TRUE TALE

A horse who ex­em­pli­fied heart, pres­ence and courage, Top­cat not only helped me be­come a suc­cess­ful trainer but a bet­ter hu­man be­ing as well.

EQUUS - - Contents - By Alica Lau­rido

My for­ever horse: A horse who ex­em­pli­fied heart, pres­ence and courage, Top­cat not only helped me be­come a suc­cess­ful trainer but a bet­ter hu­man be­ing as well.

Who is your fa­vorite horse, Ms. Alica? The one you love best?” I gaze down into the small face. My stu­dents ask this of­ten. Most are waist high, their hair tucked un­der pink hel­mets. Some come once a month, in worn jeans and bor­rowed boots. Oth­ers come weekly in ex­pen­sive out­fits from the lo­cal tack store. All are starry-eyed and breath­less with their first ride, their first can­ter, their first rib­bon. They all still have so many firsts ahead of them.

I pause to think. What horse do I love best? I have been in the busi­ness for more than four decades and have loved many horses for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. There was Sugar, the backyard pony who helped me per­fect my emer­gency dis­mount. Floyd, my first train­ing project, whom I even­tu­ally paired with his per­fect owner. Castle­wood’s Check­mark, a sea­soned per­former, who taught me show­man­ship and gave me my first blue rib­bons. I owe my rep­u­ta­tion as a trainer to the many tal­ented horses I’ve worked with over the years, many of whom bril­liantly car­ried my rid­ers to victory passes. And, of course, my rid­ing pro­gram would be noth­ing with­out my school horse part­ners, who do their jobs un­err­ingly, day af­ter day.

Yes, I have loved many horses. But as I face the pure in­no­cent emo­tion beam­ing from a lit­tle girl’s eyes, I won­der what an­swer could pos­si­bly sat­isfy her ex­pec­ta­tion? In truth, the horse busi­ness is of­ten ex­as­per­at­ing. Hours of sweat, freez­ing cold, flies and boneweary ex­haus­tion blend with the mo­ments of tri­umph and ju­bi­la­tion. There is dis­ap­point­ment, loss, in­jury, old age and, yes, in­evitably, death. This lit­tle girl wants a love story that tran­scends all this. She wants to hear a fairy tale about a for­ever horse.

So what is that elu­sive some­thing that el­e­vates one horse above all oth­ers to be­come a su­per­star in your heart? What name pops up again and again when I try to de­fine words like heart, pres­ence and courage? What sin­gle horse could also be friend, teacher and busi­ness part­ner? There is one. As the years have passed, I sus­pect the facts of his life have got­ten mixed with the myth of what re­mains of him in my heart. I don’t know that they can be sep­a­rated. He is the horse by whom I mea­sure all oth­ers. He helped “make me,” not just as a pro­fes­sional, but as a bet­ter hu­man be­ing. I smile at my young stu­dent and say, “There was an Amer­i­can Sad­dle­bred called Folly’s Top­cat….”

STAND­OUT: For the au­thor, Top­cat was a “friend, teacher and busi­ness part­ner.”

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