A few years ago (in 2005) I wrote up this background material on my horse Stewart. In a couple of months, he’ll be 20 years old. He is still as feisty and energetic as ever, but he has calmed down some in important ways, has come to trust me more, and our mutual affection continues to grow.
When he came to me, after retiring from his racing career, he had the nickname “Doc” which I didn’t much like. The name didn’t seem to fit his personality, which was more majestic than that. Perhaps I also had a negative association with Elmer Fudd, whom Bugs Bunny addressed with the line, “What’s Up, Doc?”
I named him Stewart after my mother’s father (Stewart Archibald Forbes), in honor of both of them. My mother had been a great horse lover in her youth, and my father’s sister (and therefore my Aunt) Jane, who is now 90 years old, remembers the two of them riding together often. When my mother was a teenager, her father was the caretaker for the Highwood Estate in Stockbridge, now part of Tanglewood.
The 1986 acquisition of the Highwood estate next to Tanglewood increased the festival’s public grounds by 40 percent and allowed for the construction of Seiji Ozawa Hall, which opened in 1994 along with the Leonard Bernstein Campus, which became the center for most Tanglewood Music Center activities.
Her father’s employer was a Boston dentist. In those days (the 1920s), there was reliable train service from Stockbridge and Lenox to Boston, and my grandfather’s job was to keep fresh flowers on the tables of the house, as well as eggs and vegetables available in the kitchen when the family was in residence during the summer, and to ship fresh eggs to Boston via the train, in special metal containers, during the other months of the year.
My mother was allowed to keep two horses in the family’s riding stable on the property, and she had Morgan horses.
When I was young, the closest I ever got to a horse was on a pony ride in the church fair. My family did not have the resources to spend on such things as horseback riding or skiing lessons. I learned how to do those things later in life.
I did like to watch the horses run, though. As a teenager, I would go to the Barrington Fair, mostly for the rides. But in between trying out the midway games, looking at the 4-H exhibits and the new tractors for sale, I would go and watch the horses race around the tiny track. I was fascinated by the idea of betting, so one time I mustered up $2 in free cash and sauntered over to the $2 window even though I knew that, at 14, I was too young to bet. “How old are you, son?” asked the ticket clerk. “Eighteen,” I lied. “Go away!” he waved me off with the back of his hand. “Why?” I asked. “You have to be 21!” he snarled. I slunk away, knowing that I didn’t look 18, let alone 21, but armed with my new knowledge, I found another window and tried again. In those days before picture IDs it was a lot easier to fake it. I guess the clerks only cared that you gave the right answer, not whether you were telling the truth.
I didn’t learn to ride till I was 40 years old, but when I did I wondered why I hadn’t been doing it all my life. A story for another day…