A sweet-natured gelding once taught me that the impact of kind words and a gentle touch can last a lifetime.
In 1965, I swept aside my own horse career---as a stunt rider and horse trainer in Hollywood movies ---and married a jockey. My new husband had just been contracted to ride for an 18-horse stable at Arlington Park racetrack in Chicago, and so we aimed our new green Buick eastward for the coming race meet.
Shortly after we arrived, we were invited to a press event. By then, therapy swimming pools for horses were the norm at racetracks back in California, but the first was about to open in Chicago. This was such a novelty that reporters and photographers from the Chicago Tribune and other papers were there to cover it. A leading trainer from California had been selected to bring a horse to be used to demonstrate the new pool. The barn’s gentlest racehorse was selected to take the first swim, accompanied by an exercise boy who was a very good swimmer. When the big moment came, a groom led the horse forward. But when they reached the water’s edge, the horse balked---he would not go forward into the pool!
After many awkward moments, the horse’s trainer grabbed the shank from the groom. He put the shank chain in the horse’s mouth and began to fight with the frightened gelding. The man jerked so hard that the Thoroughbred reared and fell over backward: Blood ran from his mouth profusely as he scraped his head back and forth in the dirt trying to get up.
I cringed as I watched. Men of the Mad Men generation were pretty sure that if they could not do something, it could not be done! And a woman certainly didn’t interrupt a man of any status. I reset my tortoiseshell glasses and brushed imaginary dirt from my new dress and penny loafers while I stood in the hot sun and watched in misery until the trainer ran out of ideas. Eventually, he was so red-faced from anger and exertion that I feared he would have a heart attack. In time he plopped down on a nearby rock wall swearing freely through the ragged gasps of his breath.
Then and only then could I step forward. “Would you like me to put the horse in the pool for you?” I asked quietly. Completely at
The author was once a stunt rider and horse trainer for the movie industry.