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March 15, 2012

Friday The 13th

Misfortune seems to find staffer Meghan Blackburn more often than not, but on Friday the 13th, she and Diana Dodge managed to escape its clutches, mostly. Photo by Nuno Diaz.

Looking back at a year at the Chronicle, I was happy to notice some positive changes in my life. As I’ve written about before, the beginning of my days at the magazine were plagued by unlucky encounters.

So while I didn’t think that January 2012 would necessarily be the best month of my entire existence, it had certainly started out much easier than the previous year.

Then Friday the 13th snuck up on me.

I’m really not a very superstitious person, so the morning radio show had to remind me that the 13th of January fell on a Friday this year. No big deal.

That morning, I was gearing up to interview Diana Dodge for a “Living Legends” piece in our upcoming Hunter/Jumper Breeding Issue. (Read the story in the March 19 issue.) Diana lives in Orange, Va., so I was going to drive out to her home and meet her instead of doing the interview over the phone.

Because of my tendency to run into complications, I’ve started to plan for the unexpected in any capacity. For this day trip, I made sure that I left with what I thought would be plenty of time to get to Diana’s home by 1:30 p.m. I’d printed out directions, saved the address and phone number in my phone, packed plenty of extra batteries for my voice recorder, an extra lens for the camera and a snack for the car ride.

The drive took a little longer than anticipated, with roadwork and a couple detours, but at 1:30, I was in the little town of Orange. I called Diana to tell her I was just a few miles out (it seemed) and to expect me soon. As I accelerated away from the lone red light, she said, “Let me tell you an easier way to get here. It will take you right to the back gate,” and she proceeded to spout off a list of directions that included state roads named by numbers, red barns, gravel roads and cattle guards. Seeing as how I was unable to scratch all that down on my notepad, I figured I’d be better off sticking with the directions from Google.

Nearly an hour later, several dropped calls and endless trips driving up and down the same road, I pulled up next to Diana Dodge’s house, frazzled and relieved to turn the car off. I stepped out of the car and said hello to Nino, a longtime employee of Diana’s, who was grazing a young horse on the lawn.

I slammed the door shut, made eye contact with Nino and said, “I just locked my keys in my car.”

Upon meeting Diana for the first time, she noted that I hadn’t come the way she had told me. I had to explain to her that my keys were locked in my car and that AAA would be calling at some point to come out to retrieve them.

When AAA did finally call back and want more specific directions, Diana promptly took the phone from me and told me to call back at her home because my phone’s service was “just terrible.” My keys were soon rescued, and we settled into a conversation about her life, talking for a while before Diana got a call that her riding horse, a mare named Gretchen, had a swollen back leg. So we hopped on the adult-sized motorized tricycle that Diana uses to get around the farm or shows since she has trouble walking long distances.

After assessing that Gretchen wasn’t uncomfortable and calling the vet, I asked if Diana wouldn’t mind showing me around the farm. We triked back up to the house and swapped the open-air vehicle for her Tahoe since the January day was bitter cold. As we backed out of the garage, I happened to look back milliseconds before Diana’s truck would have smashed into my car. “Stop!” I yelled, and, after realizing the crisis was averted, we both had a good laugh about it.

As the day progressed the afternoon turned into evening, and we spent a while in her office—a gorgeous open room with three walls of windows overlooking the farm, and at that time, the sunset—going through old photos and trophies and memorabilia and talking about issues in the industry.

“I’ve kept you so long—would you care to go into town and have a bite?” she asked. Never one to turn down a meal—and great company as it was in this case, I happily followed her into Orange. Sitting in a booth in the middle of the restaurant, Diana and I chatted away and eventually decided to share the prime rib. My ridiculous sense of misfortune throughout the day had made us fast friends. Our conversation was interrupted a few times by various people coming up to greet Ms. Dodge, a legend in the area as much as in the industry.

My favorite part about my day with Diana was over dinner when we found that we both shared a love of dressage—even though we were primarily in the hunter worlds. We had also both been working students for German riding masters, she for Fritz Stecken and me with Ed Rothkranz. On that topic, we talked forever, reciting our favorite memories and phrases from our teachers, sharing stories about the great horses we’d known and ultimately, a day that started out somewhat unlucky ended with a fortuitous friendship made.

Arriving home late that night, I checked my email and saw that I had one from former Chronicle intern (and witness to my early days at the magazine), Kara Berglund. She’d sent me an eCard, and it read, “I’ve overcome my fear of Friday the 13th since I don’t think my luck can get any worse.” Under the card she had written me a note: “I thought this was appropriate for you, my notoriously unlucky friend. Be careful out there today!”

Ahh, some things might never change.

Editorial staffer Meghan Blackburn

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