BY GLORIA SCHRAMM
I met him four years ago. It didn’t matter that I was already married many years. I stood in front of where he was and waited for him to acknowledge me.
When he turned around to face me after I called out his name, he came closer and looked deep into my eyes and held my gaze. I could only stand there with my mouth agape. Those eyes were the same eyes that had beckoned me when I saw his picture. I knew I had to seek him out. I was finally able to speak to my boyfriend. “Do you know you’re beautiful?” I asked him twice. He studied me with a quizzical look, intensely listening to my every word.
Recently, my husband, Fred said, “Let’s take a road trip.”
“You know who I want to see,” I smiled.
Before that first encounter with the other man, Fred and I had passed a painful transition in our lives. Fred had a bout with cancer and survived, but we lost one of our adult sons in an accident. Perhaps it’s why I fell so hard for my new boyfriend. No matter the reason, he felt like mine. He stood tall, with muscular, leather-looking skin, his black hair perfectly coiffed and with the deepest, dreamiest, dark eyes.
No matter that my boyfriend is American Pharoah, the thoroughbred racehorse who won the first Triple Crown in almost four decades in the racing world right out of the gate in 2015. No matter that, after his victory, his image graced a Wheaties cereal box; a Sports Illustrated cover; several pages of a Vogue Magazine photo spread and retired quickly after his victory to continuously earn millions of dollars in on-going stud fees by horse-breeding hopefuls all over the world, trying to replicate equines just like him.
Yes, my boyfriend is a horse. Google searches have referred to American Pharoah as an “American Athlete.” To me, he will always only be the wonder horse who sent my heart racing. Who knew that another form of love manifests itself in other species? Or that human love can cross the species divide with such a powerful pull and vice versa?
I had seen My Octopus Teacher, a movie about the enduring bond between a man and an octopus and the lessons he learned. I also saw The Shape of Water, where a mute woman employee falls in love with a secret creature half-man half-fish but with a rich benevolence. I had already met my boyfriend and that movie made me cry because I understood how love crosses the species divide. Love is love.
The best I could get was to see him again. But just seeing him was special to me. There we were, communing a second time around. In that now-emblazoned cameo moment when his caretaker walked him out and my boyfriend zeroed in on me from out of the crowd, I felt a gentle spirit exchange between us. It was palpable. I’d swear this guy remembered me! Two kindred souls recognizing each other. “Nice to see you again,” I told him as he once again held my gaze.
I could only love him in words and glances. There is a hands-off, no-treats policy enforced at his stable and the staff watches visitors like hawks. But I did manage to steal a moment and pet his nose during the first visit!
“I knew you left the group to have your way with him in the barn,” Fred said.
The second time, with security stepped up, it felt more like I was visiting a prisoner once he was brought back into his stall after parading outside for the adoring crowds. “Don’t stand too close to his stall,” the guards warned, as if we were admiring a work of art in too close proximity in a museum. “Get back.”
I had fantasized about sleeping in his stable, grooming him and feeding him carrots and going out on trail with him though I don’t ride and he never rides anymore. In reality, I do hope he’s happy, being studded out several times daily and parading in front of crowds while being controlled by something called a “stud chain” and then being returned to his mahogany wood stall with bars on his windows. I’m glad I didn’t just gawk at him but acknowledged his presence with gratitude and spoke with him. His place justifies that he might bite if visitors are allowed to pet him. But in my heart of hearts, I know my boyfriend would never bite me.
Truth be told, I wish I could be like American Pharoah, calm, going with the flow, emerging poised at all times no matter what – and humble. OK, drop-dead gorgeous and highly-skilled, too. Yet so very giving and interested in human beings. Me.
This equine marvel raised my consciousness and has inspired me to go volunteer at a local therapy center for children and adults with special needs. For three years now, Fred and I have groomed and communed with the horses. Each has his or her own personality. And smarter than most people realize. We can now give our love to his brothers and sisters of the horse farm. I have since learned the value of publicized equine therapy for military veterans with PTSD; the bereaved; victims of domestic violence; persons with mental illnesses and drug addictions, persons with dementia and even offenders and ex-offenders….every crisis of human existence.
American Pharoah is a marketing commodity to the horse industry but to me he will always be my wonder horse. He has also made me realize that there are many abused, neglected and slaughtered horses out there. I embarked on my own little campaign to amass and send out horse grant links and other important information to the many rescue organizations out there in need of money to care for unwanted horses and to educate the public about proper care and commitment involved in adopting a horse. I havetirelessly tweeted my government representatives to work towards legal protections of America’s wild mustangs from the merciless roundups of our country’s natural resource and builder of cities, our horses. That’s what love does. It inspires action.
After my first visit, I had always wondered during the ensuing years, If I’d get to see American Pharoah again, realizing it might not have been practical because he goes across the world from Kentucky to Australia each year for six months to meet mares, be matched and father foals. Of course, then COVID came and threw everything off.
Well, I did find my window of opportunity as COVID started to wane and tours opened up. Life began anew because my steadfast, long-suffering husband considers my happiness important to him.
Curiously, I don’t feel bad that all I got were loving glimpses of my boyfriend both times. A calm wave came over me after seeing him, even though he and I just had a few moments in time. I should have been angry and jealous of others who I’ve seen on Facebook in horse groups who have gotten private audiences with American Pharoah because they were somehow connected to the horse industry and “knew” someone. But I wasn’t. Rather, I have a new-found appreciation for all animals. Suddenly I feel great affection for cows, goats and elephants too. And maybe even lions and tigers and bears! Any living creature who inspires love creates ripple effects.
I know boyfriends come and go, but a devoted spouse to love and be loved in return is one of life’s ultimate gifts. This is our healing time and to be able to go through life’s sorrows and joys with someone who cares — and stays — is priceless.
“It’s my pleasure,“ Fred told me when I registered surprise that he would drive me hundreds of miles across several states and back so I could see my boyfriend. “Anything for you,“ he said, “I’m blessed to have you in my life.”
We will soon celebrate our Golden Anniversary.
Indeed, I am blessed to have him in mine.
Gloria Schramm is a horse-loving volunteer at HorseAbility, an equine therapy center in Old
Westbury, NY and a playwright. She lives in Bellmore, NY with her husband, Fred.