I have never devoted an entire blog to an individual horse, unless unfortunately, it’s a memorial. But I’ve been thinking for some time about writing about a specific horse, for reasons you’re about to see.
For a time about four months ago, I watched Black Tie Affair endure an especially long, damp and gray Kentucky winter. I am far from an expert, but at the time I thought he possibly wouldn’t make it through the winter. His cancer seemed to be advancing steadily, and every week when I visited him he looked diminished, smaller somehow. He seemed tired. And yet, he turned and welcomed me into his stall each week with a slight nicker and a head-butt, as if to say, “hey girl, how are you?” I should have known he was nowhere near ready to go.
And now, four months later, Blackie is so much better. As the green grass of spring started to appear, he began to get stronger. Much of that is due to the visible success of the cancer treatments he receives, but I also suspect it has to do with Black Tie Affair—his will and his desire to live. Now, he stands outside in the sunshine on nice afternoons, napping, eating hay, and greeting visitors. He is content and happy. So I decided not wait for that memorial blog somewhere down the road to tell you who he was. Instead, I want to tell you about who Black Tie Affair is.
I remember watching Black Tie Affair race, of course, specifically his Breeder’s Cup Classic win. In the office at Old Friends, we have his races on tape. He was darker then, a steely, dappled gray horse. He isn’t huge, but he isn’t small either. He won the Breeder’s Cup Classic wire-to-wire, racing on the front end of the pack and daring the others to catch him. They couldn’t, of course. Watching it now, his run in that race seems exuberant, even a little wild. But if I’ve learned anything from being at Old Friends, it’s that the impression we have of racehorses from watching them race has next to nothing to do with who they really are. Some of what we see on TV or from the grandstand is true, of course—what color they are, how fast they run. But their real, day-to-day personalities are mostly hidden to us fans, until and unless we are lucky enough to get to know the individual horse.
I’ve known Black Tie Affair for nearly a year now, give or take a couple months. To me, words are somehow too bland to describe him. Still, the words I’ll use are probably the ones you’d expect–kind, smart, sensible. Knowing him now, I often tell visitors he embodies the qualities humans have tried to breed into Thoroughbred horses for hundreds of years—courage, heart, and determination. He is beautiful, in a mythical unicorn kind of way, with his white coat and dark eyes, his pearly-colored tail and arching neck. He understands things– including, I believe, that he is ill and he is not young and strong. He is proud and dignified. Blackie is appreciative; spend time with him and you get the sense he is grateful you made the effort. He asks for nothing—although a carrot, or three, is a wonderful bonus. He is brave, not because he could run fast and win races, but because while his body is failing it hasn’t really changed him. He always was, and still is, all these things.
Last year sometime, I ran into a woman who told me she was somehow connected with Black Tie Affair’s dam. According to her, there was no great plan to Black Tie Affair’s breeding—they had a mare ready to breed and an available stallion. If true, that means Black Tie Affair was that most rare of creatures—a marvelous random happenstance that resulted in a great racehorse, a fine sire, and the kind of magical horse little girls dream of.
And little girls do love him—they stand at his stall door and talk with him like they are best friends. Blackie drops his head and listens intently, ears pricked. I think little girls speak Horse, or maybe horses speak Little Girl. Either way, it’s a language we lose as we age, and some of us spend a lifetime trying to relearn it. But watching Blackie converse with a small child, you have no doubt the language exists.
So, with insufficient words, this is who Black Tie Affair is. And here is what he regularly reminds me: be appreciative of the little things—someone to scratch your back, a handful of treats, warm sunshine. Listen to small children and what they have to say, because it’s usually very important. Don’t dwell on your problems. Pay attention to others—maybe you can make them happy. Do your best every day and be content with your life. And enjoy the time you have on this earth, because you just never know how long it will be.
Thanks, Blackie. It’s an honor to know you.