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Archive for September, 2011

(Title from the lyrics of a song called “Animal Grace,” composed by singer-songwriter, Laura Nyro, that appears in her last DVD collection, “Angel In The Dark.”)

This is an unusual article to find on a horse racing site,  even though its subject is the deep attachment between human and animal. I know that THE VAULT’S readers will understand why it belongs here, among the stories of thoroughbreds we love. 

Jericho loved to lie down outside and watch the world go by.

…Last night, Jericho Braveheart, our Spirit Dog, died in the arms of my son and myself. In attendance at our home was our vet, a man who himself was sent by some loving and benevolent spirit to the animals and humans in his care.

For the last three days of his life, people in our community whom he knew and loved appeared, like a band of angels. His first dog walker when he was only a baby — the elderly couple who take coffee every afternoon at Second Cup and who reminded Jericho daily that ” … you are our dog, too” — the children in our building who got their very first dog because they had fallen in love with Jericho — our “flower lady,” Mrs. Kim, who Jericho adored and who kept biscuits for him in her flower shop. And on it went.

Those who loved him appeared like angels: Jericho and my neighbour's son, Gryffyn.

It was hard not to notice Jericho. He walked with a brace on his right foreleg for most of his 11 years,8 months, the result of a freak car accident that almost killed him. The vets who attended him after the accident said it was a miracle that he “came back to us” as the dog he had always been, in terms of temperament and personality. Apparently, this often doesn’t happen when an animal survives trauma. But not only did Jericho come back, he resurged with gusto and a renewed tenderness for family, friends, children and strangers who needed a little love and kindness in their lives.

So it was that when we discovered that he was dying, my son and I made the decision to speak for Jericho, to help him to leave us before his illness worsened any further. During this time, I mused about a precious, silvery thread that weaved through the texture of our life with Jericho. It began within days of our bringing baby Jericho home from the SPCA.

Opening Act

Our very first photo of Jericho, hours after we brought him home from the SPCA.

In the years that had passed since my previous dog, the “crate” had come into vogue and, accordingly, we bought one, put a soft blanket down on the floor and scattered a few toys inside for good measure. Then we waited for Jericho to do what the dog books said all pups do: namely, to adopt the crate as his indoor doghouse. After 6 days of waiting, during which time Jericho sniffed at it but otherwise crept passed it in silent foreboding, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

Scooping him up, I placed him in his crate with several puppy cookies and closed the door.

When we returned, about 20 minutes later, Jericho was waiting for us at the front door.

We examined the crate. The door was closed, the drop-lock in place. So how had he…..?

I placed him inside the crate again, closed the door, dropped the lock and reinforced it by securing the door to the frame of the crate with a leather belt. I tried the door to be sure it was closed properly and then out we went, for another 20 minutes.

And again, baby J. met us at the front door.

He followed us happily into the living room where he sat down, his tail thumping out a drum beat on the carpet. The crate was intact — door closed, lock dropped, leather belt. This time we checked each of the three walls, convinced the crate had some kind of  “assembly flaw.” But we found nothing of the kind.

At work, I told the story to a few women from the Cree Nation that had come down from the North to work together with me on an educational mission that was close to the heart of their community: writing units of study in the Cree language for the children in their elementary schools. Even before the incident of “Jericho and The Crate,” I had fallen in love with their stories, customs and ancient wisdom.

Daisy Bearskin and Lucy Shem smiled as I told the story of my Houdini puppy. Then they explained, in gentle but earnest tones, ” Jericho is a Spirit Dog. That’s why he can get out of the cage. He is your Spirit Dog and a cage is not the right place to keep him. Just like you wouldn’t put your own spirit in a cage – it’s the same for your Spirit Dog.”

Our Spirit Dog's markings changed dramatically. Here is Jericho a mere 4 weeks after we rescued him.

Then Daisy reached into her purse and pulled out a small charm made of Caribou bone, threaded onto a strip of leather. The little figure was of a howling wolf. She pressed it into my palm and said, “This belongs to Jericho. Keep it with him always. He is your teacher and guide.” I was very moved by her gift. Later, when I asked how she knew the charm was for Jericho, she replied, “I put it in my bag when I knew we were coming down here. I thought it was for you at the time. But after you told us the story, I knew I was wrong. It belongs to Jericho.”

That night, my son and I disassembled the crate and took it down to the basement.

______________________________

Significance of Animal Spirits

Jericho loved his Kong. Here he is at the Dog Run about 10 months after he began to wear his brace.

Jericho wore his sacred charm for awhile but I was afraid that he might lose it. Eventually, I took it off and kept it for him in a ceramic jar with my own Native North American treasures — a turquoise beaded bracelet, a Medicine Bag and sacred stones.

Long before Jericho came into my life, I was fascinated by the traditions and beliefs of different cultural communities and had read many books on the subject. So I knew quite a lot about Spirit Animals and Guides long before I met Daisy and Lucy.

Deep, dark eyes of a teacher and guide.

The Native North American belief is that every human has an animal spirit and, if our heart is open, they come to us. In the past and in some cultures today, the young are sent out into the wild to encounter their animal spirit; this was part of the initiation into the culture of many, if not all, indigenous Native North American tribes. At essence, this part of the initiation ceremony was about uniting your essence with the Mother of All to become part of a sacred world that is both here on Earth and not here.

One of my favourite shots of Jericho, taken in 2009.

Spirit Dog, 10 years later (2010)

Jericho, my son and I reaped the fruit of what was in essence an inter-species affair for a decade. During which we learned so much from and with Jericho, each and every day. While some saw him as burdened by his handicap, we, his family, learned that this handicap was a gift that had been entrusted to Jericho. And he carried that gift with great wisdom into schools to work with teenagers who bore the scars of cruelty and into the lives of strangers who themselves walked on despite handicap, old age and infirmity.

Christmas card photo: "Jericho & the Snowman."

Jericho was a winter dog. He just adored the snow!

Jericho and his pal, Emerson, at play.

Last year, my friend Liz Read, a gifted photographer and artist, came for a visit. As was typical at that time, Liz never went far afield without her camera. So it was that on this day, shortly before she left, she snapped a few photos of Jericho looking up at me, listening in on our conversation.

A short time later, she sent me the photos with a sort of befuddled note. Jericho had turned out blue, even though everything else in the photos was the colour it ought to be. The blue encircled his heart and head. In another shot, a close-up of Jericho laughing — a trait so much a part of his personality — his whole face was blue. Liz sent the originals together with the same images converted to black and white. In her note to me, she confessed that her camera was likely on the fritz, although she had examined it carefully and could find nothing wrong. She was unable to account for the “correctness” of the background in the first photo (below), as well as Jericho’s hind leg, which is colour correct.

At this point, let me qualify. I am not persuaded by “New Age” wisdom, nor do I subscribe to theories of literal reincarnation or anything of that kind. I am, however, deeply spiritual and I certainly believe (undoubtedly a genetic gift from my Welsh grandmother) that all animate and inanimate forms have a spirit, or soul. And that this spirit, or soul, is immortal however it may choose to manifest. (Actually, this latter is born out by science and particularly, quantum physics, that teaches us how matter can neither be created nor destroyed. It simply manifests itself in a different form — in the air we breathe, in the warmth of the sun on our faces, and so forth.)

The "Blue Dog." Photo and copyright, Liz Read.

My first thought about these exquisite photos, and particularly the whole body shot (above), was that the composition was like a painting — one of those rare instances where one is reminded that photography is, indeed, an art. I chuckled about the serendipity of my “blue dog.”But later and in the days that followed, I reflected on Buddhist and other teachings, where the spirit, or soul, is blue and in which the colour blue, as in Christianity, universally signifies a divine presence, as well as protection from evil.

In the end, I decided that our Spirit Dog Jericho was manifesting himself and hoping that I would notice, just as he had when he was a baby escaping from the dreaded dog crate.

The Circle Closes 

As you may know, circles are sacred symbols of eternity. Hence the sacred depictions of them in the artefacts of many, many cultures in the form of the uroborus (snake swallowing its tail), in haloes, in wreaths, in dances, in stone circles and ancient symbols.

It is in this sense that my Spirit Dog Jericho closed the circle of his story in this world.

In the days before Jericho left us to begin the next part of his journey, the hours passed with a great heaviness for me. One night, I decided to Google “Spirit Dog” to see if there was anything else I could learn that I didn’t already know. Up came a listing of sundry sites where the words “spirit” and “dog” appeared.

Howling out his joy.

Many of the first listings were either New Age-y or else, told me nothing new. Then I came upon something called, “Meeko Littlefoot.” When I opened Meeko’s page, I was stunned.  Since Jericho was an SPCA rescue, we knew very little about his bloodlines and in those first years, I was determined to chase down photos of dogs who looked like him and carried his distinctive face markings. I never found a dog that resembled him.

Meeko Littlefoot, a North American Indian Dog.

Jericho Braveheart.

Suddenly, here was Meeko and although not identical, her resemblance to Jericho was startling. Meeko is a North American Indian Dog (NAID), a breed I knew nothing about until a few days ago. As I studied the different NAID sites, I also knew that my search was for something tangible that would tell me our beloved Spirit Dog would never really leave us. We humans are thick-minded in this way and I am no different: we think we need proof to believe.

It is almost two days now since Jericho’s physical presence departed, but he is here, teaching me: It doesn’t matter what breed Jericho was or wasn’t — his life was sacred. And to share this part of Jericho’s journey is one of the greatest gifts my son and I have ever received.

Thank you, my darling boy. Within us, you are home.

Self-portrait (2007)

Jericho and his boy, my son, James (2001)

For all those of you who have known, or are waiting to meet, your animal spirit, this excerpt from “My Dog Tim,” written by Winifred Mary Letts in the 1800’s:

[My dog Tim] he’d stick to me till his lastest breath;
An’ he’d go with me to the gates of death.
He’d wait for a thousand years, maybe,
Scratching the door ‘an whining for me
If myself were inside in Purgatory.

So I laugh when I hear them make it plain
That dogs and men never meet again.
For all their talk who’d listen to th’m
For with the soul in the shining eyes of him,
Would God be wasting a dog like Tim?

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AUGUST 14, 2015
Dear VAULT reader: As you know, THE VAULT published its very first article in 2011 and now enjoys a readership of over 280,000 worldwide. I cannot thank you all enough for your support and enthusiasm.
THE VAULT is a non-profit endeavour written out of love for the horses and the sport.
I felt it was time to find a way to give ‘payback,’ to use my efforts as a means of making a permanent contribution to the welfare of horses. Accordingly, I inaugurated a fund, in the name of THE VAULT, which will collect monies to be contributed towards organisations who specialize in horse rescue.
THE VAULT will feature the link below from this time on. Every few months I will post the monies that have been collected.
http://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4
I thank you all for taking part in this endeavour. No donation is too small — every penny will help.
Thank you.
*********************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

Far removed from the glare of cameras and the attention of eager journalists, the excerpt below depicts a typical day in the life of champion Riva Ridge while also giving readers a rare glimpse into the world of Edward Sweat. 

Edward Sweat was always thinking about horses. They just fascinated him.

Born in 1939 near Holly Hill in South Carolina, Eddie was the sixth of the nine children of Mary and David Sweat. David Sweat carried the blood of not only his African ancestors, but of the Cherokee Indian. Eddie’s father was also a herbalist, who knew how to collect plants that could be used to make ointments and poultices for the family’s team of horses and mules. Eddie learned about these ancient herbal remedies at his father’s side.

As a little fellow on the bus on his way to school, Eddie always wanted a window seat so that he could watch the horses that dotted the thoroughbred farms of Holly Hill. As fate would have it, one of those farms was owned by trainer Lucien Laurin. Until the bus turned onto the school grounds, Eddie would dream about horses.

The Sweat family were poor tenant farmers, as were many of the Afro-American families in the area and Mary Sweat was determined that every one of her children would have the benefit of an education. She believed that a good education would open doors to a future sparkling with possibilities. And even though his mother became enraged each and every time he did it, on those days when the fascination for horses overtook the drudgery of learning, Eddie would skip school to hang around the Laurin farm for the day.

He left home at a young age, spent a brief period pursuing a career as a boxer and then returned to Holly Hill in the 1950’s, where he landed a job at Lucien Laurin’s farm. The notable French Canadian trainer was to form a relationship with Eddie that was very much that of father-son, since Lucien raised the boy as much as he trained the groom.

Eddie, or “Shorty,” as he was dubbed by those who knew him best, was a small man with powerful forearms and those arms would serve him well: it was not long before he became Laurin’s most trusted groom. Horse people will tell you that horsemen are born, not made. And among even the toughest critics, Eddie Sweat was considered “The Master” when it came to horsemanship. His boyhood fascination with thoroughbreds was an early indicator of a rare and precious gift: Eddie had “the touch” — he just seemed to know instinctively how a thoroughbred’s mind worked and what it was they needed to keep them happy, fit and confident.

Eddie with his champions, Riva Ridge (foreground) and Secretariat. Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

In their respective books, Raymond Woolfe, Lawrence Scanlon and Bill Nack each had only wonderful things to say about Eddie, as did the prestigious horsemen they interviewed. The portrait that emerges is one of a consummate professional who took the greatest pride in all aspects of his work. Eddie was responsible and dependable. Knowing the importance of routine in building a horse’s sense of security and trust, Eddie was a stickler for orderliness and punctuality. As a person, Eddie was noted for his cheerfulness and generosity, as well as his calm, kind nature. By his own admission, his horses were number one. Even his wife and family needed to understand that Eddie’s career would always come first. And that meant he would be away for long periods at a time, since being Lucien Laurin’s #1 man meant travelling with the Laurin stable on its annual racing circuit. Although it wrecked havoc with his personal life, it was Eddie’s calling to work with thoroughbreds.

Before Riva Ridge and Secretariat came into Eddie’s life, there were other horses he loved and cared for. First among them was a horse called Lake Erie. Although he was unsound, Eddie worked magic on the colt’s legs, drawing on his knowledge of herbal medicine that he had learned from his father. Quoted in Scanlon’s book, Eddie said of the colt, “The little horse ran good for me. He won every time I turned him loose, he must have won four or five straight. So that sort of gave me ‘the spirit’ of rubbing horses.” It was a spiritual matter to him, the “rubbing” of horses, which was how he always described his work. In the rubbing lay the language he spoke to his horses, one they seemed to understand. After Lake Erie, Eddie rubbed Count Amber, his son Amberoid (who took the Belmont Stakes in 1966), Traffic, National, Tumiga, Bronzerullah and Lord Quillo. Each one held a special place in his heart.

A groom’s life is hard. It involves physical labor and a precise attention to detail, seven days a week, all year round. Eddie was in the Laurin stable before dawn and left, if he could, late into the night. He often lived in cramped conditions in rooms the size of a cubicle. During peak periods, he slept on a thin cot near his horses, for their protection and safety. And he worked for minimum wage with few, if any, benefits.

Despite the fact that groom and exercise rider are the two most important people in a trainer’s stable, since they are the ones who keep champions healthy, happy and winning, during Eddie’s lifetime these men ranked at the very bottom of the horse racing pyramid. This lowly status accounts for the fact that the best friends of some of the world’s greatest thoroughbreds have been lost to history, probably forever. As Bill Nack pointed out in an aptly-titled article he wrote for Sports Illustrated: “We Don’t Even Know Their Names.”

In Eddie’s case, we have the cruel irony of a gifted professional who cared for a thoroughbred legend and several champions throughout their racing careers, only to die a pauper.

Eddie Sweat’s grave, in The Rock Hill Church cemetery, near Holly Hill where he was born, bears only a simple marker: Edward Sweat 1939-1998. Someone has adorned it with three small plastic horses. The chestnut is probably intended to represent Secretariat. (Reference : L. Scanlon’s “The Horse That God Built.”)

When Secretariat first came into Eddie’s life he wasn’t very impressed with the handsome son of Bold Ruler. “I didn’t think much of him when we first got him. I thought he was just a big clown. He was real clumsy and a bit on the wild side, you know…” (Eddie quoted in the Canadian Horsemen, 1973) He was also too fat, as far as Eddie was concerned, and devoured his food as though he were starving. In fact, the Laurin team nicknamed Secretariat “Ol’ Hopalong” because he was awkward, chubby and seemed best at eating, sleeping and acting up.

Eddie with the Meadows first superstar of the 1970’s, Riva Ridge. Photo and copyright Raymond Woolfe Jr.

The love of Eddie’s life at that time was Riva Ridge, champion 2 year-old of 1971 and winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1972. The bay colt with the comical floppy ears was sweet and easy going, and so honest that he always gave 125% when he hit the racetrack. Riva and Secretariat were very different personalities. The one thing they shared in common was a passion for long, undisturbed naps. Riva would lie down to nap after his morning works, but Secretariat usually napped standing, with his head in a corner of his stall. And although he would grow to love Ol’ Hopalong in a very special way, Eddie never stopped loving and appreciating the Meadows’ first superstar of that era.  When Secretariat’s fame began to grow and journalists, photographers and fans turned up in the stable, Eddie’s thoughts turned to the champion that had been forgotten. Leaving Secretariat in the care of Charlie Davis, the other member of “Team Sweat,” Eddie would return to the barn to talk to Riva. He didn’t want his Riva to feel neglected or ignored. Cozying up to the little bay with a carrot in one hand, Eddie would tell him, “You’re my champ, Riva. You’re my boy.”

Of course, like all intelligent horses, “Peahead” as Eddie called Riva and “Hopalong” also needed to know that Eddie was the leader of the pack. And Eddie took little time establishing the hierarchy, without ever raising his voice. Instead, he was firm. When Riva or Secretariat acted up, he would either use a tone of voice that any good teacher recognizes or else he’d stop what he was doing and stare them down.

It remains unclear just how Ol’ Hopalong won Eddie’s heart, but win it — forever — he did. Secretariat was basically a kind and gentle giant, but he was also an alpha-type personality and this had shown itself very early on. Even as a foal he was always, as Penny Chenery would later reflect, “…the boss of the herd.” This trait remained with the champion until the end of his days; Seth Hancock of Claiborne Farm, musing about Secretariat’s personality, reported that none of the other stallions would eat until Big Red had finished up. And not only was Secretariat an alpha but a princely one, who expected to be treated like royalty long before he had raced his way into thoroughbred legend. He had a haughty air — one that Eddie summarily dismissed. He refused to be pushed around or intimidated by Secretariat, making it clear, during the first few weeks that the colt was in his care, that it was Eddie who called the shots. And Secretariat respected that. As Raymond Woolfe put it, “{Eddie} was the only one who could handle Secretariat … Riva Ridge and Secretariat respected him. Damn right they did. Eddie called the tune, they listened.”

The Little Prince: even as a baby, Secretariat was always “the leader of the pack.” Shown here at six months. Photo and copyright Raymond Woolfe Jr.

As a racehorse, Secretariat, like Man O’ War before him, was always on his toes.

He would rear at the slightest excuse and return from his morning works or after a race like the Kentucky Derby (where he broke the existing track record) more pent up than before he’d left the barn. It was Eddie’s constant chatter and grooming technique that taught Secretariat to slow down a little.

Bill Nack remarked on the sing-song quality of Eddie’s talk, part Gullah — a language that got its start in Georgia and South Carolina during the slave era, when slaves from different parts of Africa needed a universal language to communicate — and part dipthong. Eddie’s chanting was a kind of meditation, establishing an intimacy between horse and groom. One imagines the communion between the man and his champions, punctuated by the long arcs of brush and comb across their skin and the music of his voice.

Morning at Belmont: Eddie readies the champion for his morning work.

Secretariat, Charlie Davis in the irons and led by Eddie, follows trainer Lucien Laurin and another great love of the big horse’s life, stable pony Billy Silver, from the track after a morning work.

Because Eddie read horses so perfectly, he knew not to stand beside Secretariat’s head when he was working on him (a sign of weakness) or to touch his ears (which the big horse hated). He also watched over the colt when he was sleeping and refused to let anyone disturb him. It wasn’t long before the colt would offer Eddie his special greeting: he would stick out his tongue and wait for Eddie to give it a shake. Whether morning or midday or night, the sound of Eddie’s footsteps brought Secretariat to the front of his stall, tongue hanging out. And the little groom would push his hand into the champion’s mouth, grab his tongue and say, “Hello there, baby.” (Eddie’s pet names for Secretariat were “Baby” or “Red.” He tended to refer to the champion as “Big Red” when he found himself in the public eye, since he knew that the media had given Secretariat this nickname.)

Too, Eddie knew that Secretariat was afraid of loud noises. As a two year-old, coming off the track after a morning’s work, the colt had been startled by the backfire of a truck and had bolted and thrown his rider. The shock to his system was permanently stored in his memory bank and meant he needed to be led off the track every day. Before the pony, Billy Silver, came into the picture, it was Eddie who would go to get him and lead him back to the barn, talking to him the whole way, “You had your exercise now, baby. And now you’re gonna have a bath and a walk. Is that okay, Red? Yeah, that’s okay.” Secretariat loved his morning works and meeting Eddie at the finish was the best part of all. It was just the same after a race, when his best friend came to lead him into the winner’s circle, all part of a familiar and happy routine: work over, Eddie and the colt could go back to the harmony of the stables and their shared life.

Walking together in shed row. Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

Secretariat always needed to be led off the track, either by Charlie Davis on Billy Silver, or Eddie, since even after a good work out he was “on the muscle.” Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

Horses don’t know they’re racing legends and they don’t know that the people who love and befriend them are stable employees. In most cases, their trainers spend only slightly more time with them, even if they are superstars, than they do with the other horses in their barns. Jockeys and owners appear and disappear. And often, the tone of trainer and jockey tells a thoroughbred about his job, which is to run.

Eddie, lead rope in hand, comes out to meet Charlie Davis and his “baby.” Eddie and Charlie were good friends and both men loved mornings with Secretariat. Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

Being an inquisitive horse, Secretariat liked people, appreciating their different voices, smells and behaviours. But it was Eddie who fed him, travelled with him and sheltered him from the glare of the public. Eddie played games with him — tongue shakes, throw and fetch, tug of war — and brought him surprises. When he was anxious, Secretariat could grab onto Eddie’s shirt or jacket. When he was happy, the colt would lean right into him just as though he wanted to crawl into Eddie’s arms. The language Eddie spoke was about trust, understanding, comfort and safety. And in Secretariat’s eyes, that made him the One and Only. Leader of the herd. Equine family.

Given the responsibility, care and hours he devoted to the colt, Eddie, for his part, came to feel that “my baby” was, for all intensive purposes, “his baby.” When he spoke of Secretariat’s victories, he used the “we” pronoun. As in: “We’re going to win the Triple Crown — I dreamed it.”  Eddie dreamt about Secretariat often. Before the Belmont, Eddie dreamed that Secretariat would take a substantial lead, only to fall down, right himself and, with Turcotte in the irons, struggle to catch the rest of the field — but to no avail. Lucien Laurin also dreamed that Secretariat would stumble and fall leaving the gate. In this instance both trainer and groom were — happily — wrong. But the theme of Eddie’s dream hints at the anxiety he must have been feeling and his helplessness in the face of Secretariat’s destiny.


Eddie Sweat and his baby share a moment. The softness of Secretariat’s eye and Eddie’s smile, that blossoms from somewhere deep, deep inside, depict a timeless connection. Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

Secretariat ran his final race — the Canadian International — at Woodbine in Ontario, Canada.

Eddie is there, leading his big, red horse from the plane amid an explosion of cameras and voices. Charlie Davis, Secretariat’s exercise rider, is there too. Even Billy Silver has made the trip. Gracious as always, “Team Secretariat” arrived at Woodbine with an already advanced case of nostalgia. We hear it in their words and in their reflections: the narrative that wove them all into Secretariat’s life is coming to an end.

Soon after, the champion was readied for retirement and the journey to Claiborne Farm. First, there was a final appearance at Aqueduct, where both the champion and his owner were caught by surprise — she, at the emotion that erupted within her and Secretariat by the unfamiliarity of it all. First, there were no blinkers, then there was a gallop in front of the stands and a goodbye walk. Except for Eddie, who had shined him up like a new copper penny and was there at his side, talking to him in hushed tones, the rest was unsettling for a horse who loved his morning runs best of all.

Eddie looks into the face of his champion, holding him fast, one last time….

Eddie leads Secretariat passed the crowd of 33,000 who had gathered to see him. Photo and copyright, Bob Coglianese.

Both Riva and Secretariat left for Kentucky with Eddie, accompanied by Penny Chenery and a few select others, among them Lucien Laurin, Elizabeth Ham and Raymond Woolfe Jr. During the flight, Secretariat clutched at Eddie’s jacket, needing to feel safe and secure. Animals are hard-wired to pick up even the slightest changes in their environment. And at this point, Secretariat had absorbed the seismic shift in an otherwise unfailingly predictable routine: throughout the flight, he sucked on Eddie’s jacket and watched Eddie’s face. His friend looked back at him, memorizing every feature on his baby’s face, while he spoke to his two champions in that familiar sing-song voice.

Secretariat holds on to Eddie’s jacket during the flight to Kentucky and Claiborne Farm. Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

Upon their arrival, Secretariat and Riva were taken onto a van by Claiborne staff. Arrangements had been made for Eddie to spend a few days at Claiborne, settling in his two famous charges. In fact, Seth Hancock had asked Eddie to join the Claiborne staff, but he had declined. It seemed an odd decision for Eddie to make, since working at the prestigious Claiborne would have offered him financial security and an opportunity to stay close and connected to Riva and Secretariat. Speculation as to why he demurred cites family considerations and loyalty to Lucien Laurin. Eddie’s world brought him great personal satisfaction, but it was a narrow landscape with a strict social code. Even so, it is likely that shed row framed the only possibilities Eddie could imagine for himself. He would have been shocked to learn that an expert horseman like Seth Hancock would have considered acquiring the services of Edward Sweat a definite coup, even for a distinguished operation like Claiborne.

The transfer of Secretariat and Riva Ridge to the care of Claiborne was a heartbreaker for the whole team. Penny Chenery refused to talk to the press as she left — a rare thing for a woman who had always been so generous to the public. Lucien Laurin was in tears. Charlie Davis had refused to accompany the rest of the team to Kentucky, saying that he just couldn’t face it.

It was Eddie who was left to find a way through the heartache and to assist Claiborne in welcoming the Meadow’s superstars. Professional that he was, Eddie persevered. It must have been terribly difficult to watch Secretariat kick and resist his new groom, begging Eddie to lead him out, as he always had. And one can only imagine what it meant to Eddie to finally tell his horses good-bye, knowing, as he must have known, that this was one experience neither Riva nor his baby would ever really understand.

Raymond Woolfe Jr. had stayed on at Claiborne with Eddie and took this photo of him, just minutes after he, Secretariat and Riva had parted.

Eddie leans against the brick wall at Claiborne, wiping away his tears. Photo and copyright, Raymond Woolfe Jr.

” ‘This is a hurting thing to me,’  he will later tell a friend, understated as always. ‘ I’m so sad, I didn’t even want to bring him over here. It’s been a wonderful two years. Now it seems my whole career has ended.’ Eddie is thirty-five years old. (from Lawrence Scanlon’s, “The Horse That God Built.”)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Raymond Woolfe Jr. was the first chronicler of Secretariat’s life and times, and his outstanding photographs are probably familiar to many readers at THE VAULT. He literally tracked Secretariat’s life from foal to retirement. Mr. Woolfe knew a great deal about Eddie Sweat and his big, red horse and he shared this knowledge with Canadian writer, Lawrence Scanlon, who wrote what is one of my favourite books about a thoroughbred and the person who was most important in his life. Entitled “The Horse That God Built,” Scanlon’s book is also historic, being one of the very few that records the world of horses and those who care for them. 

Other sources of information in the compilation of this article:

— “Secretariat” by Raymond Woolfe Jr.

— “Big Red of Meadow Stable” by William Nack

— “Secretariat” by Timothy Capps (Thoroughbred Legends series, Eclipse Press)

—  documentary, “The Life & Times of Secretariat”

— “The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him” written for young readers by Lawrence Scanlon

NOTE: Many of the photographs appearing in this article were taken by Raymond Woolfe Jr., who holds the copyright. Copies may be found on eBay for a reasonable price, where they are made available by Thoroughbred Racing Collectibles (bigred51), who hold the exclusive rights to market the Woolfe collection.



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