( How I met the great horse god, Rampal )
( Note: Noone voluntarily dismounts on the main track, the riders know this, the horses know this. )
I was galloping Thoroughbreds at a race track in West
Virginia for a man name of Mr. Samples.
Who, in my estimation, was one on the bravest men I know because he gave me his horses to ride knowing the stewards had denied me the use of the outrider except on condition of broken tack.
The stewards did this because I was a female and although they wanted to deny me an exercise license at their track, they could not because I already held a TRA exercise & pony license and this was a TRA track. So I was denied the use of the outrider in hopes that no-one would mount me on their horses because of this, or that I would be killed, justifying their choice of denying females exercise licenses.
One day, after weeks of galloping horses for Mr. Samples, he threw me up on a huge Thoroughbred and simply told me to take him around the track. Now Mr. Samples was usually very honest about his horses with his exercise people (a rare and beautiful thing on the track), but I was busy that morning and failed to recognize the caution flag of his silence about this horse.
There seemed nothing amiss with my mount as we walked to the track and entered the gap at the head of the stretch.
Normally you enter the main track and take the outside rail, moving from a walk to a jog trot and then to a slow canter, gradually taking your speed and place (according to speed) in the traffic.
This horse kept a slow walk on the outside rail and nothing
I could do changed that.
As we entered the clubhouse turn I was getting frustrated and actually removed my feet from the stirrups and booted him one while slapping his neck with the end of the reins. He seemed to notice me then and turned and 'said' "You're here just to keep me legal. I know so much more about this than you do, it's embarrassing to have you here. Listen and learn, but don't annoy me again or I'll do something severe about it." Now I've entered into contracts before with horses who demanded a say in that contract. However, this was the first and only time the horse demanded to write the entire thing with no input from me. I was a passenger and, at that moment, recognized it.
Just then the main outrider passed us going the other way and I looked at him with terror and pleading in my eyes. He looked at the horse and then at me with what I could only recognize as "We'll miss you. I might even send flowers."
We walked quietly around the clubhouse turn, master and student passenger and just as I was resigned to walking around the entire track and reporting my failure to the trainer, we turned into the backside and around a blind corner in the contract. At approximately the 3/4 pole my teacher started to drift in and watch the traffic. Now this was a flag I didn't miss and I knew then we were going to work. For he was doing exactly what I would have done if I was going to work a horse going from the outside rail. As my breath caught in my chest and my heart stopped, the only thing my brain could handle was "Oh Lord I pray Thee....".
I got no further that this when my master, having actually stopped and turning his head back toward the clubhouse turn to wait for a clearing in the traffic, found one and entered the inside rail traffic at the 1/2 pole in a relaxed hand gallop on the (proper) outside lead. Between the 1/2 and 3/8 pole he looked back to 'say' "you're awfully silent, are you 'tying on' or planning something? Or are you dead back there?" I replied that I had seen the error of my earlier ways and acknowledged that he was indeed a 'better man than I was' and I intended nothing more than to stay on. This was why I was locking a full cross on his 'iron' neck with the reins at the same time winding what fingers I could through his ample and beautiful mane and that I would try not to annoy him any further. As I assumed the proper crouched position just behind his withers, I also politely requested that we return to the barn in a timely manner and in one piece. This exchange seemed to satisfy him that I had found my place and I was returned to the good student list. By this time he changed to the appropriate inside leg and began his work at the 3/8ths against the polite but steady pull of the bit.
A feeling of sheer raw but controlled power exploded beneath
me as he engaged the most powerful hindquarters that it has ever been my
privilege to witness and leaned expertly into the far turn. He again
smoothly switched leads for the straightaway and as we thundered down the
stretch, I completely entered his world and felt the unexplainable thrill
of being one with the full power of the wind.
Mere words cannot possibly convey that feeling. I have worked horses and entered into early morning match races out of the gate or not, but I have never felt this level of awesome power either before or since I met this regal master of the race track.
As we went under the wire I felt his feeling of accomplishment mingled with my coming out of trance and wondering if we'd ever pull up. I gently released both the cross and his mane, stood up, praised him for a job well done and politely requested that he move to the outside rail. This was all I could manage at the time. He 'obeyed', he was probably going to do it anyway. My master pulled up as smoothly as he entered his workout and we walked, him regally, me thanking our Maker back to the barn where I told Mr. Samples everything that had physically transpired and advised him to use another more experienced exercise person on this horse in the future. Mr. Samples said nothing, just nodded and we went about our morning chores.
The next time the horse came up for exercise the trainer again threw me up on him and I again reminded him that I was just a passenger on this horse. Mr. Samples was silent on this and just told me to do what I could and report back to him the way the horse was going and the pole where this regal master started his workout. Also Mr. Samples asked me to tell him how difficult it was to pull up.
I 'galloped?' this horse every time he went out and duly reported the entire physical sequence of events to the trainer. (this horse never failed to pull up as requested when he had finished his work) After about the 3rd or 4th time, my curiosity got the better of my 'better not know' reflex and I queried Mr. Samples on why he kept putting me on a horse that I obviously couldn't control. This is when the bomb hit. This horse had never, to the best of his knowledge, been pulled up (always with an outrider, usually two) within less than 1 3/4 miles after his work. Most jockeys and exercise boys who knew the horse wouldn't exercise him and once it had taken two outriders, one on each side, close to 3 miles to get him stopped. I had been the only one who had ever exercised him to pull him up alone within a short distance after his workout.
The trainer didn't tell me this before because he was afraid that 1. I would be too frightened to get on the horse. and 2. That it would impair my ability to get along with the horse and also to evaluate his workout properly. Mr. Samples was so right, his judgment in this matter was, indeed, flawless.
The regal master showed he was ready to race by the timing and distance of his workouts and also by the exuberance of his pull ups afterwards. I believe he won his race and Mr. Samples 'went to the bank' a happier man. It was in that first gallop when I felt the 'iron' of his neck that I named him "The Freight Train" and forgot his real name. He didn't mind, actually he thought it was rather complementary.
This was an old stakes horse that was pulled out of his retirement every so often when the trainer thought the master needed a break from the boredom of pasture or there were bills to be paid. This grand master did indeed know much more than I or any trainer could have known about his needs in working up to a race. It is my honor and privilege to have known him and my excellent good luck to have actually been allowed to sit on his back. Also I am privileged to have known a smart and wonderful trainer who knew when to trust his horse's judgment.
I shall ever remember this grand and regal equine master and his trainer, Mr. Samples, in my heart with a fondness I reserve for my most talented teachers and friends. May he and Mr. Samples both live long and prosper where ever they may be.
I believe the horse's actual name to be Rampal.
Poco Regalo and I taking Judgeable and Walter Blum
to the gate in the Michigan Mile race at the Detroit Race Course.
These horse stories are the true experiences of D. Clarke
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