The Duchess and David

It was a full court press week. I am not talking basketball, although the NCAA Tournament did begin this week and all eyes are glued on the undefeated Kentucky Wildcats.
I am talking about the daily demands at the MMSC that pushed us to the wall this week. 

A full court press, for those who don’t follow basketball, is a highly coordinated aggressive in-your-face-snort fire-defensive team tactic exercised the entire length of the court to block the ball or to steal it from the opponent.

We knew on Monday that the week would require an all out team effort. Just thirteen days prior, Cindy Rullman, the executive director of the Brooke USA, an international non-profit organization concerned with the welfare of equids in third world countries, had asked me if we would bring some of our horses to Churchill Downs on March 20th to greet their international president. It just so happens that the international president of the Brooke is married to Prince Charles. Yes, I am talking, Camilla, The Duchess of Cornwall! 

Cindy has had an office at the MMSC for two years now. It’s a symbiotic fit. The Brooke  raises awareness and funds to support working horses and donkeys in many impoverished countries where these animals are the backbone of local economies. The MMSC’s mission is to give the “work horses” in the US, Thoroughbreds that supply the livelihood for so many people—from grooms to exercise riders, hot walkers to jockeys, track kitchen workers to maintenance crews and more, a new life after racing. Cindy and I both are passionate about making a difference for these animals. We support and admire one another’s work.  

Still, to be asked to participate in Cindy’s big moment, the arrival of the Duchess to acknowledge and celebrate the opening of the Brooke USA, was an unexpected and weighty honor. There were protocols to learn and State Department checks to be run. There were schedules down to the minute to be studied, and speeches to be reviewed. We made lists of things to bring—buckets, muck tubsas well as things to acquire—hoof polish, new towelsand things to borrowleather shanks, stable blankets. We had to line up volunteers and van drivers. We had to get health certs and have a brand new series of vaccinations administered by a vet. I selected five horses that could go on to a second career in a different equestrian sport: dressage, show hunter, field hunter, eventer, and Western pleasure. But I was worried. The horses had to be well behaved, both for safety reasons as well as to defray the commonly held belief that “Thoroughbreds are crazy.” Besides, I wanted them to showcase to the public that my Horse Centered Reschooling Program ℠ could bring horses around in record time. Although we had been told to just hand walk the horses around the saddling paddock, they each had a lot riding on them, especially since the MMSC’s opening had been so delayed and the horses’ training retarded once they got on campus due to continuing heavy snows and records freezes.  
Susanna and Catherine with Dare Me aka "Darren"
During the first half of the week, we staged intensive bombproofing sessions, flapping our Hefty bag “ponchos”, opening, closing, and twirling umbrellas, letting loose plastic bags roll and drift across our arena. Horses were bathed, manes pulled, goatees, fuzzy ears and pasterns were trimmed. Specific tack and attire for each discipline from formal hunt wear to Western tack loaded with bling had to be tracked down and brought to the Center.
Bombproofing Street Art aka "Artie"
Meanwhile, the office teemed with Cindy’s people who addressed every last minute preparation and detail for an event consisting of a press conference, a horse demonstration, a tea party followed by a cocktail hour for incoming Brooke supporters, major donors, government officials, and Palace staff. Boxes, brochures, and papers were stacked everywhere. The coffee machine ran nonstop.

And there was no lag in in regular MMSC demands: Adoption applications, phone calls, emails, visitors both impromptu and scheduled, meetings, paperwork, groundwork, and riding. To boot, it was spring break. All of our interns had gone home, leaving us very short handed. Talk about full court press! Lilly, Lori, Catherine and I were going full out. 

Then things started to go wrong: Our “Western” horse came up lame. Our “event” horse broke out with hideous rain rot on his neck and chest. Our team was beset with everything from car troubles to the wrong orders of necessary supplies coming in at the last minute. One handler had a best friend whose routine surgery backfired and left her in a critical condition. She was sorry to leave us, but rightly rushed to the hospital in Chicago. Then I got the news that David Richmond, a treasured friend of thirty years, dropped dead whilst getting into the shower in his home in Versailles, KY. 

In life, we are born into a given family. As we go forth in the world, however, we meet our “chosen” family, those people who are part of us, not because of DNA, but because of common interests, passions, shared good times and bad. David was a cherished member of my chosen family. A playwright, poet, actor, a wordsmith extraordinaire, witty and wry, brilliant and quick, a complex marvel of a man, always living life on his own terms—out of the box. In all things he was elegant. His voice and elocution, the result of classical theater training, resonated with depth and timbre. His sartorial taste was impeccable and although his wardrobe came mostly from thrift stores, he always looked like old money. His posture was perfect. He appreciated beauty in all its forms from a cut rose to a wrinkled face. He slashed open champagne bottles with a sword. He was the master of fireworks on holidays. He told great stories, yet he listened well. He was kind, and thoughtful, and gracious like no other. I loved how he finished his phone calls: “Cheery bye.”

And now he is gone. 

Death is the great clarifier. It slices through the minutia of daily existence, the petty peeves, lurking fears and wearing worries. Although the MMSC was boiling over with activity, I was instantly removed from it all psychologically and emotionally. It reminded me of rush hour in my native New York City’s massive Grand Central Station.
Tired or flustered or needing to stop to think for a moment, I remember times when for whatever reason I just stood still while torrents of people surged past me in every direction. I could feel blasts of air from their busy bodies buffeting me on either side as they roared by. Looking upwards at the ceiling celestially marked with glittering stars and Zodiac signs always transported me to another realm, one of peace and perspective. Before moving forward, I remember looking look down at individual faces wondering what each person was rushing to and from and musing whether in their harried motions they were missing out on the big, beautiful picture of life.

It was at that moment this week that Team MMSC stepped in and rallied around me. Staff members, volunteers, past and current interns, friends as well as friend of friends showed up. One board member, Mimi Porter, came to Churchill to groom and to be supportive. Each person in his or her own way let me have space to stand still when I needed it, yet kept me focused and moving forward.

On Thursday, we loaded four horses on a Sallee van: Jazz Fest, Street Art, Beachview Two, and Dare Me, and took them down to the receiving barn at Churchill Downs. We held a two hour dress rehearsal in the saddling area and brought them back to the barns for the night. Catherine and I spent the night in Louisville and were at the barn by 8:30 the next day to feed and clean stalls. Lilly came soon after, followed by more members of Team MMSC. At two thirty, we headed to the saddling paddock, all of us in full regalia, horses included, for a two hour wait until the Duchess arrived.

And then, suddenly she was there, along with Kentucky’s first lady, Jane Beshear, and the wife of the ambassador of England. The Duchess greeted the British chief executive officer  of the Brooke, Petra Ingram, and then Cindy. She bent down and met the two donkeys, Rowdy and Renegade, that were present to represent the Brooke’s work around the world, and then it was our turn.
Street Art meets the Duchess, photo by Michael Clevenger, The Courier-Journal

Beachview Two meets the Duchess, photo by Michael Clevenger, The Courier-Journal

Dare Me and MMSC Rider Gina Moore meet the Duchess, photo by Michael Clevenger, The Courier-Journal

I was struck by how much taller she was than I had expected, and how warm and natural was her demeanor. Her handshake was genuine and strong, as was her interest in our horses. I had memorized and rehearsed a speech for each horse, but quickly abandoned the script. She didn’t seem particularly interested in pedigree or race record; she resonated, instead, to comments about their “horsenalities”. My kind of girl! So I told her that Artie was a lovely mover and ought to wear a pink tutu, and that Jazz Fest was a “fish and chips” man, who loved the great outdoors. Beachview Two was smart enough to play poker. And Dare Me was all about service. With the exception of Artie, I added, they were all available for adoption.

Jazz Fest meets the Duchess, photo by Churchill Downs
“Oh, dear,” she said, “I believe I would adopt them all!”

Again, my kind of girl!

And then she was gone.

By seven o’clock that night the horses were on the van and headed back to the MMSC. I drove straight to David’s house where friends and family were gathered to honor him. Jofre, David’s son-in-law, sliced open champagne bottles with a sword, just as David had taught him. Glasses were raised while fireworks exploded. As a finale we lit a sky lantern which inflated in our hands and then rose into to the inky sky. We shouted good wishes to David in all his heavenly stagings and watched its bright light rise higher and higher until it disappeared in the fathomless sky. Then we gathered in the parlor of the old house and told David stories, laughing heartily, sharing tales of the joy and magic he had brought to each of us in his very own unique way.

It was midnight when I got back to my house, but as I slid between the sheets, I was smiling. What an amazing week! Full court press intensity, yes. Remarkable Team MMSC rallying, yes. The MMSC horses beneath the twin spires parading before British royalty forever emblazoned on my brain, yes. The peace that passes all understanding that filled my heart as the glowing lantern rose heavenward in tribute to a man who showed many what a life well-lived amidst the drone of daily existence is. Oh, yes!

I felt and am blessed.

And now, to darling David and to all of you I wish you a 

Cheery bye,

Why are timbre and sartorial highlighted?

Because they are the Blog Word of the Day: There are two words this week, in honor of supreme wordsmith David Graham Richmond.

 Help us reach our goal of 112,000 total blog visitors this year! Join our Word of the Day contest and you could be entered in a grand prize drawing to win a $500 horse credit at the MMSC or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte! Simply read the blog every Sunday and find the highlighted Word of the Day. Then write a sentence using the word and submit it to for a chance to be entered to win! Please read the full contest details below before submitting an entry.
  • Blogs will be posted on Sundays. A chosen word will be highlighted within each blog post.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • Entries must include the highlighted word of the day. The word of the day may be used in other parts of speech other than the one used in the blog, i.e. the highlighted word in the blog may be "malleability" but entrants may use the more common form "malleable" in their sentences.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.