As I tightened the girth, voices called around the corner of the barn -- "you'd better get out of the way -- we have a cow out!" The farm pony and I ambled down the dirt driveway to the hayfields, to trot up the hilltop with the grass unrolling endlessly.
But as I walked through the National Racing Museum in Sar atoga Springs, N.Y., a week ago, I felt a familiar pull of excitement, and I wondered how it would feel even to see a steeplechase.
Steeplechases are jump races, and until last week, I didn't know the Saratoga summer race meet hosts them, or that a novice hurdle race will start at Belmont Park at 12:50 p.m. today. The racing museum took me back 20 years, to days of reading Marguerite Henry's horse stories and longing for crisp mornings, the smell of stables and the taut anticipation of a race-day crowd. Imagine watching Secretariat win the Belmont Stakes -- and the Triple Crown -- by 31 lengths.
On summer afternoons at Bonnie Lea Farm in Williamstown, Lisa DeMayo taught me to jump 3-foot hunter jumps and stay on the horse. I remember the floundering attempts that convinced me I had to learn how to keep my weight centered over a jump, simply to feel safe on a horse. And I remember the soaring glee when the horse lifted off and I finally felt how it should feel, poised over the horse's shoulders, looking straight ahead, as we left the ground.
Ride a steeplechase? I'll go on cantering over fallen trees on the fern-lined wood road to the farm pond. But if I walked around with one of the museum's training track tours (on Saturdays through Oct. 27), I might feel the ring sand under my heels and feel the speed of the horses at exercise.