Friday, December 23, 2011

Larger Than Life

LARGER THAN LIFE                                                                                                                           

 Originally published in Horse Directory, January 2012
By Thomas Gumbrecht

Thomas G. “Tommy”  Fernan,  1962-2011, was my cousin through marriage.  You likely didn’t know him, because although raised on Long Island he hadn’t lived here for many years. His only connection to the horse world that I know of, was his relationship to me.

The words of his eulogy are still with me from today’s funeral mass: he was larger than life, a mountain of a man; a former NYPD officer, football player, bodybuilder and power lifter.  He was powerful, tough, fearless, and self assured.  He was an athlete who went out to win, if he went out at all.  He rarely asked for an opinion because he trusted his own. I liked him and enjoyed seeing him on holidays and special occasions, but I couldn’t really relate to him because basically, he was everything I was not. I never felt uncomfortable around him, though, because he never made me feel that way. But we lived in different worlds.

In 2005, I acquired DannyBoy, a very solidly built APHA gelding with lots of attitude.  Danny transformed me from a casual rider to a committed competitor in Horse Trials, and later Jumpers.  He was powerful, tough, fearless, and self-assured.  He showed up to win.  He didn’t ask for your opinion, he just needed a clear instruction of what you needed him to do. The “how” was up to him, and he was usually right. His world was different from mine also but as I was the one on his back during his displays of bravery and acumen, he carried me into his.

I believe it was on Thanksgiving in 2006 that Tommy and DannyBoy first met.  After dinner, he asked to go down to the barn and see our horses, as was his custom.  I happily obliged, but always thought that the request was a concession to his children T.J. and Taylor.  Kids love horses, and Tommy indulged his children’s interests.  When DannyBoy met Tommy, he bulldozed his way past the other horses to get his attention.  That was his way. Tommy took to him immediately, and showed a side of himself with which I was not familiar.  His quiet way and gentle touch with Danny belied his public persona.  He knew just how to be, and what to do, instinctively.  Words were never necessary, just a knowing nod from a man and a bow of the head from a horse who bowed to no one. Enforcer meets terminator. They were equals, and neither had anything to prove to the other. They had each other’s number.  They were connected.

From that day forward, whenever Tommy brought his family to our home, his first stop after the required pleasantries to the humans, was the barn.. “How’s that paint horse”? he would ask. “Go see”, I would reply. “He’s waiting for you”.  More than a horse-human bond was forming during those visits.  A connection was forming between Tommy and me, two guys as different as anyone might imagine.  An unspoken connection, of course, but he knew and understood a part of my world, and I understood a part of his.  I saw the man in a different light since then.

I’m sorry that Tommy left this life too soon, but I will always be happy for the opportunity we had to get to know each other better that was made possible by our mutual connection to a horse who was also…. larger than life.

Tommy Fernan with son T.J.

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