I open up Instagram to look at pictures…mostly horses, with the occasional dog, cat, or even human being. I don’t typically expect to read something important there.
But, Carleigh Fedorka posted this last night. It spoke to me.
What my life has become now, I owe to everyone I’ve met along the way who has shed light on the world of horse racing.
Not even three years ago, back in August of 2013, I trucked off to Arlington to go to the Million. I didn’t do this because I knew any of the horses running (Palace Malice wasn’t, after all…), but because it had been something I was a bit curious about for a while. I went alone in jeans and a t-shirt, cluelessly marked up my program, and hugged the rail all afternoon. My broken clock was right twice that day: with I’m Already Sexy in the Hatoof, and then with Real Solution getting put up over The Apache in the Million.
That day, I may not have left the track with much more than I showed up with, but I left the track with something I never had before: a burning need to keep coming back.
It made no sense to me. Horses were gorgeous, of course, and I wanted to be around them. But, from this outsider’s perspective, Horse Racing seemed concentrated on two worlds, neither of which would ever have a place for me. Either you had to be glamourous enough to befit the Sport of Kings, or you had to have grown up around horses.
I was neither of these things. I was thirty when the horse racing bug bit. I had watched the Triple Crown on TV growing up, but that was about it. I had been on the back of a horse twice in my life. I was too old to dive into something in which everyone seemed so entrenched since forever.
Or, so I thought.
Those early trips to the track were solitary affairs. I would get to Arlington or Hawthorne a few hours early, handicap at the track, watch the races. Still, I avoided talking to many people. I didn’t want to be a bother, to annoy anyone who worked at the track or who was trying to enjoy a day at the track.
So, Twitter became my place to read, to shout into the ether, and to start listening to racing banter. More and more racing content crept onto my Twitter feed. Initially I apologised for that fact; eventually, I stopped. Twitter has always been the external manifestation of my internal monologue. That had become mostly horse racing, so my feed followed suit.
And, thanks to that, racing started to become less solitary.
More than anything, one line of Carleigh’s piece spoke to me: “These ‘outsiders’ are lacking one thing and one thing only -a connection.”
That was what was missing for me those first few months of following racing. I was sitting at the tables, hugging the rail, observing what I could…but still an outsider, and mostly living in my head.
It has not only informed me, but it has introduced me to so many people who love horses, and who love horse racing. This includes both people I only know online, as well as people I have met in person, around the racetracks. Thanks to these people, I still learn new things about horse racing every single day. After all, I have so much to catch up on — in a sport where so many people grew up with it, starting to pursue it at age thirty (as opposed to thirteen…) puts me in a sort of Silky Sullivan place.
But, even as I do that, it also gives me a place to share what I’ve learned with others. It isn’t only passive.
And, as that exchange continues, I have gone from feeling like an outsider, to taking a few tentative steps, to finding my place in the world of horse racing. It’s a process, and I’m still not where that road will go in the long term. But, it’s not a road I’d have ever been able to embark upon in any meaningful way if it were not for the presence and the openness of everyone I’ve met who has taken the time and energy to shed light on the parts of horse racing they knew.