You've all done it. Insomnia leads to a benign browse, a quick PeopleSearch, and then ashamed, you clear the whole history, so as not to offend the sweet person sleeping there beside you, because, really, you are perfectly happy in this life, it was only that you... wondered. Where is he now?
[Do you know how many Neil Henry Murphy's there are in the world? Enough that I never found the rosy- cheeked Irish boy who cried when his aggressive iguana Boomer accidentally froze to death in the Cornell winters when the power went out. This was before we drank Guinness at Ruloffs, before he told me about his mother, before we kissed in the snow while Dakota ran circles around us at Plantations, before he read my journal, before we planned to move to Mexico after graduation, before we broke each others' hearts a little.]
Googling old loves is rarely a good idea, but this week, I did it again. A year of loss, coupled with a return to riding alongside my daughter, and grouchily crossing over to Forever 39 brewed a perfect interwebs search engine storm. Despite my loose grasp on basic math, I was riding a 25-year-old dressage horse and listening to two riders at the barn talk about how a horse there jumped until he was in his late twenties when it hit me: Twenty years ago, I sold Satch, the horse who saved me from the pitfalls of teenage girldom--eating disorders, Salem lights, overachieving, golf course drinking and late night boy's house drive-bys. When I went off to Cornell, Satch was seven. Which means this spring, with other racehorse babies, he will turn 27.
Which means he could still very well be alive.
Satch, a 3 year old, green broke, off-the-track Thoroughbred was for sale because he didn't particularly like to race. Which isn't to say that he didn't like to run very fast, or buck, or do both at the same time. Satch was 16.2 hands; at his withers, where the crest of the neck meets the dip of his back, he was almost as tall as the peak of my hairsprayed bangs.
They say that when the trainers came to get him to race, he turned his back and gazed off into nothing out the half-door of his stall. He didn't kick or get mean, but he passively resisted, and I thought of Ferdinand the Bull in the childrens' story, sitting under a cork tree smelling clovers, because he didn't want to fight.
I fell in love with Satch's earnestness. A little bit naughty, equal parts stubborn and curious, willing to try almost everything I asked of him*.
(*Except group riding classes in a ring)
With Satch, horses became my sanctuary, my reason to exit stage left when the drama of high school amped up, pull on my boots and shovel some grounding shit. Satch and his equine companions Star and Bailey were my ego-crushing, esteem-building, all-encompassing world for four years. We raced around cornfields, went midnight riding with boys, jumped over homemade cinderblock and PVC obstacles, competed, trailered up into the Catskills and as far as south as Tennessee. On hot summer days, I dragged Satch over to his pasture fence and used its rails to climb on his bare back in my bikini with a dog-eared novel. Sometimes I read on his sun-warmed back for hours while he grazed; sometimes he promptly tossed me off under the silver maples and then looked at me like, what?!
When I left for Cornell, my dad and siblings did a winter of feeding/watering and turnout, and then with my impending departure to work in a Romanian orphanage, with my blessing, we agreed it would be best if they sold the horses.
Satch was sold with his buddy Bailey, a then twenty-something Thoroughbred/Clydesdale buckskin dinosaur that belonged to my father. He went to a girl who was me, four years earlier, who needed a horse like Satch, a girl with time and devotion and ambition.
I went on to work with horses in the Caribbean, Spain and the Rockies. And while Satch was my exasperating, honest first love, it never occurred to me to look him up.
Last week, I found an ISO Facebook group for people in the PA/NJ/DE looking for horses they have lost. You bet your lucky horseshoe I joined it.
I hauled boxes of old photos out of the basement during the recent snowstorm, the kids leaning over my shoulder and screeching in horror at our high-waisted stonewashed jeans, marveling how Epcot looks exactly the same as when their aunt was a baby (on a leash!), exclaiming over my mom's owl glasses, their grandfather's short-shorts, my feathered hair and a misguided stint into platinum blonde, their dad's boyhood curls/choir robe, and my untweezed eyebrows. [Hayden: Mom, if we EVER get stranded on a desert island, and we don't have tweezers, I'm going to make you some, because I cannot live with those caterpillars!]
With my trainer's wisdom that I should be prepared for whatever I learned, I posted these photos and this:
Trying to track down my childhood OTTB. We lost his jockeyclub records and tattoo number in a house fire so I don't even have those--I'm aware that this is a long shot. His barn name is Satch/Satchmo, he's 16.2, dark bay, no white on face, trace of white above both right hooves. He would be the ripe old age of 27 now. Purchased from my home in 1995 when I went to college. Earnest, affectionate personality, loved jumping and trails. I'd love any leads or stories from his life. Thank you!"
I know a twenty-year-old quest for a dark bay OTTB without his jockey club registry is like trying to find a seven-year-old girl who doesn't have a stash of rainbow loom rubber bands and pony club chapter books under her bed.
People in the group wished me well, and agreed that his kind eyes made the quest worthwhile. I whipped out my phone at every alert, but no leads.
And then I remembered: my mother saves EVERYTHING. Every receipt, every canceled check, every scrawled note. BLESS HER HEART -- I climbed into the stacks over her desk, where there are literally dozens of meticulously labeled three-ring-binders and found it within five minutes: the canceled check with the name of the woman who purchased Satch twenty years ago. The woman's last name rang a bell--wasn't this the name of the local farm where Piper's classmates ride?
A speedy internet search confirmed the woman who purchased Satch is part of a multi-generational family-run-farm fifteen minutes from my house.
The email has been sent, with photos and as many details as I can spare. Hoping. For another lead. For a story from his life, to introduce him to my family... or anything.