The Greatest Father's Day Gift

The following was written by my daughter Mandy and first appeared in the May 3, 2010 issue of Stride magazine,, then reprinted on this blog. It is the greatest Father’s Day gift I have ever received and still gets me all choked up, and that is why I am posting it again. It's still "Hangin' With Haskin,” but this time written by the better Haskin.

All the Pretty Horses, by Amanda Haskin

“When you wake you shall have all the pretty horses. Blacks and bays, dapple grays…”

That lullaby pretty much sums up my childhood. Indeed, I grew up with quite a number of pretty horses. It started at 10 months old, with a very pretty bay named Northern Dancer. From that day on, my picture was taken with a lengthy list of champion Thoroughbreds. A chestnut stallion called Secretariat soon followed. A sunny afternoon was spent playing in a field with a sweet dapple gray by the name of Lady’s Secret. I rode in a car up the rolling Pennsylvania hills as Lonesome Glory galloped alongside. I picked flowers as Da Hoss grazed just inches from me, only a week after his second Breeders’ Cup Mile win. Genuine Risk showed off her first foal to me. 

And I saw the regal Dahlia twice – first as a baby in my mother’s arms, and then years later, standing on my own two feet, now tall enough to reach her nose. I introduced my dolls to Precisionist, gave a bouquet of dandelions to Alydar, and Holy Bull nibbled on my hair. And I have it on good authority that my first kiss just may have been from Cigar. He was quite the charmer. Then there was Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Forego, John Henry, Damascus, Mr. Prospector, His Majesty, Danzig, and Spectacular Bid, who by that time was white as snow. The list goes on and on. Mighty photo albums lined our shelves at home, as they still do today. The pages are not as white as they used to be, and some are now frayed along the edges, but the albums are still there, forming a wall of memories that any horse lover would dream about.

On my last trip home, I looked at some of these albums. The covers creaked open, revealing a rich tapestry of scenes – this horse, that farm, big smiles, outdated outfits. But instead of joy or nostalgia, a strange emotion crept into my mind. Regret. I suddenly realized that I didn’t have one true memory of these scenes. That my only “memories” of these remarkable experiences were through photos and stories. Even once I was old enough to capture these moments, I lacked the appreciation to really make them stick in my head. Despite what my father enthusiastically tried to tell me, I couldn’t fully understand who these horses were, or what they had accomplished. 

That feeling of regret was quickly followed by an overwhelming sense of guilt. How many people would kill for experiences like this? Yet, to my naïve younger self in these photos, it was just another horse. It pains me to write that. Admittedly I took it all for granted, not knowing at the time how lucky I really was. While my dad was having me pose for pictures (no doubt encountering some resistance and overly dramatic rolling of the eyes in later years), I didn’t realize he was actually giving me a very special gift. I have to believe that he knew I couldn’t appreciate all this then, and that’s why he froze these moments in time.  He wanted me to look back at them all these years later and think, I did this – how lucky was I?  Sitting here now, looking at a photo of me as a baby with chubby cheeks meeting Northern Dancer, I’m thinking that very thought. 

I suppose childhood memories can only be fully embraced in retrospection. Only then do we grieve over their transience and celebrate their sublime purity. That’s why we take photos. So that those moments will one day be suspended in time and bound by gilded picture frames. Untouchable. A brief glimpse into who we were and the experiences that made us who we are today. I am the person I am today because of years of green pastures, white fences, shaded stables, the soft purring of barn cats, the crinkling of peppermint wrappers, and of course the blacks and bays and dapple grays.    

Thanks to my dad and a library full of photo albums, I will always have cloudless memories of all those pretty horses.

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