Monday April 19, 2010

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.

-Val

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30 Comments

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30 responses to “Monday April 19, 2010

  1. Rich Hoffmann

    Thanks Val, for a wonderful tribute to a very special horse. I can’t wait to see him next week.

  2. Brianna Q

    What a beautiful post! I hope to meet him in a few weeks.

  3. Susan Allen

    Hi Val,
    :’-) :’-) Think I needed that little cry today…..thanks for your inspiring words…
    I went to you-tube and found the tape of his Classic race….hope to meet him this summer. Hang in there Black Tie Affair!

  4. Rider717

    Dear Val,
    Thank you for a lovely tribute to an awesome horse.

  5. Lexie Crowson

    That was beautiful! A lovely tribute to an awesome horse. Thank you for showing us a glimpse of what he is like …. I hope he has many more happy sunshiney days ahead of him ….

  6. Carol Ayers

    What a beautiful tribute to a special thoroughbred. I’ve been blessed to visit with him several times, and he is a class act. His spirit touches our hearts.

  7. Thanks Val what a beautiful post. My husband Ken and I were to visit Black Tie Affair TODAY at the 10:00 am tour. Unfortunately, I came down with the stomach bug and we canceled our trip. We plan on rescheduling our trip for mid-May to visit Black Tie Affair. I hope he remains happy and content, but what will be will be. Please give Black Tie Affair a carrot, hug and kiss for me. I always cheered for Black Tie Affair and still cheer for him today!

  8. Val…Like you said, it is an honor to even read about Black Tie Affair. He represents the excellence in the breed. If possible, I would love to see some more pictures of Black Tie Affair posted. One of the greats for sure….thank you

    Susan

  9. Pam

    Val,

    That was truly beautiful. You brought a tear to my eye. I’ve followed Black Tie Affair for many years and was at first very sad when I heard about his bout with cancer; and then I was relieved that he would be living out his life at Old Friends. I was that little girl once who talked to MY horse…a horse who looked very much like Blackie. Thank you for that visual. I hope to be coming to Old Friends in the near future and can’t wait to see this wonderful, noble horse.

    Pam

  10. Jan Felton

    You write beautifully. I always wait until Sunday evening before I go to bed to read your update. You have a gift for the written word and tonight you moved me to tears.

    I was lucky enough to see him in October and I am so glad he made it through the winter so he can enjoy another wonderful spring in the Kentucky bluegrass.

    Thank you.

  11. Debi

    Val

    A very nice tribute to an awesome horse. I saw him about two weeks ago and what an honor it was to meet him. He is awesome. He let me kiss him on the nose. He looks so much better than I thought he was going to. He was outside in the spring sunshine. Got my picture taken with him and he acutally stuck his tongue out. Makes me laugh when I look at it. I cannot wait to see Blackie again. Until then…………..

  12. Mary

    Val–Thanks for writing about Black Tie Affair. He is one of my all time favorite race horses and I am so glad he is comfortable (or reasonably so). I have a Black Tie Affair hat from Old Friends and it is amazing the amount of people who remark on what a great horse he was. I take the opportunity to tell them where he is and how to find him, and maybe some of them will visit.

  13. Gayle

    Thanks for the lovely tribute and the good news about Black Tie Affair. It’s so unfair for animals to have cancer. I think we cause it with all the chemicals and other unnatural things we expose them to. I hope he continues to do well and I get to see him when I visit there someday.

  14. Carolyn

    Aw, thanks so much for the story. It brought a tear to my eye. I remember how concerned you were last summer when I first met you both. I’m so glad he is doing better. 🙂

  15. Ruthann

    Your words are always spot on. What an incredibly beautiful tribute to this majestic horse. Sometimes being around these guys everyday one forgets to take all this in. You never forget to take it in and in such an eloquent way make us partners in your day.
    Thank you for all you do but especially for writing this blog every week.

  16. Kelly

    I have come to know many horses in my day–many who have left an indelible mark upon me–some have left me forever changed.

    You will never know the full capacity of a horse’s heart until you help them fight for their life. They can and will open their heart wider than you will ever know–until you have the task of traveling that path with them.

    It is one of the most emotional journeys in life–and you will be a better person having traveled that journey with them.

    Black Tie Affair is the most apt of names–for he truly is a first class act.

    Kelly

  17. Michael Blowen

    Val, Great job. You are right about Black Tie Affair. As one who sees him every day, I know that everything you wrote is absolutely true….Thanks for everything you do for Old Friends and all of our retirees. Michael.

  18. Ruth Ann R.

    Thank you, Val, for that beautiful biography of Black Tie Affair, so well-written! It brought a tear to my eyes! 🙂 He is one very special horse, and one of his sons, Evening Attire, reflects that heart, soul & desire that Black Tie possesses.

  19. Colmel

    This was a wonderful, touching tribute to a FINE animal. It’s an honor to read this, too! I’m so grateful that Blackie has such caring friends.

  20. Jean in VA.

    As I sit here with tears in my eyes, I want to thank you for that lovely tribute. Old Friends is at the top of my list of want to visit places. In fact the only place I want to visit. I hope I get to meet Blackie. You are right about little children.
    There is nothing like hearing my 2 year old granddaughter say ” Hi neigh” whenever we pass our neighbor’s house or any other place that we see horses. She just loves them.
    Always look forward to your blogs and she loves the pictures.

  21. Val – as noted, you’ve outdone yourself with this wonderful tribute to Black Tie. As with Appy before him, you are there at the stall door with your gifts of friendship and kindness – I know the horses appreciate such a good friend. Thanks to Old Friends, none of us horse crazy kids ever have to stop speaking horse. Thank God for that.

  22. Val – You should submit this ‘tribute’ to The BloodHorse for printing. This story should be printed in a national horse racing magazine!
    Susan

  23. Holly

    I didn’t want to comment until I saw Black Tie Affair in person, for the first time in 17 years, this week. What you write of him is so beautiful, and so appropriate. I think his strength must also come a bit from knowing how much the people who are around him now truly love him. He is such a grand horse.

  24. Linda Poulos

    Val.
    .I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your beautiful tribute to Tie. You see I have some personal “ties” to him. My Dad Ernie Poulos was his trainer. Dad had so much love for his “Big Horse” I know he is looking down from heaven and smiling, and he would want you all to know how much it means to him that you have taken such good care of his Tie. May God Bless all of you at Old Friends

    • oldfriendsblog

      Oh Linda, that you saw and liked what I wrote about Blackie, and that your dad would have liked it, just makes my day! Thank you.
      Val

  25. Linda Poulos

    Val.. No, you made my day !
    I’ll see you the first week of June.
    Linda

  26. Tracie Noel

    Val, I am so glad you write this blog, so that every week I am reconnected to a special place. When I visited Old Friends Blackie certainly stood out; he just has such an air of the noble old warrior. It was heartbreaking to see those horrible tumors. I am SO glad he’s doing better and you all have the pleasure of his company this spring! I have a huge soft spot for grey TBs anyway, and Blackie was destined to be one of my favorites even is he wasn’t such a wonderful and unforgettable character. Thank you all for loving him and giving such great care. He has the thoughts and hearts of many of us.

  27. Dee Poulos

    Val–A friend at Arlington gave me a copy of the blog about “Black Tie.” It was beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to a magnificent horse. As I have commented to Michael, “Black Tie” has always been special in so more ways than just his ability to race, he is, and continues to be such an ambassador of what is good about life. I, personally, have forged so many wonderful friendships over the past 19 years because of “Black Tie.” Hardly a day goes by that someone doesn’t approach me to ask about his well being and share their memories of him. Ernie loved him dearly and would be so pleased to know that Old Friends has enabled him to retire in comfort and with dignity. Thanks to all at Old Friends.

    Dee

    • oldfriendsblog

      Thank you, Dee. He is an outstanding horse in every way, and it’s been an honor to get to know him.

      -Val

  28. Luanne Thulstrup

    What a magnificent warrior. A beautiful animal who never failed to win the hearts of those around him and his fans. RIP Black Tie Affair

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