(Miss Jacqueline took in the sights and sounds before her first breeze on Thursday / Photo by Gene McLean)
I’ve got two grown children and a son who will be a sophomore in high school this Fall.
I’ve got two grandsons, and another one one the way.
And — to be very honest, in every way — I have loved every second of being a parent, and, now a grandparent, as well.
Oh, there have been some tense and trying times, along the way. There have been some heated exchanges that took days to cool down and off. There have been some times when we butted heads like two stubborn calves in a field of clover — both headstrong on proving the other wrong and weak. There have been too many arguments, and too few vacations.
But — to be very honest, in every way — I wouldn’t give up a single moment. Not one.
I loved changing diapers. Seriously. May not have been some of the best smells in the world, mind you. But definitely made for some of the best smiles. When you relieve them of that mess, they reward you with the best.
I loved the “Terrible Twos.” The temper tantrums. The kicking. The screaming. The red faces. The green spaces. The white lies. The black lines. May have been embarrassing from time to time, but it was fun to see them all share their emotions with no limitation.
I cherished the teenage years, although I have to admit that my daughter scared the crap out of me. I went 3 or 4 years without making eye contact. Just figured it was best for all of us to stir clear of the roller coaster of hormones raging, tilting, swinging.
I loved watching them play their sports, learning how to compete. Learning how to win.
I loved watching them excel in the public school system, mixing and mingling with peoples of all sizes, shapes, colors and backgrounds.
I loved watching them develop their own friends, and their own opinions. And, even more than that, I loved watching them develop the confidence to share them both — their friends and their thoughts — with me and others.
I loved watching them go off to college — although it broke my heart.
I loved watching them graduate from college — healing my heart.
I have loved watching them grow up. Inch by inch. Brain cell by brain cell. Muscle by muscle. Day by day. Months into years.
I have loved watching them spread their wings. And, learn to fly. Oh, sometimes they would fall. That’s when we would swoop in to pick them up; dust them off; and cradle their broken spirits until they were ready for another flight, and another fight.
Loved it all.
Just loved it.
Loved it so.
And — to be very honest, in every way — it is why I love breeding and raising my own horses, too.
In a way, it’s like raising children. With all the rug burns, skinned knees, hugs and kisses.
It is why, in nearly every case, I try to go and watch them all foal — even it is late at night, and the cold of winter. There is simply something magical when the mare finally winds down; nestles in the loaf of hay; and delivers her baby with barely a whimper.
There is something that strikes the heart strings and the cords of your soul, when the baby — just minutes old — struggles to their feet. Wobbly. Unsteady. Shaking and trembling. And, nestles up to mom for a sip of warm milk.
There is something that tugs at your mind and stomach when mom, just a few minutes from delivering, wrestles herself up from the ground; licks the aftermath and afterbirth from the baby’s eyes and ears; legs and back. And, cuddles her young one for the first time.
There is something that sweeps over you when the two of them unite, and take their first fragile steps together, and meet a world of uncertainly head on and head strong.
There is something that makes you smile when the baby grows old enough to kick and squeal, and a few months later get weaned from the mom.
There is something that makes you proud when the yearling mixes it up with a few other buddies in the paddock beyond the hill.
There is something that makes you beam when the saddle goes on for the first time; and the light bulb goes off for the first time; and the rider and pupil can communicate so directly without ever saying a word.
There is something that gets to you when the young horse suddenly, and finally decides that it is OK for a person to straddle their steady backs.
There is something that is truly amazing when the 2-year-old goes to the racetrack for the first time, joining a group of older and more mature roommates who have learned the routine before them.
And, there is something that gets to you when you get to see your “baby” graduate enough to get and make their first true test of time and space; leg and will power; and actually let nature do what nature does best.
There is something truly special watching your young horse breeze for the first time. Ever. When the rider allows the young horse — always before constrained by tight reins and the jockey’s will — to run. Full. Free.
There is something truly amazing to watch the young horse — realizing for the first time, ever — that they can do it. Full. Free. Finally. Fantastic.
On Thursday, I got up at 5 a.m. Showered. Shaved. And, shifted gears. Drove to Lexington to the Training Center. It was the day. The day of the first breeze.
Got to the barn early. Got to love on Miss Jacqueline — our 2-year-old daughter of Jack Milton and out of my long-lost mare Diamond Seeker. Snuggled the young filly’s neck. Rubbed her ears. Combed her mane. Snuck her a peppermint. Ok. Maybe two.
Then watched as her groom rubbed the sleep from her eyes and the cobwebs of a night’s daze from her face. And, begin to tack her up.
Don’t know who was most excited, truthfully. Me to see her. Her to see me. I will go with a toss-up. We both seemed to enjoy the family reunion.
But I do know who was the most nervous. I knew what was coming. She didn’t. Not yet.
Proud as a peacock, Miss Jacqueline bounced out her of her stall. Rider got a leg up. And, her trainer — Stephen Lyster — and I headed to the front side to take up our spot for the morning work.
It has been a couple of months since Miss Jacqueline graduated from her farm duties to the racetrack. Every day since then had been pretty much the same routine. Go to the track. Stand. Jog one way and then gallop another. Day after day. Mile after tedious mile.
But today, Miss Jacqueline seemed hellbent on showing me how much she had learned and how good she could do. She had muscled up. She had grown. She was much stronger. And, she was much calmer. She was starting to look like a racehorse. More importantly, she was starting to act like one, too.
Miss Jacqueline was prancing, dancing. Showing up and putting out.
I stood stoically and anxiously, waiting for the moment she would go from proud to powerful. From bicycle to no training wheels. From clinched hands on the handle bars to “look dad, no hands.” From the baby pool to the deep end. From swimmies, to breast stroke.
After a jog and a gallop, here she came around the far turn.
Jockey moved her over to the rail for the first time ever. Miss Jacqueline moved her ears back for the first time, in earnest.
Jockey bent over a little more toward the withers. Miss Jacqueline bent her legs a bit faster.
Jockey shook the reins. Miss Jacqueline shook loose.
Jockey let her run.
Miss Jacqueline let herself run.
They went 1/8th of a mile — a simple furlong — and galloped out the 1/4-mile.
Didn’t put a stop watch on her. Didn’t have to.
It was amazing.
She swelled up. I swelled up. I think even Stephen, a grizzly racetrack veteran even at a tender age, may have swelled up. Just a bit. Maybe.
Just like watching Brad get his first hit in tee-ball. Just like watching Alex nail her first back tuck. Just like watching William make the winning free throw. Just like watching Ford swing the baseball bat like his father used to. Just like watching Jack jump off the diving board — at 31/2-years-old.
It was awesome.
I often wonder why the racetracks call it a “breeze.” Have my suspicions why, but never have taken the time to really discover and uncover the meaning.
Yet today, watching Miss Jacqueline “breeze” for the first time, I truly got the definition. My meaning, any way.
It was just like a gentle, Kentucky breeze on a warm summer’s night. It was like an ocean breeze on a sandy beach. It was like a test that you studied all night for and knew all the right answers to.
It was a breeze.
Fun. Satisfying. Rewarding. Gratifying.
It was a breeze.
And, my child passed it.
It was a breeze.
It was fun.
And, it’s one of the reasons why I own a racehorse.
(Miss Jacqueline got her first breeze on Thursday / Photos by Gene McLean)