A Blast from the Past
Saturday after the tours, as Barbara and I hung out with the horses, Barbara’s phone was tuned to the races. We were visiting Ogygian when the time came for Lady of Shamrock’s race. Since she’s Ogygian’s great-great-granddaughter, we invited him to watch, turning up the sound and holding the screen for him to see. He just snuffed at the phone, thinking it might be edible, but then the gate opened, the hooves rushed, and the race call began. Everything changed. Ogygian lifted his head, looking at the phone, ears pricked, neck a little arched, listening to the race call. During the entire race he remained absolutely intent. He didn’t move a muscle. He was totally focused, ears pointed at the sound from the phone.
Not that I think the little dots moving on the screen meant anything to him. Not that I think he understood the words, or that a descendant of his was running in the race. But he doesn’t usually respond like that to phones. The trick used by some horse photographers of playing recordings of horses’ nickers and neighs never gets so much as a glance from him. Ogygian knows, better than any other horse I’ve ever been around, when he’s being faked off. But he also knows perfectly well the rhythms and tones of a race being called, a sound familiar to horses who have lived on race track backsides. And watching his intent interest, and the erect, proud way he lifted his head, it was clear he knew exactly what those sounds meant.
As a breed, Thoroughbreds tend to be competitive. They like to prevail. Like people, they tend to like doing things they succeed at. I think this is why so many of the stakes winners among our residents show pleasure when they’re reunited with their jockeys or hear a bugle play the call to the post. It’s been more than 26 years since Ogygian’s last race, but his response to the race call expressed pleasure. Whatever memories or sensations that sound brought back to him, they were good.
And when the race was over, that was okay too. He lowered his head, swished his tail, and enjoyed a few more carrots and caresses from the friends who make his present life good.