Friday July 2, 2010

Black Tie Affair

1986-2010

 When I wrote about Black Tie Affair earlier this year, I knew this day would arrive.  Knowing it does not, in any way, make it easier to bear.  Back then it was not my intent to write about him again. But as I spent some final time with him on his last morning, as he picked at his hay and let me rub his face, he reminded me of some things I still wanted to say.  

When I first moved to Kentucky three-plus years ago, I found it difficult to drive anywhere in the bluegrass without being distracted by the horses. This has not really changed for me—I never tire of seeing horses in pastures, horses in barns, horses everywhere. The first time I went to Keeneland for the races I was more than a little overwhelmed by the experience of standing right next to the track, watching thousand-pound Thoroughbreds strive with every bit of themselves to reach the finish line in front of the rest. My first visit to Churchill Downs was similarly emotional, and I still get a lump in my throat when I see the names of every Kentucky Derby winner inscribed along the grandstand and paddock eaves.

 I think this is because as a child, I read all the books—Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion and Man o’ War, Marguerite Henry’s King of the Wind. If you read those books it was impossible not to fall just a little bit in love with Thoroughbred horses, or at least with the fictional, romantic idea of a racehorse.  The books emphasized the Thoroughbred’s intelligence, courage, and will to win.  They opened up the possibility that a mere person, a boy or a girl, could have an actual friendship with such a fabulous creature.  As I grew older I had my own horses, and I learned that horses are, in fact, totally fabulous.  Still, in the back of your mind–in the grown-up part, the rational, non-child part—a Thoroughbred stallion can’t really be like they are in the books, can they? 

Well, here is the grown-up truth.  Yes, they can. They can be exactly, perfectly, wonderfully like in the books.   They can be black and shiny or red and muscular.  They can also be nearly white, with deep dark eyes and a tail the color of pearls.  They can be cantankerous, exuberant, or playful. They can be kind, gentle and affectionate.  And they can be courageous and dignified, imbued with a will to win–a will to live–despite overwhelming physical ailments that would fell a lesser being.   Black Tie Affair was all these things.  He was the stallion from the books, the one every child hopes really exists. 

 Race on, Black Tie Affair. 

-Val

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Friday July 2, 2010

  1. MRO

    It is wonderful he had a whole year at Old Friends. He deserved all of the love, attention, and care he received. Of course, I can’t help but reading something into the timing. He waited until he knew his grandson was safe.

  2. Viv from Ivytree

    Val…I can only say I understand how much we love them and how much they can break our hearts when they leave. But I would do it all over again, just to see Appy in his paddock running free…as I know every momemt you had with Black Tie, you will cherish and keep locked in your heart. I feel that Black Tie and Appy had a conservation earlier this week and the two of them had a big part in getting Black Tie’s grandson, Mikey off the track and to a safe foster home where he will heal in the company of Gail’s own BTA son, big softie Ebben Estoora before his trip to Old Friends. While there was only one Blackie, I thank God that tonight two of his family are safe together in Michigan. I know Mikey will have the most special angel now. Bea and I are thinking of you all at this time of sadness and reflection. Viv

  3. Lexie

    Val,

    Such beautiful words on the passing of such a wonderful, amazing, once in lifetime horse named Black Tie Affair …. my condolences to all of you there that loved him … I can only imagine the sadness you and Michael and others must feel if I feel this sad having never met him. Godspeed to the wonderful Black Tie Affair …

  4. Victoria

    Val– I knew when i read your beautiful blog on Blackie this year– try as I did not to beleve it or think it, I knew this day would be coming. Its reality was made hard and clear last night by the words as they poured in. Thanks for your talent to express– our equine heroes need your voice. Victoria

  5. TBDancer

    This is the second wonderful tribute I have read to this handsome fellow, one of the stellar souls once again racing like the wind across the sky. These guys sure do leave a big hole in our hearts when they embark on their next journey, but I truly believe we will see them all again. RIP, Black Tie Affair.

  6. Kim

    Beautifull stated…

  7. Marta

    Such sad news – did your niece get down to see him earlier this year?

  8. A lovely elegy. If there’s a heaven, I hope it’s knee deep in green grass.

  9. Denise

    The comfort is that he spent his last year being cared for and loved. He more than deserved the attention and love of his fans for he gave us memories of wonderful racing and great talent of being a race horse. RIP Black Tie Affair.

    To all the caregivers at Old Friends…Thank You for giving the horses the love and respect they have earned and deserve.

  10. Colmel

    When I read the sad news, I immediately thought of you, Val. My words to my husband – through my tears – were, “Val is going to be just beside herself.” I know my friend Buck was in Heaven waiting for his gorgeous gray friend with all the carrots and scrubs he can give.

  11. Ruth Ann - NJ

    Such a beautiful eulogy, Val, that you have written! Thank you all for loving him so much and giving him a wonderful retirement home, he passed on with much dignity which he richly deserved!

  12. Dee Poulos

    What a lucky guy “Black Tie” was to have you as his friend. I know he touched your heart; however, I have no doubt that you also touched his–and what a big heart that was to touch. The feel of that silver silky mane, the softness of his ears, and the wisdom and kindness reflected in his dark fluid eyes will be with you forever–they, too, will be with me.

    • Colmel

      Beautifully put and felt! A fitting legacy for a great and beautiful champion – that so many loved him – not just when he was on the track but for his whole life.

      • Rich H.

        Val, I know from reading the blog most every week that this was a very hard one for you to do. I was so lucky to spend some time in May with Blacky the day after the party and auction. Nothing much was going on and he was out in Silver Charm’s lil paddock just soaking up the sun. I hung out with him about a half an hour. I think we both had a great time. The great horses have so much class and smarts. He had lots of both. I kind of thought that I probably would never see him again but I will always treasure the time spent just hanging out with him. RIP Black Tie Affair–you will never be forgotten at Old Friends.
        Rich Hoffmann

  13. Gae

    God Bless You and Everyone at Old Friends for taking such good care of Black Tie Affair. We were very fortunate to be able to visit him last month during his final days in this world. I was thinking about him quite a bit last week and kept finding pictures of his great son, Evening Attire. I finally realized my error when I asked you if he had stood in Germany and you were so polite over my confusion. I was thinking of another great gray horse — Gato del Sol who was foaled in Paris, KY and stood in Germany. RIP Black Tie Affiar and thanks for the memories.

    • oldfriendsblog

      Ahh Gae, it probably wasn’t politeness so much as confusion! Remembering everything about 100 horses is more than impossible. Yesterday someone asked me who was in the paddock down beyond Awad and I could not remember–it was Swannie, of course. So often people come to the farm who know way more about a particular horse than I do! But thank you for thinking the best…

      Val

  14. Gae

    Val, you do a remarkable job with the horses and guiding the visitors. We’ll be back soon to see Special Ring’s tattoos. Yes, he is smart! We’re still giggling about his new skills.

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