June 1936, horse trainer Tom Smith toured the race tracks of Massachusetts looking for a bargain. His California employer, the owner of mostly young promising racehorses, wanted some mature animals to balance his stables. Therefore, here was Tom scrounging through hundreds of scruffy looking three-year-olds whose owners were eager to unload and struggling with all of his instincts to select the least objectionable from them. Then Tom reached Suffolk Downs and he was standing at the rail and watching the motley parade of soon to be has been horses passing by, when one of those horses, a runty stubby legged muddy colored little misfit stopped right in front of Tom and stared him down. It was not a curious expression but an arrogant glare as if to demand, “Just who do you think you are?” An Arrogance in one so odd was hardly an appropriate attitude.
It wasn’t just the animals appearance but his gait. As he approached, Tom had thought that the poor creature might be lame. Yet a closer look at the knees, which did not allow the legs to straighten, revealed the source of his lopsided walk and his permanent crouch. By any reasonable measure, this was not a racehorse. His record confirmed it. Sixteen races and sixteen loses and the last three he had lost a total of twenty-five lengths. Furthermore, he was lazy. He was a late sleeper and a big eater who successfully defeated every kind of training regimen his frustrated handlers had tried. However, for some reason Tom Smith wanted him.
Tom’s employer, Charles Howard, was unconvinced. The finest trainers in the big leagues of racing had a crack at that worthless horse and now Tom, an obscure newcomer to these ranks, was saying he might have some special insight. Tom’s answer was yes. Mr. Howard, after losing steam on further objections, finally agreed to take the horse and so doing had changed racing history forever after.
Under the kind and cleaver tutelage of Tom Smith, that little bay with the crooked legs achieved success and renowned seldom enjoyed by humankind. In 1938, the number one newsmaker in our nation was neither the president, nor a baseball player, nor a movie star, nor a foreign dictator, or the Pope himself. It was a racehorse named Seabiscuit.
It was only two years earlier when there was only one man anywhere who seemed to recognize the potential of that odd gaited, crooked-legged little horse. An obscure man named Tom Smith who had made up his mind at the rail of Suffolk Downs and nodded his head towards this arrogant little racer. Accounts say that Seabiscuit also nodded back that day. It wasn’t just Tom choosing a horse, but it was, in fact, a horse who chose him.
Sometimes those oddly difficult and very frustrating situations with students are just a new look or strategy away from becoming the success story for the ages. Many times and more often, they are long constant new looks and strategies away from success. I am confident that Tom didn’t have instant success with Seabiscuit.
I really appreciate the efforts of our staff members to continue to modify and look for new ways to meet the needs of all of our students. Just as Tom Smith was in control of developing a new way to work with Seabiscuit, we are also in control of how we put together our procedures to help the Seabiscuit who is sitting in our classes. It isn’t easy for sure and downright emotional at times with the sense of failure as new strategies are implemented and tried. If it was easy, anyone could do it. What I do know, is that the people who I work with aren’t just anyone. They are well trained, thoughtful individuals who will continue to seek the right way to do it for the students they serve.
“Remember that failure is an event, not a person” Zig Zigler and “Teaching is the greatest act of optimism” Colleen Wilcox
Have a wonderful weekend,