There’s a hero in my story, and he’s a tall, redheaded gentleman with a missing front tooth. He’s a loud, slurpy eater, and that’s the only negative thing you will hear me say about him, assuming you think loud, slurpy eating is a bad thing. I don’t, at least when it pertains to this fellow and not my children.
He’s kind and generous. He knows when to listen to me and when to tune me out. Most of all, he’s patient and ridiculously tolerant of my mishegoss—what my peeps call craziness or senseless behavior.
This is starting to sound like a job description for the perfect husband, which for the record, I have. If you’ll recall, he was dubbed “The Saint” by the hospital staff attending to me after my horse launched me head-first into the ground last summer, knocking out my short-term memory. I kept asking the same question over and over; The Saint kept answering it, over and over.
But now there’s another man in my life whose mission, it seems, is to keep me safe and happy. Am I the luckiest woman on the planet or what?
I have Laura Lippman, the renowned mystery author, to thank for The Saint. She fixed us up on a blind date 13 years ago. For the second most wonderful man in my life, I have Peter Foley and Diane Wade to thank. They lent me this wonder horse who convinced me I could jump again.
His name is Woody Wade, and I call him The Doctor of Confidence.
“Everyone in Zone 3 will know who you’re talking about,” said owner, Diane Wade, 43, associate director and CFO of the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. Woody, aka True Lies, took Diane from a self-proclaimed nervous beginner show rider to competing and winning in the amateur-owner hunter division at the top shows on the East Coast. She even competed against the pros in the green conformation division at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show.
“When they announced the riders on deck it was Louise Serio, Kelly Farmer, Holly Hays………..and Diane Wade,” recalled Diane’s trainer Peter Foley, a well-known hunter trainer, who co-owns Woodhall Farm in Aldie, Va., with Dale Crittenberger. “We like to kid her that it was all these famous hunter riders, and her.”
It was Peter who offered up Woody to me. I’d just interviewed him for the column I was writing about how trainers can help riders restore confidence. Peter had been my trainer when I lived in the Washington D.C. area in the 80s and 90s.
He asked if I was showing. “Barely riding,” I told him. The clunk to my head—my second riding-related head injury in three years – had not just knocked out my short- term memory, but my confidence as well. Plus, even though I had six horses at the time (now it’s 10!), not one of them was suitable for a nervous rider.
“You should come take Woody,” he told me. “He’d be great for you.” Peter, like Woody and my husband, knows all about my mishegoss, when it comes to riding. I think he had a full head of hair when he started training me. If Peter thought I could ride this horse, that was good enough for me. He told me they put everyone on Woody, from the lady who’s in her “early 100s” to the relatives who’ve never been on a horse. Woody gives everyone confidence, Peter assured me, citing the horse’s history with Diane.
“She did her first 3’ course of her life on Woody; her first 3’6” course of her life on Woody; and her first indoors of her life on Woody,” Peter said.
Then there’s the story about the Middleburg Classic Horse Show and how Diane cried her way around the Great Meadows outside course.
“We had a terrible fall in the VHSA Adult Medal,” Diane told me. “Woody tripped, and to this day Peter doesn’t know how it happened. But Peter and Dale wanted me to finish up the day in the adults and said I had to do the outside course. Peter told me to get in two-point and say ‘I love you Woody Wade’ for five minutes. I cried the entire course, and I’ll be damned if that horse didn’t win the overall stakes class out of two sections of 35 each. He had NO help from me. I’m not sure I even told him what jumps to jump. He just knew.”
Kind of like he just knew to keep cantering at the Thoroughbred Celebration show in March when I returned to the show ring, jumping courses. The last time I’d tried that was more than 15 years ago, and it hadn’t gone nearly as well. At all.
“Jody, just jump the damned fence,” the judge, Joey Darby, called down from the judge’s stand as I tried for the third time to get my mare through the in-and-out. This was especially embarrassing because I’d trained with Joey on occasion years back when I lived in Charlotte, N.C. And it could be argued that I’d taught this mare how to refuse by circling in front of the jumps when I couldn’t see a distance. (Again, one of the contributing factors to Peter’s shiny head.) All in all, a disaster.
I didn’t purposely quit jumping and showing as a result. Life got in the way. Raising two rambunctious boys; writing five novels; surviving a difficult divorce, a green horse, an injured horse, an injured rider. You get the picture. They all added up to me not having the time, money, horse and/or confidence to get back in the hunter ring, jumping fences.
Until the Doctor of Confidence showed up.
Woody Wade is an 18-year old, 16.3 chestnut Thoroughbred gelding who bears a striking resemblance to Secretariat in both looks and heart. He’s so "been-there, done-that, hang-on sweetheart, we’re going" that the announcer at the Thoroughbred Celebration Show renamed him “Steady Eddie” as we cantered around the courses.
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