But close. Instead of being at the races, I was with the former racers - horses, that is. And this is the week preceeding the Kentucky Derby, one of the premier social activities, not to mention its status in horse racing circles, in the East in the spring.
Marysville, Washington has an equine (horse to those of you not familiar with their Latin derivation) rescue farm and they advertised that they were looking for volunteers. I did not know until I went out there about the number of racehorses they had rescued, although I know the sad outcome for many of those who are not winners. Living near Alachua, Florida, a winter breeding and training spot for racing, I heard enough of the "boom and bust" dream tales of those who invested with high hopes and ended up unable to support the animal that was carrying their dreams.
But I was remembering what having a couple of horses meant for me. I missed the unique aspects that being around them brings into focus, so I decided to drive out to the farm and see what the 'lay of the land,' was and how much abuse the volunteers have to endure to save abused horses.
For that, overworking, is a reality in any non-profit organization dependent on volunteer assistance. And many groups depend on those of us who have time and energy - and sometimes other resources - to help them do the work they do. And a few do truly important work, great work, and loving work. I needed to assess if this was that kind of operation.
Equine Rescue Alliance (ERA) truly is worthy of any volunteer's time. It is clearly an organization that is focused on the well-being of the horse - with a couple of ponies - and teaching young people to become aware of the beautiful, sentient and very remarkable qualities of these four-legged animals. Probably it was no mistake that I had recently borrowed from our library "Horses with a Mission" by Allen and Linda Anderson and was enjoying reading about several rescue horses and how they ended up having a service beyond their abandonment.
I was toured around the fields and barns and met most of the residents. They are innately curious creatures and wandered up to nuzzle me as we walked through the field, except for a couple which have been so abused they cannot be "in the public fields" yet. Among the social set was Player, the chestnut-colored grandson of Seattle Slew, who had no time for me. He barely sniffed me, took one look, assessed me as unimportant for the time being, and plodded off for greener pastures. That's how it is with rock stars, I guess. (If horses are your interest, click on the link for Seattle Slew and read Wiki's info on him. There are pictures to see here. Some of these characters even have their own Facebook pages!!!)
Several are retired from racing and from being brood mares. This lovely mare to the right was calling out to her friend who was outside the field getting groomed. The race track can be a cruel place and one poor creature lost her eye to a jockey's whip but is finally here in this idyllic pastureland to graze out the rest of her days. The few who are physically and mentally able to be part of the riding lesson schedule for small children or adults are used gently in this regard. Others can still be teachers for those who need to learn the tasks of grooming or saddling or just walking a horse around on a lead line.
In a couple of cases, the horses are young enough and resilient enough to be adopted out to homes away from the facility. And it is possible for individuals or groups to "adopt a horse" and come and feed it, groom it, love on it and ease it through to its elder years while it remains under the watchful eye of the staff.
One story really touched my heart. An older fellow had had two horses most of their lives. Physically he was getting to the point where it was too hard for him to take care of them, so he 'donated' them to ERA, but he comes out several times a week to be with them and helps to provide for their care financially to the best of his ability.
It was delightful to be in a horsey situation again, smelling the smells of hay, the feed, the tack room and yes, even the manure. It was fun to watch the ponies jostle each other to see who could get closest to the tall grass outside the fence line. I came away richer for the tour, and ready to offer some of my time when we are here in the area.