The accomplishments of American Pharoah---winner of the Triple Crown in 2015 ---are well known. He’s a moneymaker, a stud horse, a cover boy, a charity fundraiser and the generator of a tremendous amount of publicity and goodwill for racing.
I was excited to meet this modern racing icon when we planned a road trip to Kentucky this past May to coincide with a tour of Coolmore America’s Ashford Stud in Versailles. I first encountered American Pharoah when I got separated from the tour group and walked into his barn. He was facing the back of his stall munching on hay when I spotted him. I uttered a clicking sound, and he backed up and made a wide turn to come and face me at the screen. He looked into my eyes and held my gaze. As starstruck as a 16-year-old groupie, I could only say, “Hello! Hello!” in my softest voice. The fact that this superstar stopped eating hay and came to stand quietly with me, a stranger, is something I will never forget.
Later, when American Pharoah was brought out so we could be formally introduced on the tour, I had the opportunity to stroke his nose. We’ve all heard of Thoroughbred stallions who were high-strung, intractable, even vicious. Not this guy. He was alert---he seemed to notice everything---but he was utterly calm. He cooperated with his handlers, and he greeted each tourist with interest and polite respect.
I had heard it said that American Pharoah brings people together in a spirit of joy, peace and love, and now I understand why. It’s just the attitude he seems to elicit from others. In a world of constant bombardment with bad news and horrific images, this horse is an oasis. His body language and attitude convey his gentle demeanor and kindness and respect for others. I wish more people could do that.
In fact, I think we humans could learn a lot from American Pharoah:
• Live in the moment. Stay focused on where you are and what you are doing.
• Stay calm. When you are exploding with nervous energy, others will pull away from you. But if you project calmness, others will come closer.
• Give love. People will be more likely to love you back.
• Be humble. No matter how accomplished you are, other people still deserve basic courtesy and respect.
• Always try your best. As gentlemanly as he is, American Pharoah is still one of the top racehorses of our time--- an accomplishment that took dedication, training and heart.
My visit inspired me to make one lasting change in my life. American Pharoah and other horses at Ashford live in luxury. But I left that day thinking of all of the retired racehorses who are sometimes abandoned, neglected and forgotten.
Now I make regular visits to local Thoroughbred retirement farms---Old Friends Equine at Cabin Creek near Saratoga Springs, New York, and Baiting Hollow Farm Horse Rescue and Vineyard in Calverton, New York---armed with goodies like carrots, mints and apples. There are no Triple Crown winners here, and no admiring throngs, but there are many sweet horses who need our help and support. Old Friends also has two locations in Kentucky, and there are other rescue organizations across the country who need donations and volunteers.
We admire the human heroes in our world---and we can be grateful for the inspiration they offer us to do better with our own lives. Why not celebrate equine superstars for their best qualities? If we could all be half as resolute, kind and courteous as American Pharoah is, we’d all be exemplary human beings.