability. Most of all it’s just LOVE – plain and simple.
Mike Smith was so emotional after the race it was as if the oxygen had been sucked out of the atmosphere. Smiling ear to ear pointing to the heavens above for the blessing that is Justify. A 52 year old Jockey that was inducted into the Hall of Fame FIFTEEN YEARS earlier… and he was speechless. If you don’t appreciate the magnitude of that moment; the years and years of hard work, dedication, fitness, and relentless chasing of a dream…. I don’t know what will grab your heart strings. Then Bob Baffert, now one of TWO trainers in history to train TWO winners of the rarest achievement in sports couldn’t even get out but a few words at a time. Of all the races we have seen Baffert win…. Emily and I commented that we had never seen him so overcome with emotion. Even at the pinnacle of equine sports….the appreciation for the horse was real and overwhelming.
As the adrenaline wore off we sat in the euphoria of what we just witnessed. We scrolled through social media to see the happiness in those following anything horse related. There wasn’t a single soul who considers themselves a Hippophile that wasn’t bursting with excitement.
This is where the guts of this blog were inspired. In a day of intense competition within the veins of the horse industry… what if we set out to be as inclusive in our cheering and inspiring to others as we were to cheer for Justify and American Pharoah? What if we picked up the phone and hauled to a friends house to help them with sale photographs, or to offer an extra hand? What if trainers got together more often to share secrets and tips with those who are young and hungry to reach the next level? What if we created more incentive for the new enthusiast to become integrated into our communities by making entry level competition more affordable? What if we showed up to cheer for the Rookie Professional like we did the 5 Time Futurity Champion? What if we stopped someone headed back to the stalls after a run, and said great job… even if you didn’t know them? What if you extended your hand to help someone further themselves in the industry by offering insight, guidance, or just stories of your own failure?
What if we were all more mindful of why we do this in the first place? The love of horses… If American Pharoah and Justify have inspired anything in me…. it’s to continue to make an impact in a positive way on those chasing the same dreams I am. To become successful chasing a dream on the backs of these unforgettable animals, while helping those around me as well. I am a firm believer in positivity being contagious. I think these two Triple Crown Champions made history for a reason….. to inspire us, to change us, and to continue to water dreams for generations.
Don’t let anyone stop you from chasing your own greatness. Never underestimate the power of dreams and the influence of the love of the horse. We are all the same in that we have one common love. The difference is how hard we work for it and the attitude we carry along the way. Just remember it’s impossible to fail if you never quit….