I am not a horse racing fan, per se, but I do watch the Triple Crown races every year in hopes of seeing a Triple Crown winner. As most people know, we haven't had one in almost thirty years. I don't quite remember who the last one was. Seattle Slew? Alysheba? Well, whoever it was, it was a heck of a long time ago. Remember War Emblem? Bellamy Road (I think)? Maybe you do, maybe you don't. But there is one horse that will most likely always be remembered, even though he didn't even come close to that Crown.
Remember him? Broke his leg about ten seconds into the Preakness last May? For most horses, that would have been a fatal injury. But he hung on - through a shattered leg, laminitis, and various other setbacks. For a while there, it looked like he'd make it and live out the rest of his life regaling other racehorses with his boring injury stories - 'You got a carrot? Big deal, when I was in the hospital, I got a whole wreath made of them!'
What was it about this magnificent animal (aside from the whole magnificent animal thing) that made everyone care about his fate? Why did absolute strangers send him (a horse, remember) get well cards and gifts, Christmas presents, complete with a stocking of his own? What was it that touched everyone so that when you saw in the news that he was making improvements, we breathed a sigh of relief?
Or got choked up when you read or heard that he had to be euthanized this morning?
Barbaro was supposed to beat those odds. Doctors thought he might. His owners prayed that he would. Thousands of well wishers from all over the world hoped the same.
What was it about Barbaro that touched a part of so many people? Is it simply because we love horses? Or was it something more than that? Was it because he was that rare athlete untouched by greed, unlike most of his human counterparts? Picture Alex Rodriquez signing that outrageously huge contract with the Texas Rangers for a handful of carrots. Yeah. Well, considering how he's played for the Yankees, I'd say the carrots were too much as well, but that's another post.
I love horses. Always have. Always will. I love animals in general (but who doesn't?). For me, I cheered when he rallied and choked up when I heard the news of his death. His owners did the right thing. He's suffered enough and was going to continue suffering. It couldn't have been easy - I had to make that same decision for my dog four years ago and it was the hardest decision I've ever made - but it was the right thing.
Barbaro was an amazing creature - amazingly gifted, amazingly graceful, and amazingly lucky to have the owners he did. I don't know that there will ever be another story like his. I only wish it had a happier ending.