On Winning

image“Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Those words, spoken by Eunice Shriver at the start of the first Special Olympics, in July of 1968, were in my mind as I entered the ring with my horse, Lucky, at the Vermont Morgan Heritage Days’ carriage driving competition.

When Lucky was five months old, he had a serious injury that nearly cost him his life. Healed and now in his tenth year, this competition marked his miraculous recovery. It also gave me a different perspective on winning.

As a five month old he caught his hind leg in a barbed wire fence while jumping it, and ended up twisting his spine. Despite daily physical therapy for the next three years he only straightened out part way. I thought he had learned to live with the pain because he didn’t show it. He let me hitch him to a cart at age two, and I started riding him at age three. He learned quickly and was willing to do whatever I asked of him.

All that changed the day I stopped suddenly with Lucky in the trailer. The jolt had brought him beyond his tolerable threshold of pain. When he backed out he became an angry, dangerous horse, charging people in the field, trying to bite or kick at everyone except me. Perhaps I was exempt because I had imprinted him at birth, and I was the one who cut him free from the wire around his right hind hoof.

Lucky became so unpredictable that I knew I would either have to put him down or see if my horse-whisperer friend could help. She agreed, and within a week she called to say that, of the ten most dangerous horses she had ever dealt with, Lucky was number one. For the first time I questioned the wisdom of the name I had given him.

Lucky spent ten months with Sue and John, getting weekly acupuncture, chiropractics, massage, and behavioral training. Some might call it a horse spa, but for Lucky it must have felt like forced labor. After many protests, he learned to trust again, that humans were here to help, not hurt him. I visited once a month and every time he came up to me as if greeting a long-lost friend. There were many tears. I was in awe of his willingness to heal. In June he came home.

Lucky never tried to bite or kick anyone again, but I had to start him over. His body was no longer in pain, and his back was straighter, but he had such a weak hind end that he couldn’t move faster than a slow walk. That was five years ago.

I could hardly believe this was the same horse now pulling Paul and me in my mother’s favorite basket phaeton carriage, which I had inherited after she died in 1996. There were ten other contestants in the pleasure class, pictured below. We won.


I also entered Lucky in a training level dressage test against at least twelve others. This class was judged on the movement of the horse, as well as the way he bends with curves. We won that too. The dog-in-carriage class had only one other competitor and my horse trainer’s dog stole the show! Ironically, for such a small class we won a trophy in addition to a blue ribbon!

The classes I was most proud of for his performance were the cones courses. These are timed competitions through narrowly placed pairs of cones, requiring driving skill on the part of the human and responsiveness and speed on the part of the horse.

In one class we had to go through as many pairs as possible in ninety seconds. In the other, we went through ten pairs of cones in both directions. In both classes we did not knock down a single cone, which would have penalized us by three seconds, and Lucky kept up his fast trot, as if he was having the time of his life. We won them both!

I am competitive, and I like the game of seeing how well I can do, but I was so happy to see my horse so happy that I didn’t even think about the blue ribbons. It was a great surprise to learn at the end of the day that we won five classes.

Lucky was once a very unlucky horse. But what is “lucky” after all? And what is winning? I came away from the day realizing that for me, being lucky is having a second chance, and winning is being brave enough to do your best, whether or not you get a blue ribbon.



What does winning mean to you?

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14 Responses to On Winning

  1. Phyll says:

    Congratulations! What a heart-warming story about Lucky’s recovery and your recent wins in Tunbridge. What a wonderful day. How amazing that Lucky recovered fully after such a traumatic accident. Thanks to Sue and John plus your devotion and faith in his ability to heal and grow strong and be gentle, again. Winning means all this and more. Good topic to think about.

    Winning, to me, means:

    1) Living in the moment.
    2) Appreciating beauty, Nature, art and animals.
    3) Sharing & caring.
    4) Loving and feeling loved.
    5) Grateful for each precious moment we’re alive.

    Folks (and animals) may come in all different shapes and sizes, personalities and personas.
    But, we all share the sun and the sky, the sea and the air. It’s how we rejoice, enjoy, express, nurture, and feel gratitude for our God-given gifts. We are all “won!”

  2. eileenrockefeller says:

    I knew you’d be the first to respond to this week’s post, Phyll! Thanks for your additions of what it means to win. I only with that more people thought as you do. The world would be a much kinder place. But fear is a drain on any win.

  3. Sue Dixon says:

    Such an inspiring tale of Lucky the Morgan. I can hardly believe that he is ten! What a champ.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I hope we get a photo of him in the annual slide show this year! I’ve been thinking of you re your sister. Sending hugs.

  4. strubbles says:

    I am so proud of you and Lucky, no words can express my emotions when I watched the video of you driving him to the win in cones. It took me back to those first weeks with Lucky when we struggled to just find a starting point let alone visualize the end result. At that point there were not a lot of options. What needs to be said is your faith in that horse, Eileen. You were willing to go an uncharted course and trust me with decisions. Lucky never lost his faith in you which was evident every time you came to visit him. Rarely does one see such a bond between a human and animal such as this. Even more amazing is that Lucky continues to include me in his “special friends” list and greats me with enthusiasm even if it has been months since I visit him. I think this shows us that emotions don’t always have to be words, that if animals can express a feeling across the species line, then it should not be so hard for us.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I think emotions are rarely words. And you read them exceptionally well, Sue. I will always be grateful to you for your extraordinary work on Lucky. And to John too!

  5. Joanie g says:

    Congratulations Eileen and Lucky it’s the team that wins the ribbons the trust you snd your wonderful horse have in each other snd your understanding of him makes uou a beautiful team

  6. Phyll says:

    Where can we see the video of you and Lucky?

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I’ll see if Paul still has his and send it. Thanks for asking. I loved the one of us going through the cones.

  7. Hi Eileen, CONGRATULATIONS. You must feel fulfilled when you see all of your trophies, silver bowls and colorful ribbons commending your winning team ! I remember, fondly, your article on Lucky’s unfortunate accident and the remarkable recovery. So, I was, particularly, touched to read Strubbles’ comment.
    To win is to understand and appreciate a “WON”… To me to be competitive
    is to enter a defined contest and step up to the challenges of winning. Is it “the race”, the “races”,
    the “places” that matter, or is it the enthusiasm, discipline and trainning that makes for wins?
    There is, always, a winner!

    Wishing you and Lucky many “Hurrays”… see you…

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Winning has so many interpretations but the one I like best is feeling the satisfaction of having worked hard towards and dared to achieve a goal.

  8. Eileen, By the way I am reading “Fully Alive” by Timothy Shriver, Eunice Shriver’s son. His mother was a gifted woman who funded the Special Olympics and paved the way for her son Timothy. I toss and turn, twist up like licorice, when I read about a male’s inner world to find love, contentment, purpose and meaning BECAUSE it is the female in me that must fight and take issue.
    How sweet that one’s mother guides one’s children to professional fulfillment. Fathers do the same, too. It is humbling–the irony. I hope my sons reap fulfillment, as they journey on and through living
    and learning about life. I tired and puckered out, but enjoyed so much.

  9. eileenrockefeller says:

    I’m glad to hear you are reading Tim’s book, “Fully Alive.” I found I needed a tissue throughout the book. It was truly inspiring and uplifting. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read this summer.

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