Darma Part 1 ~ Love at First Breath
Louisville, Kentucky – Churchill Downs Racetrack – July 1996
I met my dream horse on a humid day in July. My casual visit with my friend CJ to the backside of the track did not accurately portend the event that was to take place. We walked over to greet a trainer that Glenn knew to see the workings of the barn. As the others talked, I edged past the horses being hot-walked around the well-worn path in front of the stalls and looked up to see a beautiful bay filly peering at me from her stall. Carefully, as I knew racehorses could be aggressive, I approached her. She was all ears and I instinctively knew she was gentle. The equine artist in me noted the beautiful planes of her face and her sweet, dark eyes. Then the eyes held me. As she dipped her head to touch my hands a feeling awakened in me that I had never felt before. My heart races even now as I write this, for in all my twenty-nine years of life, of all the horses that I dreamed could be mine – someday, I knew suddenly that I had found the one, and she had found me. As the improbability of attaining a racehorse hit me, she confirmed the budding sensation in my heart by lifting her head to the level of mine and greeting me, horse fashion, by blowing her breath into mine. I understood from past experience how to make friends with a horse, but never had a horse initiated this greeting with me.
I turned around to compose myself and try to maintain a sense of reality. CJ and Glenn were quietly watching me. CJ walked over to stand next to me and said, “she sure connected with you.” The filly nuzzled my hair and I shook my head as tears started streaming down my face. I said softly, “this has never happened to me before, somehow I feel like this is my horse.”
I found out all I could about her. Her name was Darma – which when spelled with an “h” means “the chosen path” – a three year old filly by Allen’s Prospect out of Egloga (Arg.). She was a claiming horse, racehorses of lesser talent which trainers enter in races against others of similar ability at the risk of their being claimed for a set price. She was running the following week. “Perhaps,” the trainer said, “if she doesn’t do well, we might talk. But I’ll let you know, she’s not the soundest horse in the world.” That’s ok,” I replied, “I’d like to consider buying her anyway.”
I took pictures of her (ostensibly for my art), sent thoughts of “I’ll be back” to her, and walked away feeling as if I was leaving behind a part of my soul. I went home to Washington State and started figuring out if I could even afford this possibility. I would find a way, I told myself.
I waited anxiously for the news that she hadn’t done well in her race, that they’d agree to sell her. Glenn waited days to tell me, afraid to pass on the news that she had been claimed by another trainer. “Had it all been just a dream?” I grieved. “Can we find her again?” I asked. “I’ll sure try.” Glenn assured me.
After three long weeks of searching, Glenn received word that a trainer named Eduardo Caramouri out of Lexington had claimer Darma for his Brazilian owners. I talked with Mr. Caramouri and told him I was interested in buying her when she retired from racing. He was friendly and seemed open to the unlikely concept of a woman from Washington wanting a pet racehorse from Kentucky. The week before I flew back to Kentucky, Darma’s trainer faxed me a win photo – she had won her first race, a $12,500 claiming race. Fortunately she had not been claimed, but I knew she would now be more valuable and the possibility of owning her seemed even more remote.
On October 18th, I flew to Kentucky and arrived close to midnight. Glenn picked me up and I set my alarm for the 5:00 a.m. drive to Lexington to see Darma and her trainer during the morning workouts.
When I arrived I found the barn but Eduardo was busy, so I looked for Darma’s stall in the dim interior of the large enclosure. I found her only because of her nameplate, for she was standing with her head lowered in the far corner. When I talked to her she didn’t respond, and when I approached her she reacted with only mild interest. I tried not to read too much into it, but my expectations of connecting with her again had been so high it was hard not to feel disappointed. I couldn’t help but wonder if it had all been a fantasy created by one moment in time. Maybe I was just fooling myself that this horse had connected especially with me. Then I realized that she had reason to be unhappy. She had been taken from her home barn away from horses and people she had known all her life and moved to a strange place. Despite my concern whether I was doing the right thing by pursuing buying her, I decided that if she was meant to be mine, fate would be there to lend me a hand.
I found the trainer just as Darma’s owner from Brazil coincidentally drove up. They were staying in the U.S. for the racing season. I talked with Mrs. Lima and showed her my art book, all the while telling her why I was there. She seemed enamored with my story of falling in love with Darma, and when she left, she said, “Maybe someday she’ll be yours.”
That someday came, not several years later as I had anticipated, but on January 7th, 1997 Eduardo called me and said Darma’s knee was giving her trouble and the owner had specifically asked him to notify me first that she was for sale. I told him I’d let him know and hung up the phone in quiet shock. Was this the right time, the right decision? It took me a few moments to get in touch with my feelings again, and to remember the deep sense of “right” I had felt when I met her. The next day I made an offer that they accepted.
On February 20th, 1997, as I waited for the trailer to arrive at the boarding stable, I realized how every step of the way I had been blessed. Though the trials in between seemed like roadblocks at the time, everything had happened in a perfect sequence.
It isn’t every day a childhood dream becomes a reality. The day I saw my horse walk off that trailer was one I’ll never forget. It felt like I had been holding my breath, waiting six months to give it back to her.
Read Darma 2 here