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I watched the movie Secretariat for the first time a couple of nights ago. I basically cried through the whole movie. My heart was touched on so many different levels I can’t even begin to explain it. There were tears of sorrow as I connected with Penny’s loss. There were tears of joy in the celebration of triumph and overcoming dedication. There were tears of my own pain as memories touched old sorrows and heartache. There were tears of joy as I reconnected with memories of my own hours of healing balm spent with my four-legged best friends (and sometimes accompanied by two-legged best friends as well.)

One of the lesser known stories of my kid-years began when I was in 5th grade. We had moved to Albany, Georgia the summer before 4th grade, and had moved to a different house, different school, different group of kids. That is when I met Ellen Wall and discovered there was hope for my dreams and the desires of my heart. Ellen owned BigUn, a half quarter-horse, half Welsh pony gelding. Ellen was half Cherokee and wholly a horse woman, perhaps even closer to a horse-whisperer, though we had never heard any such description back then. Ellen and I hit it off the first time we met and it wasn’t long till she was teaching me to ride. We would never have even thought of riding with a saddle, why would you? In the early days, it was just the three of us – which meant I learned to ride double, behind Ellen. In case you don’t know, riding bareback is all in the knees, and Ellen had no tolerance for “hanging on” any other way. It didn’t take too many slaps with the reigns for me to figure this out and learn to rely on strength and balance to stay put.

I have so many stories and memories of the few short years we had together. We had such plans for our futures – and worked hard at being prepared for our dreams to come true. I eventually bought BigUn from Ellen, and she bought Gypsy – an Arabian and Connemara mare. She also purchased a young Appaloosa stallion who was ready to begin training – which was Ellen’s specialty. I was the rider for his training routine. (For those of you who don’t know me, or didn’t know me before I was 30 – I was petite. I am 5’1″ and except for the middle and late months of pregnancy, I barely weighed in at 98 lbs soaking wet.) We had another friend, Jackie, who was a math whiz with a mind for business – even back then during our early teens.

We were going to have a horse ranch – and not just any horse – race horses! Jackie would be the manager, Ellen would be the trainer, and, yes you guessed it, I was going to be the first professional woman jockey in horse racing. Oh the hours we spent dreaming and planning and practicing. We were absolutely certain we would make our dreams come true. And then, at the end of 7th grade, catastrophe hit. We learned that Ellen’s family was moving to Virginia. We were heart-broken. While my family had moved a couple of times, it was around Albany and we were all able to continue our planning. But Virginia?! Ellen and I stayed in touch for a time, but then my family also moved away from Albany and we lost touch completely.

I am so very grateful for those days of being able to escape and ponder and dream and grow and BE – on the back of my horses. They were rocky years made much more level and peaceful thanks to the comfort and freedom that comes from the flow of being one with your horse and accomplishing so much more than could be possible without that bond. Those years were wonderful gifts from above, before I even had an understanding of who the Giver of the gifts was.

Fast forward just a few short years, and you’ll arrive at the years of the reign of Secretariat. I remember the promise and the thrill of his Triple Crown victories. I loved feeling like I was an insider while watching the movie; privy to the behind-the-scenes struggle and choices and the faith of a family struggling to make a dream come true – not just for one, but for the whole family.

Yes, Secretariat spoke to my heart, and continues its speaking as various scenes come back to mind and replay themselves to highlight a memory here and a memory there.

It’s not what you have
It’s who you are

You choose your race
And then you run

Cuz when you find out how fast and how far
You’ll know it’s not how much you have
It’s who you are

Learning to bend and not to break
Living to give more than you take
Dying to live
Living to try
Feet on the ground
Dreams in the sky

It’s never how much you have
It’s who you are

Lyrics | AJ Michalka – It’s Who You Are lyrics