By Tom Gumbrecht
Originally published in Horse Directory, April 2012
Serendipity. ser-en-dip-i-ty. n. The faculty of making fortunate discoveries by accident.
There was only one reason that I found myself on the half-mile driveway at Hunters Isle Show Stable
In Brookville, NY, and that was to decline a job that was offered to me in my capacity as an electrical contractor. I was just too busy. And I had lost the slip of paper that I had transcribed the message on, so I hadn’t returned the call. Skip Lauinger, the owner, called back again, now two weeks later, and not wanting to appear ungrateful, I decided to deliver the bad news in person. By making a personal visit, I could also get a feel for the job and perhaps recommend someone else to do it.
That’s what I thought. But somewhere, some wheels had been set into motion that would change my life, and that of my family, forever. I just didn’t know it yet. I didn’t know that three months later my truck would be wearing down ruts in that driveway, and that I not only would be a student of English riding and horsemanship, but my name would be engraved on a stall plate in the barn where the horse that I was leasing, Circus, lived. There was absolutely nothing to suggest that from one day to the next, the path of my life would be so radically different. Testimony, as it were, to the power of the horse.
It took only minutes to become absorbed in the vibe of the place, and it was unlike any other place I had been. I had been in similarly constructed buildings, and on similarly bucolic landscape. With friendly and accepting people, similar to those I had met here. But there was a difference somehow. The difference, I was to discover, was that there were horses here. And the difference was huge. An animal lover since birth, I was no stranger to kinship with another species. Dogs, cats. But this was different. My dog looked up to me. My mother’s cat looked down on me. These horses … looked right at me, into me. Literally and figuratively, it felt like we were on the same level. It’s difficult to find the words to describe that epiphany, but I think all of us who love horses have shared it, and so will understand it.
I forgot about declining the job and began taking notes and making sketches. I was going to find a way to spend time around there. And I did. I was a regular fixture at the barn for several weeks as I rewired the main barn. I imagine that I was a bit of a curiosity at first, just a regular guy, a middle aged tradesman in a world of polished, accomplished equestrians. A tradesman who incidentally was developing an infatuation, like that of a schoolgirl, with all things horsey. I liked this world, but could not yet picture myself in it. It just wasn’t something that people like me did. In fact, I believed that I didn’t know a single person who was actively involved in horses and riding. So… I brought my niece, Samantha, there for riding lessons. She was eight years old and I was.. a lot older. After two weeks I succumbed and signed myself up. Sam started out on Lucky, a 40+ year old, bay pony, and I started my career on Circus, a chestnut Appendix gelding who used to work for Ringling Brothers. We both took to it with a passion. Things went well until it was rumored that Circus’ owner was going to take him to a different barn. Since Hunter’s Isle was a show barn, Circus was one of only two “schoolies” and the other, Silver, was too small for my stature. I feared my riding career would be over.
Within days, another random call came in to my electrical business. The name, Marjorie Cordero, sounded familiar but I couldn’t place it at the time. Of course, she was the wife of Jockey Hall-of -Famer Angel Cordero, and an accomplished jockey in her own right, being one of the first female jockeys in the industry. From the enthusiasm, bordering on obsession, of a new rider with three months experience under his belt, I talked horses nonstop, until she stopped me: “Wait a second. Where do you ride?” she asked. “Hunter’s Isle,” I replied. “I have two horses there!” she said.“What are their names”? “Arizona and Circus.” “Oh my God! I’m learning to ride on Circus!”
That’s the way my horse life has gone. Many happy coincidences that perhaps weren’t coincidences.
She explained Circus’ situation to me. He had been a rescue, and was happy now teaching beginners to ride. But the focus at Hunter’s Isle was moving away from beginner lessons and more toward competition, which would mean that Circus would be out of a job. There was another job waiting for him at the track, as a pony horse for the racehorses. Apparently he was good at that. “But,” she said
“I know you really like him and you seem to be doing well with him. I you want to pay his board, I’ll still own him and take care of him health-wise, but you can use him and love him and treat him like your own horse. Think about it.”
I finished my job there and rushed over to Hunter’s Isle. Skip was waiting with a big grin. “Marge called me,” he said. He made me an offer to board Circus that was probably less than half of the going rate at the time. My head was spinning. “What’s the matter, not a good enough deal for you?” asked Skip. “No,no… It’s just that… well as much as I love it, it seems so far out of reach. Like, I just can’t picture myself leasing a horse,” I replied. “Well, once you’ve done it, then you can picture yourself doing it. OK?”, he said. Things seemed so simple when he explained them…
That is the story of how I drove down a driveway in Brookville, NY in August, looking to decline a job offer, and wound up taking riding lessons, riding daily, and leasing a horse in October.
A year later, Skip sold the farm for a bigger one in Virginia. I once again thought my riding life was over, but it was just beginning. There was a lot more in store for me: western lessons, dressage lessons and jumping lessons, cross-country riding, equi-trekking in Colorado and Ireland. Becoming a horse property owner, building a barn and filling it with four horses. Sadly, Samantha’s mom died and my wife Mary and I became her adoptive parents. We became a horse family, with Sam excelling in the jumper ring. I became a proud horse-show parent, and after Sam went off to college with her horse, I had my own modest show career in low-level eventing and jumpers. Currently, I’m working with a trainer in the pursuit of giving a second career to my wonderful OTTB auction mare.
I sometimes wonder what life would have been like, had I not lost that paper with the phone number and driven to the farm that day…. It all seems so random. But so does a maze, until viewed from above. Perhaps that’s where the plan came from.