Sunday, December 26, 2010

Life is WAY stranger than fiction.....

When I was a little girl of about ten growing up in Beaverton, Oregon I rode horses at two different places. Each Saturday I would go with my friends up into the hills and we would rent horses at a place called Buckley's Riding Stable.

When you arrived at Buckleys you drove up a gravely dirt road until you came to the base of the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. There were some big pastures surrounded by barb wire fencing, a rickety barn filled with tie stalls and then out in front was a big U shaped hitching post that always had about 6-10 horses on each side saddled up standing tied waiting for someone to choose one to ride.

I usually chose an Appaloosa gelding named Cockleburr whom I would imagine looked a lot like his name now suggests (as I ended up showing Appaloosas on the very tough Pacific Northwest circuit of the 70's I suggest that he was very impactful on my life). The owner- Ralph Buckley would take rides out every couple of hours up onto the mountain trails while riding his little buckskin mare named Honey. Honey wore an actual bosal hackamore which I remember that I thought was really cool and sometimes Mr.Buckley would show us how he could make Honey turn as she trotted by just leaning his weight to one side or the other- which at the time I thought was just as cool. We would walk along the trails- one horse after another nose to tail until we got to a clearing at the top of the bluff. Then, upon turning back toward the trail back to the stable everybody would canter (or perhaps unfortunately just trot really fast if you were not careful about what horse you picked) together to the edge of the clearing. I cannot remember how many people got hurt during these rides- I do remember getting kicked really bad and having to go to the hospital when the hematoma on my shin would not stop getting bigger- but I am sure that there were many. I remember a few horses just kept going when they got to the end of the canter spot- but nobody ever seemed to worry too much about it and I never heard of anyone actually getting killed.

This was back in the (good old) days when nobody sued anyone. If you were stupid enough to pay your $5.00 an hour to ride a horse up in the mountains behind a very old man who allowed everyone to gallop as a group back towards the stable at the top of a bluff I guess it was just presumed that you knew what you were setting yourself up for.

At some point during these excursions it was decided by family friends that I probably did need to actually learn how to ride a horse since I seemed so determined to do so. I had spent a week at a horse camp each summer for a few years where it was just as amazing that nobody was ever airlifted out due to getting kicked in the head or bucked off and run over. My parents were finally convinced by these very smart people that the hospital bills were actually costing more than real riding lessons would run.

Near our house was a lovely stable called Wishing Well Farm. It was not as big and fancy as some- but to this day I remember it as being the barn to which I measure all other farms. Right out alongside the road was the outdoor ring with the white rail fence around it. (Someday I want my stable to have a ring just like it alongside the country lane). There were usually several jumps in this ring and I dreamed of the day when I would be able to jump a real course. Up until that point my jumping experience had consisted of when Cockleburr decided that a log on the ground was between him and any where he felt like going up on the hills behind Buckleys. This was usually accompanied by me hanging for dear life as he lurched over the 2 feet or so that it stuck up from the ground. Sometimes I stayed on- just as often I did not and ended up having to walk back down the long steep train to the the pastures below where Cockleburr could usually be found grazing with his friends. And for those who wonder- NO you did not get your $5 refunded if most of your hour was spent retrieving your wayward horse.

And at Wishing Well Farm there was a lovely two story white barn just beside the outdoor ring. Feeling quite disloyal to my broomtailed trail riding buddy Cockleburr I developed my very first (of many) true horse crushes on a big bay stallion that was in the first stall to the right. His name was Turf Career and I just knew that someday I would get to ride him (spoiler alert- I did NOT get to ride Turf Career). I used to bring a bag of carrots each week to the stable. Half was for my school horse of the week- but the first half went to Turf Career.

There were other barns, stalls and buildings on the property, but the only other one I remember well was the indoor arena where I spent many hours trotting around on a patient school horse learning to post on the correct diagonal. The only real clear thing that I remember about any of my lessons was that one particular day my regular instructor was busy (looking back I believe that it was Kentucky Derby Day and because I did not know anything about the importance of the Kentucky Derby at that point I showed up for a makeup Saturday lesson along with the other girls in my class) and so on this day there were a couple of older junior riders who were in charge of our lesson. (The name Mish-short for Michelle- sort of comes to mind perhaps?)The indoor was not huge and while several horses could all trot at the same time, none of the beginner lessons cantered at the same time. If you were allowed to canter you did so from the front of the line around the ring until you reached the back of the line where your horse automatically stopped when he reached the tail end of the last horse. (This was unlike Buckley's riding stable where your horse just plowed into the horse in front in order to stop).

On this particularly memorable day (since the regular instructor was not there) we were each asked if we had cantered before. I was pretty sure that (if asked) my instructor would have said 'NO- she does not canter yet' since she was still trying to get me to trot on the correct diagonal, but I guess I justifiably felt that those weeks and months of riding Cockleburr at a wild run along the top of the bluff -hanging on for dear life to the saddle horn- had probably equipped me for an easy canter around the indoor ring. I can still remember feeling so proud that I got my horse to canter and did not fall off. And I can still remember one of the girls teaching my class asking me 'are you SURE that you have cantered before?'.......

I am not sure when I stopped taking my riding lessons, or even when we stopped riding each week at Buckleys Riding Stable (whose phone number 357-6243 is still stuck in my head)....but at some point I had my own horse and I just went on like most kids to try and figure things out for myself.

So the title of this blog today is Life is WAY stranger than fiction....and so far I have not proved it. But read on...

Facebook has changed our lives. No doubt. It has allowed us to reconnect with old friends, make new friends and plan for events and reunions like no other medium.

The other day one of my 'facebook friends', Jim Anderson...-someone that I have never met but have racetrack friends in common with- chatted with me and asked me to give him a call. He wanted to talk to me about a mutual friend that we have that has had some extraordinary challenges the past several months. I knew that he was a trainer at Santa Anita and that today was opening day, and so about noon I gave him a call.

A few minutes into the conversation I mentioned that one very cold winter in Chicago at Sportsmens Park I threw my winter snow boots into a dumpster and heading back to the west coast. I said that after the blizzards and sub zero weather that I had been experiencing in Chicago that winter that even Portland Meadows seemed warm by comparison.

At this point Jim mentioned that he had grown up in Portland so was very used to the weather there.

Now I am trying in my life to get used to coincidences. I really am.

As this conversation continued it turned out that his Dad (Dennis Anderson) had been racing secretary at Portland Meadows when I was there in the mid seventies. Small world.... but this story gets better.

I asked him where in Portland he had grown up and he said that it was in a smaller town just west of Portland named Hillsboro. I told him that I had grown up in the very next town over (Beaverton) and had attended Aloha High School. Turns out that we were in the same district at rival high schools. He then mentioned the family farm where his Dad brought the racehorses that did not make it at the track and his Mom turned them into show horses. We continued to compare notes and it turned out that we were both showing horses all over the region at the same stables and against the same people.

We finished the conversation and it must have been about two hours later when I was telling someone else (that had grown up with me in the horse world) about the coincidences that the real impact really hit me. So- I called him back to ask the really important question.

And yes- the 'family farm' that he grew up on showing horses was Wishing Well Farm and his Mom- Vickie- had been my riding instructor 40 years ago.

So there you have it. Two strangers meet on facebook. One lives and trains racehorses in Southern California and one lives and trains dogs in Oklahoma. And they were both riding in the same little white railed arena 4 decades ago.

I do not even try to understand it any more.........