Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Horse Called Pharoah

Welcome to my constant mental state.
When American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown, a friend of mine tweeted that she was rereading Thoroughbred book number 21, Wonder’s Champion, because it was the only book she had where a horse wins the Triple Crown. I immediately fired off a reply: I need to hear all of your new thoughts on this. Please, now, thank you. 

Like many people, I watched the Belmont Stakes through a screen. Mine happened to be on my phone. I was a houseguest among future family members, all of them patient and polite through my attempt to explain the intricacies of the Triple Crown as the minutes ticked down to post time. We sat drinking Arabic coffee, joking that this was very Bedouin of us, as Belmont Park stretched across my iPhone.

Shoehorning a Triple Crown into a family get together is nothing new for me. I started doing it with regularity after my mother put Joanna Campbell’s A Horse Called Wonder in my ten-year-old hands, not knowing that this event would so deeply change my life. I collected the Thoroughbred series religiously, reading about the trials and tribulations of Ashleigh Griffen and Wonder from sickly foal, doomed yearling, fraught two-year-old training, inexplicable/glorious Kentucky Derby win, to the final team up of girl and filly in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and beyond. Thoroughbred was a girl power story, but it was also a racing story and I was hooked. Forget about the Saddle Club, I had Triple Crowns to win! Even when I thought I’d outgrown the series, I hadn’t, struck by the sheer appeal of horses going fast, faster, fastest.

The collection of books grew, even when the mystical allure of horse racing fell away the more I understood about the sport, leaving me with the reality that racing can be hard to watch. In my world of Thoroughbred, tragedy was very black and white. The antagonists caused break downs, the protagonists fixed them. It has taken me years to come to terms with horse racing as non-Thoroughbred, and I’ve come to accept two fundamental truths: humans are fallible, and horses are delicate, accident-prone on the best of days. For all the careful, meticulous horse people involved in racing, who love their charges without question and shower upon them the utmost care, there is that one impatient person that makes the bad decision that ends with consequences for the whole nation to see. There is also the uncomfortable truth that in every horse industry under the sun, the best, most careful of plans can end in heartbreak.

American Pharoah runs into the Belmont Park homestretch.
Loving racing is walking a fine line. The morning after the Triple Crown, I woke up to images of the media surrounding American Pharoah, carefully petting the colt and bestowing kisses on his nose as he watched in perplexed curiosity. And I thought, “This is it.” This is the perfect time for American horse racing to seize the day and reform. Because I love horse racing, but I have to push it to be better at the same time.

My Thoroughbred collection is still together, sitting on a shelf if gathering dust. I still love it, and I gain inspiration from my memories of it as I work on my own racing-themed young adult novels. Stay the Distance, which takes place on the New York racing circuit, was released this spring. My next, Finding Daylight, is all Ocala horse country. I’ll always keep my children’s stories, because I’m sentimental like that, just like all the fans who roared and wept when American Pharoah ran past the wire first on a sunny Saturday in New York. 

Mara Dabrishus is an author and librarian at a small college in Northeast Ohio. Horse racing is her first great love, but for the past several years she's ridden dressage, learning how to spiral in, half halt, and perform the perfect figure eight. Her first novel, Stay the Distance, was released in March 2015. For more information, please visit

Photo Credits: Image of American Pharoah was happily provided by its owner, Ronnie Betor.

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