By Becky Adler Fagan
Before Grady, there was another special Thoroughbred who influenced my life a long time ago.
On March 30, 1983, a twelve-year-old girl received a most precious gift. R.W. was honest and forgiving, quirky and lovable….and he was my very first horse.
I had outgrown ponies and R.W. was going to help me make the transition to horses, although my mother distinctly remembers the day we went to try him and feeling that he definitely was not the one for me. I don’t remember this, but apparently just after I got on, he trotted off into the traffic of the busy indoor arena. My mom thought “no way, this is not the horse for my little girl….”. Well, in this case, the first impression was misleading. The small black Thoroughbred was all business and knew his job well. He had just been ready to get to work. Ultimately, he did end up being the one for me and a beautiful partnership began.
Being a young teenager in junior high school, I crafted pillows in Home Economics class in the shape of the letters R and W, one black and one white. I needle pointed another black and white pillow with the name “Pooky” (my pet name for my new BFF) on it and I often wore the visor I made that said “I ‘heart’ R.W.”. Needless to say, I was smitten!
But my relationship with R.W. was more than a fleeting teen crush. Through caring for him, I learned a sense of responsibility. Through riding him, I learned how to win and how to lose, and how to work hard for what I wanted to achieve. Together we achieved more than I think anyone ever expected. By the time I was thirteen, R.W. had brought me to the highest level of junior equitation when we competed in the ASPCA Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Over the next few years, we competed both locally and at prestigious venues such as Devon, The Pennsylvania National Horse Show and once more at the Garden. I grew up with R.W. and he became an important mentor, shaping who I was going to be as a person and as a horsewoman.
1985 Pennsylvania National Horse Show – copyright Action Video
R.W. didn’t have the biggest stride or the most scope but he had tons of heart. He always tried his very best, but as the ’80s rolled on and the larger warmblood horses started to come on the scene, R.W. began to struggle with the increasing difficulty of the courses. It seemed that I would need to move on to a younger, bigger horse to finish out my last two years as a junior rider.
When that time came, my mom took over the ride on R.W. with a focus on her passion – dressage. After I graduated high school and my mom realized her lifelong dream of having horses at home, R.W. moved with us. She enjoyed riding him for another ten years after I stopped showing him.
In 1997, after a brief illness, R.W. died at our farm at age 27. I was 26. He was part of our family. He was my partner, my teacher, my friend. He will always be with me.
How fitting that now, all these years later, there is another small Thoroughbred who has stolen my heart. I may not craft pillows with Grady’s name, but I am smitten nonetheless. Similar in many ways, R.W. and Grady impacted two very different stages of my life and for that, I am truly grateful.
“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you”
“Bookends” by Simon & Garfunkel