Tuesday August 24, 2010

Academy Award 1986-2010 

We lost Academy Award today. It was, for many of us at Old Friends, as difficult as any of our recent losses.  I am not even sure where to begin, since Academy Award represented so many things, on so many different levels, to so many people. 

So, I suppose I have to begin with the obvious:  Academy Award was a son of the great Secretariat.  A Sunday tour did not pass without at least one visitor getting a little emotional over that fact.  For many of us who grew up in the 1970s, Secretariat was our first and greatest racing hero.  We pinned up pictures of him, followed his career, and at least in my own case, were lucky enough to have parents who indulged us with a visit to the Big Red Horse.   Meeting Academy Award, the son of Secretariat, became like touching a little piece of history and a reminder that racing provides heroes for a lifetime.  A lock of his mane, for some visitors, became a cherished memento. 

And that is all so unfair to Academy Award, the horse.  A good racehorse in his own right, Academy Award was most definitely not his daddy.  Smaller, perhaps a slightly darker red, Academy Award was a combination of bantam rooster and shy little boy.  Bring people by when he was outside in his paddock and he loved to show off.   On the other hand, if he was taking a nap in his stall he often wouldn’t bother to get up, staying curled up in his straw like a large red puppy.  Since he spent his days in his stall and went outside at night, he got plenty of carrots and lots of attention from tours as they walked through the big barn. 

Academy Award surely didn’t like it when other horses got more of that attention.  If a new stallion took up residence in “his” barn, he huffed and puffed like he was going to blow the place down.  For some time, Wallenda lived in the stall next to him and Academy Award hated it when I fussed over the other stallion.  He sniffed and snorted at the gaps in the wall, making sure I knew he was unhappy with the situation. He could have been the poster child for “small but mighty.”  Yet while he put on a tough facade to the other stallions, for a long time he was totally intimidated by children. For his first few months at Old Friends,  if I had kids on a tour Academy Award hid as far back in his stall as possible.  You could almost see him trying to be invisible. 

Some horses, when they arrive at Old Friends, seem like they were always a part of the farm.  The Wicked North, Marquetry, Commentator, Danthebluegrassman—they are so friendly you feel like you always knew them, like they are friends who came back home after being away for a while.  Academy Award, for me, was different.  Maybe it was the mystique of his sire, or maybe it was just his personality.  Probably it was a little of both, but it took me some time to see him solely for himself—a nice, sometimes shy, affectionate little horse who liked to lean his head against my shoulder while I patted his neck.   I don’t know why it should surprise me, but it does–that sneaky little red horse wormed his way right into my heart.  He did that not because of where he came from, but because of who he was. 

When Academy Award arrived at Old Friends, I was excited to be able to know a son of my childhood hero.  But now I am just happy to say I knew Academy Award—the small but mighty red horse with the pretty face and shy manner, who loved carrots, kind words, and having his face rubbed.  



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18 responses to “Tuesday August 24, 2010

  1. Gayle

    I am so sorry. I have a Secretariat scrapbook that includes the Time and Newsweek covers, but sounds as if Academy Award was special in his own ways. I hope as they say bad luck comes in threes, and this is the last one for a long time for all of you. With sincere sympathy, Gayle

  2. Barbara

    So beautiful Val. And so perfectly said. It was such a pleasure to know him. Academy Award was definitely his own man, and a gentleman. I will miss his presence at Old Friends, but he will always live in my heart.

    Thank you for such a lovely tribute.


  3. My deepest sympathy, Val. Thank you for the lovely eulogy for a great horse.

  4. Colmel

    Oh no! This comes as a complete shock! I hadn’t read of him being ill. This has just thrown me. I had SO hoped to get down to see him again. As I mentioned when Academy Award first came to Old Friends, our mare had been bred to him. I’d seen him back when he first went to Claiborne farm and was taken with what a nice, compact, version he was. Our mare always added size to her foals, so breeding to a smaller, nicely built stallion was a good thing. To be able to grab some of those genes, well that was a bonus.

    We just lost one of our beloved German Shepherds (Liesel) on the 16th. Couple that with Bonnie passing and now Academy Award…my heart is just broken.

  5. A lovely, caring eulogy, you write beautifully, Val. We know in our hearts that horses don’t live forever, but we carry them in our hearts thanks to your lovely words. Thank you.

  6. Lois Brooks

    So sorry to hear of the passing of Academy Award. We were just getting to really know him from your writings, but I know that Old Friends is a retirement home for them and you do not get them unless basically they are old. That is what hurts as they are around for such a short time, but I know that during that time they know they are loved and that is the important thing.

  7. Gae

    I’m sorry to read this sad news…and grateful that we had a chance to see Academy Award and Black Tie Affair when we visited in May. Val, you do such a good job with the horses and know and write about them so well…I’ve learned so much about them reading your blog every week. Thank you.

  8. Lynda

    What a beautifully written tribute to a very special horse. I wish I would have know him. Maybe someday I’ll get to see him in heaven. I don’t know how you have the strength to do what you do, but I thank God for people like you! Could you explain why the owners chose not to keep them until their last days. You’d think moving them would be depressing to them especially at first.

    • oldfriendsblog

      thanks, everyone, for the kind words. It has been a difficult summer, first with Black Tie Affair, then Bonnie, and now Academy Award. Lynda, many owners do keep their horses until their last days, but others aren’t able to do so for one reason or another. Sometimes owners feel their horses would be happier with the attention at Old Friends. And some horses truly have nowhere else to go. So we exist, with the added benefit of allowing fans to meet their favorite horses. And while each horse has a unique personality and they all settle in differently, every one of them really seems to enjoy the farm. What’s not to love–nice paddocks with lots of grass, treats, plenty of attention and admiration! I have never seen a horse act depressed when they arrive, rather they all seem intrigued and interested in their new home. I wish everyone could have the chance to meet them–they are just the most fantastic animals! -Val

  9. Allie

    Iam so sorry to hear about Academy Award. Had he been ill for awhile? We visited in May and he seemed fine. I read that he had laminitis like his father. So sad. A beautiful write up of his life and character.

    Rest in peace

  10. Judy Stock

    Val, everyone’s heart is broken over Little Red. Sometimes we wonder “how many more losses can we suffer?”; the answer I TRY to keep in mind is that for however short a time, our Old Friends have been given a ton of carrots, a rest, a dignity and a peaceful passing that otherwise would have been denied them. I know that answer really stinks, but it’s what keeps me going. And, selfishly, I am proud to have known each of these horses, if even for a short time.

    Along with you and Michael and Diane and Sylvia and Ruthanne, we hurt for you, but please know, they are OUR losses, too. Maybe knowing that we all understand and share your grief will make things a bit easier to bear.


  11. Nicole

    This news saddens me a great deal. I loved Academy Award. When I found out that Academy Award was standing stud at Win Row Farm in Lebanon, OH I started visiting him. I never got to visit Secretariat so this was the next best thing. His son!! I always took Academy Award starlight mints which he loved (I couldn’t get the wrapper off fast enough) and this would anger Canvas (Mr. Prospector) until I would walk over and give him one but then I would turn my attention back to Academy. I was so happy to hear that Academy Award would be at Old Friends because he deserved a good retirement. I visited him for the last time in May and I stood there and cried because I was happy to be standing next to my old friend. Rest in Peace my sweet Academy Award. May you be running next to your sire in the pastures of heaven. The world was a much brighter place when you and Bonnie’s Poker were here. Thanks for the memories that you two have given me. I will miss the two of you very much.

  12. MRO

    So sorry! What more can I say. Other than that I regret not having been able to have met him. It makes me realize I need to get down for another visit soon.

  13. Tracey Dryka

    We had the privilege to see this beautiful boy!! We had taken two tours to Old Friend’s as the first one was not enough! Thank you

  14. Janet Ferguson

    Do you have any photos of him?

  15. captainsbaby92

    I now own a son of Academy Award. I love to read that his sire was as wonderful as he is. Clays Dreamer (or Nelson as I named him) no longer races as I have retrained him to be my jumping horse. He has a heart of gold and will try 100% for everything and it sounds like he got that from his daddy =]

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