May 30, 2023 by Barry Eisenberg

“The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and freedom.” Sharon Ralls Lemon

Eight years ago, when he was just five years old, our horse Flash became the newest member of our family. Little is more peaceful for me than spending time with him. I do love riding, but it’s also a joy just being with him, grooming, brushing, taking a leisurely walk side by side.

Flash lives on a farm with several other horses about fifteen minutes from where we live, and I visit him as often as possible. Among the misconceptions about horses is that they aren’t social or affectionate. Anyone who has ever had a horse knows otherwise. Whenever I arrive, he whinnies excitedly, then happily trots over to the gate to greet me, eager to get a hug, attention, and exercise.

On most visits, I’ll saddle him up and we’ll ride around the farm, usually in one of the riding rings or in a field where he can get in some real running.

Other times, we’ll spend an hour or two strolling through the fields, where he walks alongside me. When I stop, he stops, contentedly grazing in a field of lush greenery. I’ll sit on the grass, taking in the tranquility of the moment. The sun glistens off Flash’ neck, making it appear a lighter shade of brown, intensifying the contrast with the deep bay tones of his flowing mane.

Flash is a Thoroughbred. As you may know, Thoroughbred is a specific breed of horse and is best known for racing. The horses in the Kentucky Derby, for example, are Thoroughbreds.

Under his registered name, El Cazador, he competed in 37 races from age two to age four. Although his racing career was exceedingly less stellar than that of his great-great grandfather, the acclaimed Secretariat, he won 3 times, including once on his birthday, April 20!

 We adopted Flash a few months after his racing career was over. His life became quite different, and he adjusted beautifully.

Though I have always enjoyed horseback riding, my interest in more recent years was spurred by my daughter Hallie, who was an accomplished equestrian. Hallie got her first horse, Nate, when they were both around eleven years old. Nate was also a Thoroughbred and former racehorse, and together they competed in events like show jumping.

Hallie's very first competition with Nate

Hallie and Nate were quite a pair! Some of my most treasured recollections are the hard work and endless hours Hallie devoted to strengthening her skills. She worked tirelessly for hours to get the seemingly tiniest move correct, like helping Nate look graceful and fluid when taking a turn on a course, and big moves like pacing him through a jump course of varying heights in quick succession.

I have great respect for Hallie’s work ethic, and I have always appreciated that more than the many blue ribbons she won. I must say, though, that for Amy and me, our hearts were in our mouths every time she and Nate approached a jump, letting out a sigh of relief as she landed smoothly, only to repeat the process several more times until she and Nate finally lined up for the judges’ results.

The bond between Hallie and Nate was exceptionally deep. I have such a vivid memory of the time Nate’s hoof had an abscess, causing him great discomfort when he put his weight on it. We arrived at the farm where we boarded him and discovered him lying in his stall. This is very uncharacteristic of horses who almost always stand, including when they sleep, so it was quite distressing to see him like that. Hallie calmly sat beside him and wrapped his hoof in poultice, and as she did, he lifted his big head and ever so gingerly laid it in her lap. She spent hours caressing his face and neck. It was exactly what he needed. Gradually, his ears softened and his breathing relaxed as the tension in his body depleted. Such a touching moment! Thankfully, his hoof healed quickly as a result of her diligent care, and by the next morning he was standing, happily munching on his hay.

Some years later, Nate developed colic, a dangerous intestinal disorder that sometimes happens to horses. Hallie raced up from DC where she was in college to be by his side. She stayed with him all through the night after the emergency surgery. He placed his head over her shoulder and nestled his neck into hers. They stayed like this for hours and she could feel his pain. Although he survived the surgery, the damage was already too severe and, sadly, two days after the operation he died. It was a devastating loss. Nate was a member of the family, loved by all of us, but especially Hallie. In their eyes, they each embodied the spirit of companionship, warmth, and affection. He always looked at her with unbridled devotion and she looked at him the same way.

Nate was a beautiful horse, spirited and full of life. He held his regal head high, and always seemed to be so proud of himself – and Hallie! – in the showring. For a few years after he died, it was difficult to think about getting another horse. One day, on a whim, we decided to check the Thoroughbred registries just to see if one of Nate’s younger relatives might be available. Though we didn’t come across any, just the experience of searching rekindled our interest in bringing another horse into our family. This time, though, it would be with the understanding that the primary responsibility for his care would be mine since Hallie’s post-college lifestyle would not enable her to have a more extensive role.  

Hallie and Flash

Hallie and I visited a wonderful equestrian center in Pennsylvania called Black Diamond, which specializes in helping Thoroughbreds transition from racing to other equestrian disciplines, like jumping and dressage. The center was run by a knowledgeable and kind young woman named Christine who exercised great care in selecting horses for her program.

Christine had recently purchased El Cazador from his racing owner and dubbed him “Flash.” We immediately noticed an elegance about him. He had intelligent eyes, a proud look like Nate’s, and a prancer’s demeanor. There are things you look for in a horse, like how well-proportioned they are and the length and stability of their strides at different gaits. Flash’s coat had a dazzling sheen which, in addition to being so compelling to look at, was a sign of good health.

We groomed Flash to see how well he responded to handling. He stood patiently, enjoying the attention and the calming effect of the brushing. We then walked him around with a lead rope to get a sense of how cooperative he was. We were surprised at how nicely he stayed right with us, never pulling away, pivoting along with us as we abruptly changed direction. It was evident that Christine had done a great job helping him transition from the racing life. In addition to being cooperative, it was also clear that Flash was naturally friendly and had a happy and easygoing disposition.

Next, we saddled him up and Hallie rode him, putting him through various paces. He took direction from her as though they had been riding together for years! This is not always the case with “Off-Track-Thoroughbreds,” or “OTTBs” as they are called. Some can be skittish in that early period following racing and spontaneously break into a seemingly out-of-control gallop, requiring a deft hand. Hallie would be able to handle such a horse; as for me, well, probably not yet. But Flash was so eager to please and learn, and with Hallie overseeing my learning process, we assumed I’d be able to manage if he gave in to that impulse. Plus, Flash was as sweet as can be – he kept nudging us to pet him. Hallie and I fell in love with him instantly.


Horses form intense bonds with those who love and take care of them. Once trust is established, they will do almost anything that you ask. Have you ever seen a horse approach a six-foot ivy-covered wall at full gallop in a in a steeplechase competition and leap over without knowing what’s on the other side? That’s not ignorance; it’s trust in the rider. And the rider trusts their horse, it is a true partnership.

“At its finest, rider and horse are joined not by tack, but by trust. Each is totally reliant upon the other. Each is the selfless guardian of the other’s very well-being.” Anonymous

As the relationship between a person and their horse grows, something magical happens. Flash seems to know when I want him to change gaits, from walk to trot to canter, seemingly without any guidance from me. He can just sense what I’m “asking” from the nuances of my movement, like the slightest shift forward in the saddle which he takes to mean move faster. The same holds true for direction. The need to “steer” with reins lessens over time as Flash can simply “tell” which direction I want him to go.

“Reins never reach their full potential until they are no longer necessary.” Pat Parelli

I’m not that experienced a rider that I can ride reinless, but I marvel at those who have such highly developed skills. It’s like the rider and horse become one.

On many occasions, we have put Flash in our horse trailer and brought him to our home. Well, not in the house, of course, but in the backyard where we all take turns riding him and spoiling him with treats. Often, neighbors collect to welcome this unusual guest to the block. 

Getting a treat from Amy

In a few months Amy and I will be moving to a farm where Flash will come to live with us. Like all horses, he thrives on companionship, so we plan to get another horse. If you ever see horses in a field, you might notice that they generally stand near one another, a conditioned trait acquired from centuries of being animals of prey. Of course, having a second horse will enable Amy and me to ride together and for Hallie to ride with one of us when she visits.

We couldn’t resist buying the new property – the setting is idyllic and it has a wonderful pasture for Flash and his new friend-to-be. We will also be incorporating a riding ring where Flash can get daily exercise. The part of New Jersey we are moving to has wonderful trails, and Flash will have exciting adventures exploring new paths.  

Over the years, Hallie has done equine therapy with veterans struggling with PTSD as well as neuro-diverse children. It’s heartwarming to see their faces light up when they are around horses, entranced by their mystical blend of power and gentleness, awed by their beauty and comforted by their approachability. We are hoping that this move will allow us to carry on what Hallie began.  

Growing up, I never would have imagined that a horse would be such an integral part of my life. On those rare occasions when I rode as a boy or as a young adult, I craved going fast. I loved the exhilaration of speed, of the horse galloping so fast that I could feel the wind against my face. Actually, I still do crave that sensation. And with a Thoroughbred, you can’t get much faster.

Flash' pasture and barn at our new property

But as time has gone by, I have been surprised to have learned an important lesson from my relationships with horses. As swift as they are, they have taught me to slow down, to see the path I am on, less so the destination. I see things differently, smell things differently. I feel the simple magnificence of untouched nature. While Flash grazes, I’m drawn to the ravishing red of a cardinal’s wings piercing the blue stillness of the cloudless sky. There is something about being with a horse that makes it more possible to not just spot that, but to soak it in. Time slows. Stressors dampen and life’s complications untangle. With Flash, I’ve learned to be more attuned to the moment.

The Australian novelist Gillian Mears wrote, “To look into the eye of a horse is to see a reflection of yourself that you might've forgotten.” I’d add, it’s also a reflection of who you would like to be.


PS. Watch Flash win his race on his birthday, April 20, 2013, ridden with incredible proficiency by jockey Anne Sanguinetti! Click here: El Cazador (Flash) Wins

I'm grateful to Anne for providing the official "win" photo from the race