Saddling barn at Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia California

Saddling barn at Santa Anita Racetrack, Arcadia California

My life has hat the tendency to be stressful.  I do too much at one time, but I can’t seem to NOT do that.  With my tendency to remember what I see,  I am constantly barraged with images that may or may not have anything to do with me or what is going on with my life.  Usually not at all.

The photo above was done by a friend of mine.  He took it yesterday in the saddling barn at Santa Anita Racetrack.  Arguably the best track and certainly the most scenic in the United States.  Built in 1934,  so much of what is there still is preserved beautifully.  It is listed as a historic place with the state of California.  This barn is next to the walking ring,  where the paddock judge calls to the trainers and riders “Riders UP” before going on to the track.  It is painted pale yellow inside,  it has never been another color.  Aqua trim.   I can feel the horses, the trainers and the riders that came through the barn all through the years.   The jockeys room is on the other side.  When I began working there in the late ’70’s,  I quickly found this to be a quiet place before the races begin.  During the break from morning workouts and caring for the horses,  and before the daily crowd comes in to enjoy the day of racing,  this is where I would go to sit and draw or write or just think.  There are shallow concrete steps leading down to it.  The air in there, under the high beamed ceiling was always cool.  The light  is almost unreal – you can see a bit of it in the photo.   The floor is a carpet of shredded bark,  and there was a fellow who would always clean up after the horses and rake and spray a fine mist of water on it.  I can still make my mind stop whirling if I concentrate on that place.   I have not been there since 1990,  and I knew that racing plant like the back of my hand.  As a teenager, I had access to anywhere I wanted to go,  be it the stewards or the president of Santa Anita.  I was an oddity, in the era when women were not allowed to be in the backstretch area (barns) after dark.  The people I knew thought it unique that I could quote a horses pedigree 3 generations back, or tell them who owned or trained a particular horse, even it if was not on the grounds.  Useful information !  The official track photographer loved it if I spent the afternoon trailing along, as I carried his bag of lenses and we got to go around to various points of the track in the hackney pony drawn carriages to be dropped off to shoot between races sometimes when horses were warming up.  Somewhere, as I approached turning 30,  I got lost in the transition of “normal people” and the track.  I was ready to take (and pass !) my California State Horse Racing Board trainers test.  There were two fellows who wanted to give me two horses of theirs to train.  So, what happened ?  I made the choice to let my first love have another chance.  It led to having my wonderful son.  For that I will never regret the rest.  It also led to the biggest life experience I would never have signed on for – being the wife of an alcoholic.  You see, at the track,  alcohol and drugs are verboten.  Nada.  Not allowed.  If a person is found to be drinking or using, OUT the door.  Not just from that track, their horse racing board license is taken away.  Permanently.  My family didn’t drink, and I had no idea of the concept of alcoholism and the heartbreak and distrust and pain it leaves in it’s wake.  While my husband did finally become sober,  the saddest thing of all was that he managed to accidentally poison himself with a copper based wood preservative product.  So, after becoming sober, reuniting with his family……. after having been told he had no cirrhosis in his liver, that he should be good to go for the next 40 years,  in less than 2 years he was dead.  From liver failure.  Please people, if a bottle has a warning label, HEED WHAT IT SAYS !  It can and does mean losing ones life if the warnings are not followed.

Frustration can eat you up.  I worked for the best trainers in the business and had the pleasure of working with some of the best horses in history.  Now I live in the sticks – in the desert, where it can snow too much and is too cold most of the time…….with a few goats, a few rescue horses but best of all, my son and my mother.  Memories I have from the track  are the balm on my soul when things are rough, as they are now.  Looking to the future and enjoying each day to the fullest is how I get by.  What have you done today to make yourself smile ?  I am thankful each day, and while we may not be where we truly want to live, while things are sparse now,  it will improve.  Because each day we get up, enjoy the sunrise,  breathe the smogless air is a new chance. 

Off to do chores, enjoy the evening !

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