This October began with a violent, howling wind. Leaves were swirling and blowing in all directions before finally tumbling to the ground. The cracking of dead branches in the surrounding trees provided the competing soundscape. Mother nature cleaning house. As the sun rose, I watched the clouds racing across the sky, dark grey, or tinted rose and violet. The fields already show the colors of summer fading; the sunflower heads, now heavy with seeds, bend towards the ground, no longer greeting the sun. In the vegetable garden, the marigolds shine brightly, one of the last flowers to bloom so extravagantly at this time of year. The firewood is stacked, ready for winter. Autumn, my favorite time of the year, has arrived.
Sipping my morning coffee, curled up on the sofa, my mind wandered back to past autumns, and one very special October: The year was 1958; the event was the Washington D.C. International Horse Show.
I begged my parents for weeks to let me attend this prestigious equestrian event; my river of tears did not so easily dissuade them from their position. Finally, after my friends, who were responsible adults and horse owners, spoke with them, and after the multiple cross-my-heart promises I made to come straight home after the show, my parents relented. The all night drive was difficult and covered hundreds of miles; it was completely worth it to me.
I had come to see the open jumping events, one of the most exciting and dangerous horse competitions. The best horses in the world were here. There I was, finally, settled-in and leaning on a barrier at the competition ring, as close as I could get to where the jumps took place. I’d been at this single spot for hours, afraid to move, certain I would lose my place if I left for even a moment. This was a very special year for the gathering because of a special horse; everyone was talking about the plow horse who was saved from the butcher, Snowman, the ‘Cinderella horse’, was competing. As he entered the ring, I watched breathlessly, eyes glued particularly at a six foot high solid jump. As the thundering hooves came closer and closer each second, I held my breath. Before I knew it, this extraordinary animal was right in front of me. Effortlessly, he leapt, seemingly suspended for a moment in air, jumping an impossible height with room to spare. His hooves bounded onto the soft ground close to where I stood, ending with a kick-up of his hind legs; he seemed to understand his feat by this joyful buck of turf. The audience cheered and yelled with a wild roar of enthusiasm; uncontrollable tears filled my eyes.
On this October morning, more than 50 years later, listening to autumn winds howling outside, I close my eyes and still feel the excitement of that moment. I remember my sobs as the big horse and his rider effortlessly leapt the difficult course of six foot high jumps. Like many Americans, I knew a bit of the story of this team; Snowman had been a plow horse; the sores around his neck when he was purchased attested to that fact. The man who bought him was new to America and had very little money. However this team won in the most prestigious open jumper competitions against the most expensive, highly bred and beautiful horses in the world. Their story gave this unhappy teenager a sense of hope for a brighter future, and made me determined to follow my dreams. There is a recent book, The Eighty Dollar Champion: Snowman by Elizabeth Letts, that tells the complete story of this horse and the man he loved; it speaks of their climb to fame from that snowy day when Snowman was bought from the butcher’s truck. I never knew everything about this amazing team of horse and rider until I read this book; but this story, able to lift one’s belief in dreams to new heights, is a treasured part of my library. There is a quote at the beginning of the book that I keep beside me: “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then, when we summon the will, they soon become inevitable.” Christopher Reeve