Happiness in the Sunshine of Life

The Life

Zenyatta's 2014 War Front filly at Lane's End Farm. (All photos by Julie June Stewart for Team Zenyatta)

Happiness can be a fleeting emotion. It can be difficult to catch and hard to keep a hold of. Like warm sunshine, happiness can dance across your soul and then disappear behind a cloud. On a bright, sunshiny day, I found myself singing along with Pharrell's “Happy” while tapping along on the steering wheel. It had been a great week at the Kentucky Derby, and I had many joyful experiences. In fact, I had been so happy all week that I was worried about annoying my friends. Obviously, being happy was not “my norm.”

My life journey is similar to many of my friends who have had to endure several family tragedies. My beloved brother committed suicide 10 days before Christmas in 1998. A year later, my troubled sister died of a drug overdose in my parent’s living room. My mom, who was the strongest person I have ever known, couldn't cope with the loss of four of her five children in her lifetime and descended into the abyss of depression and poor health. She never recovered and we lost her, too.

I had trouble coping and was battling depression. I soldiered on, but I was a shell of a person. I asked a counselor if I was ever going to be happy. It seemed impossible at that time. She kindly said, “happiness is overrated.” She asked me to make a list of everything that I found “fun” or things that could make me smile. Several minutes later, I handed her two handwritten pages of items that included horses, cats, singing, travel, lilacs, cooking and reading. She glanced at it and smiled. As she handed it back to me, she prophetically said, “You are going to be fine. You will not have any problems being happy again someday.”


I thought about her prophecy as I pulled into Lane’s End Farm. I had discovered horse racing in 2008 along with the big mare I was going to see. I affectionately refer to her as my “BFF” - the one and only Zenyatta. At the time, I didn't know how many lives Zenyatta would touch. Thousands of lives were changed as fans discovered her greatness, her turn of foot, how her ears perked forward to the finish line and her great dancing routines before each race.


Many of us flew from track to track to cheer her on to racing history.  She was my first “big horse,” and I also knew that she was my “horse of a lifetime.” It had been almost two years since I saw her last with her first foal Cozmic One. I was very excited to see her again and looking forward to meeting her little filly.

As Louise Hatfield and I walked through the barn, I noticed Zenyatta’s nice double-wide stall.  The fans gently circulated the air above and it was quiet. All the residents were outside in the pasture. We walked around outside the barn by the verdant green pastures that each held mares and foals. I witnessed a wobbly foal rise from the ground to nurse. I discovered he was born the night before. As the mares grazed, their foals stood close by, watching us from the safety of mom’s shadow.

That is all except one. A foal was at the fence, poking its head out watching us approach while her mom grazed about 50 feet away. I knew the mare’s silhouette instantly as Zenyatta. The little one wagged her tail and tapped her little hoof in a mud puddle. She was flirting and practically dancing as we walked up to the fence. She whinnied and turned her head. Hang onto your hearts and get ready. This little girl is beyond adorable. She is flirtatious, friendly and fun. I draped my arm over the fence and ran my hand up and down her curly little mane. She turned around and looked me in the eye. She tucked her nose in between the fence and gave kisses. I melted.


Zenyatta moseyed over for a peppermint from Louise. She is still magnificent. She is still beautifully dappled. Louise said that on occasion she will still dance. I ran my hand up and down her neck and gave thanks for her presence. She crunched on her peppermints and nodded her head at us. She peacefully returned to grazing. I have never seen anything more serene or beautiful. With the Kentucky sunlight warming her backside, she lives her life in peace. The only crowd who cheers her on is the lovely cacophony of the local birds. As the wind rustles through the trees, her tail moves in a perfect curve as she grazes. My heart stilled as I stood and watched her. 

But attention must be paid to “Z Princess!” She whinnied, kicked up her back heels and ran along the fence. Mom had moved toward the fence line, and she was showing Zenyatta some of her own special moves. Z Princess turned her head to make sure we were watching her and returned for some more attention. She is such a personable little girl with the most feminine, long eyelashes. She has already perfected the “Shy Di” look of Princess Diana with a downward tilted head while watching you through her upcast eyes.  When her ears move forward, she knows she is the center of attention. 

Too soon, it was time to leave. I resisted the urge to walk backward while watching them. I did, however, turn my head a couple of times to grab one more glimpse. I knew that I would be calling on this deposit of memories when my life turns hectic and crazy. I will be closing my eyes to remember the peace and quiet of Zenyatta grazing while her little princess grows by her side.

Coping with the struggles that life tosses you can be a challenge. It could be easy to give up. It is hard sometimes to travel through life while sorrow and depression tug at your heart. But I have learned that we all have strengths that we were unaware of. And that strength can help you to live on through the tough times.

Yes, happiness can be fleeting but we need to appreciate the happiness that crosses our path. My adventures following Zenyatta’s career brought me wonderful friendships and glorious memories.    

Despite the curve balls of life, I have found a way to be happy again. Leaving Lane End’s Farm, Pharrell’s song “Happy” came back on. I smiled and laughed and gave thanks for the gift of resilience. My heart soared as I realized that through it all, I was truly happy again. With the memory of Zenyatta and Z Princess in my heart, I smiled. It was time to turn up the radio and sing.

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