No creatures can
wear out shoes as fast as race horses; we spent hours at the raceway
blacksmith's. At Saratoga I watched Mr. Reckner fit the trotters with their
light steel shoes, flip the shoe over with the tongs in his left hand and, with
the mallet in his right, knock off an eighth of an inch, red-hot from the
furnace. Then he lifted the horse's foot between the skirts of his heavy
leather apron and proceeded as easily as if he had been fitting a lady's
slipper. While his own horse was being shod, Carolus watched every step of the
process, advising with the blacksmith and discussing what was best. In sport as
in the arts, this care for detail, this intensity of interest is characteristic
of those in top competition. It made me think of Heifetz, spending hours
adjusting the sound post of his violin, or trying 20 strings, from G to E,
before he got exactly the right gauge.
stables, the Wade discipline breaks pleasantly down. Sheedermill swarms with
pets. Each child looks after its own, and most of the animals are loose.
Parakeets dart by one's ear—swoosh!—en route from kitchen to dining room.
Guinea hens run insanely along the road by the barns, screeching like rusty
saws at intruders. "We don't eat them," Dorothy said. "We keep them
for watchers." Even the white fur rabbits are apt to be out of their box,
dragging a loose leash near the porch. Mrs. Wade once had a pet raccoon, she
had a goat that ate the shrubbery, she had Siamese cats. She tamed two Canada
geese, which followed her about; while they were alive she refused to cook the
wild geese shot down by Wade men on the place and brought to the kitchen. No
Wade can see an animal for sale without wanting to buy it, or a badly behaving
horse or dog without wanting to take hold and train it. "Mary Irma wants
sea horses," Dorothy Wade told me. "Andy wants a seal for the pond; I'm
sure we'll come across one soon. We're looking for a burro for Margie. The
child simply must have something her own size to ride."
retired from field trials some years ago but kept the bird dogs on the place.
One day Mrs. Wade told the boys to count up, see how many dogs they had.
"Things seem to be multiplying around here; I'm buying more dog feed than
groceries." David rounded up the dogs; there were 65. His father was
annoyed. "Didn't I tell you kids to distribute the litters when they
came?" ..."We did distribute them, Dad," the boy said, "among
the eight of us."
Back of the house
the homing pigeons sleep in their loft; in the early mornings they gurgle and
coo, rising with a rattle of wings to circle and bank and drift to settle on
their roof. When the pigeons are racing it is Dorothy Wade's duty to watch for
their return and clock their time. Occasionally a bird sneaks in and she misses
it—a catastrophe, I have noted, native to every racing pigeon owner. Of all the
Sheedermill birds and animals, only the mention of pigeons brings acerbity to
Dorothy Wade's voice. Hauling these birds hundreds of miles for training is not
Dorothy's idea of sport. She has made too many journeys, she says, "with
children all over the front seat and pigeons all over the back." What
brightens the general outlook is the fact that today, with the children grown
older, Dorothy can go off to the raceways with a free mind. Half the family
goes along, the others stay home in their turn. "I used to tack a feeding
schedule to the door," she said. "Very elaborate, with everything on it
from pet ducklings to the youngest Wade baby. Now I just climb in the car with
Carolus and four of the children. The ones at home take care of
Plainly, it is a
joyful exodus. I remember the day we went to Ocean Downs, in Maryland. Into the
small open farm truck was lifted the sulky with its long orange and black
poles. There followed two rubber mattresses for surf bathing, a large bag of
horse feed, a container with soft drinks, several suitcases, two folding chairs
and four large Wade boys and girls, who lounged on the mattresses or perched on
the chairs. Carolus drove, I sat in front with him and Dorothy. Behind rolled
the trailer with Victor Scamp. We were off for the raceways and, whether the
colt won or lost, there would be fun for all.
At Goshen the
Harriman trophy race—our race—was scheduled third. The bugle blew, and five
female Wades sat up stiff in their grandstand seats. (The boys had had their
turn at Saratoga the week before.) The sulkies rolled on their prerace warmup.
Margie screamed, "Daddy! There's my Daddy!"—and Mary Irma said Victor
Scamp looked good today. Maybe a little too good, she added, the way he was
shaking his head against the check rein. "Daddy better watch that colt,
he's making up to run." At Saratoga warmups Vic had hiked on a turn, and
Mary Irma, distressed, said it must be that stifle in his leg, and she couldn't
stand it when people around her bet on a Wade horse and the horse was sore. But
hike or no hike, Vic had come in second at Saratoga.
Here at Goshen
the competition was every bit as hot. The Harriman Challenge was run in two
divisions, and in this first heat the Wade number was nine, placing Carolus in
the second tier. The car with the starting gate had scarcely left the track
when, sure enough, Vic threw his head, broke stride and fell behind. Afterward
Carolus said a pigeon had flown across the track over the colt's head and
startled him. Pigeon or no pigeon, we saw Carolus use his whip. We saw the
colt, once more in his long trot, overtake the field and pass to second place.
"Daddy's fightin' mad," Mary Irma said. "Look at him—he's pushing
Vic. He'll never keep that speed."
She was right,
and the field went by. Vic came in fifth, with four behind him. There would be
talk about this at Sheedermill tomorrow, I thought.... In Vic's next heat 10
horses, the first five from each division, were entered. Worthy Joe, a powerful
rival, had been scratched, and Wade was again in second tier but better placed,
on the end next the rail.
This time no
free-flying pigeons came out of Goshen sky, but seemingly out of nowhere came
the Arden Homestead entry, Matastar, to take the lead. Both times around,
Matastar and Mr. Pride led the field, with Carolus Wade close behind. First
across the finish line was Matastar, then Mr. Pride. Victor Scamp looked a
close third, the crowd yelled, the tote board flashed two winners. Third place,
we heard, was a photo finish—something about the other horse breaking at the
line. We would have to wait until the pictures were developed and studied by
number flashed on the board. From high in the stands a joyful whoop was heard,
a man ran shouting down the aisle, waving his arms. "Fifty dollars I put on
that Victor Scamp!" he howled, and was gone. We ran out of the stands to
the paddock fence. Carolus walked over to us, grinning, his hard driver's hat
in his hand. He looked at his wife. "O.K., Dodie?" he said. "Think
we'll get to the Hambletonian with this colt next year?"