Heartland

Nothing quite spells Kentucky like a sunny, down-home day at the horse races.  Even though I missed the Kentucky Derby by five months, I was fortunate enough to be in the Bluegrass State for the next best thing:  Keeneland Racetrack.  A student and friend treated me to an all-inclusive horse race experience for my birthday and I soon discovered, Kentuckians don’t horse around when it comes to race day.

We met our coach bus, aka–the Party Wagon, at the local watering hole around 10:45 am and already Bloody Mary’s and Screwdriver’s were being liberally poured out of two gi-normous coolers.  The coolers, snacks, plus 50 eager horse fans boarded the bus and we were underway; our bus winding through the back roads of horse country….God’s Country.

Against a backdrop of a pristine autumn blue sky, layers of orange, gold, vermilion and amber trees lined rolling, green pastures intersected into rectangles by perfect, stark-white fences.

Maybe it was one too many Screwdrivers, or perhaps the fact that I won $60 betting on a horse I’d never heard of.  (As if I’d heard of any of ’em, for that matter)  Maybe it was the smell of horse sweat and hay that dredged up a childhood obsession that started with unicorns and pegasus’, later traded for for the reality of strong steeds, so wild and so free, but I was hooked.  Hooked on horse culture, on bloodlines, stallions, mares, jockeys, the underdog and betting against the odds.

So hooked that I made it a point to sober up early in the afternoon so that I could go home and watch Disney’s, Secretariat, on NetFlix.

The story of a horse won in a coin toss that saved a floundering farm, united a family, and against all odds, went on to win the Triple Crown in one of the most famous horse-races of all time.  He not only won the race, as would be expected in a Disney film, but he won it by 31 full lengths at speeds never again seen before or after.  No one could deny he was special from the moment of his birth.  Not only did he possess speed and stamina, but there was heart in that horse.

And in the two hours that I spent on YouTube after watching the Disney movie, browsing actual footage of the race, plus interviews with his handlers, owners and trainers, like a little girl, I fell in love with that horse.

He has been dead since 1989, fathered over 600 foals and spent his days in retirement at Claiborne Farm, just outside of the Keeneland Race Track.  And when he was finally put down due to a hoof infection, the autopsy discovered that the heart of one of the greatest racehorses ever known was twice the size of a normal thoroughbred.  Twice the size.

I think when I discovered this fact, I was so inspired, my heart grew two sizes.  Imagine the amazing things you can accomplish when you allow your heart to be so open, so big, so full.  Imagine the possibilities if you allow your heart to expand exponentially with every experience, layer by layer…growing and growing, all-encompassing.  Instead of shutting down, closing off, withdrawing inward every time we experience a hurt or a loss or grief.

Imagine being flooded.  Overtaken with compassion, radiating joy from the center of your chest until the warmth presses out into the back of your skin and cannot, will not be contained by your epidermis any longer.  Imagine unconditional acceptance; the people you  may let in when you are overloaded with love and the wonders life may offer up, the judgments you might admonish, the peace that might overwhelm you.

Imagine, with a giant heart like that, in this gnarly race of life,  winning by 31 lengths.

Wishing you ridiculous, inordinate amounts of love.  Happy Holidays.

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