Church of Barbaro: Rallying Behind a Horse's Death

She's standing in a decaying, dimly lit house in Phillipsburg, N.J. The table in front of her is covered in Barbaro items for a charity auction, the upstairs toilet broken, the kitchen a mess. But don't judge her. You don't know what the past six years have been like. In 2001, her world fell apart. Her husband, who cooked pizzas at an Atlantic City landmark for 22 years, was stabbed to death out on Iowa Avenue with a butcher's knife. She lost her Henry, her best friend, her everything. She had to sell her home and start her life over. It was hard to believe in much of anything. Until Barbaro. The thing that drew her in was the horse's shift from cocky to scared in the moment of his injury. She can relate to that. Sometimes, people lose their faith in the world, start to believe that the sun might not come up again. When Barbaro fought, she figured she could fight, too. She's got a fiancé, a good man named Frank, and they're saving for a down payment on a new home. She's got a life. She's got a community. All because of a horse.

"The courage of him gave me courage," Crumb says. "I could relate. Is that strange? I don't know anymore."

She spent hours on Brown's site, meeting other people like herself, people who needed something to believe in, people who didn't have anything better to do, wackos, upstanding citizens, the gamut of humanity. It was all she did. It was all a lot of people did. "I know people whose marriages disintegrated because the husband couldn't understand or the wife couldn't understand," she says. "I know of three within my little circle."

Crumb vanishes for a second, returning with an blue old-school Sony Discman. A fan has written a song about Barbaro, and they're going to debut it at the birthday party. Crumb listens to this song 20 times a day, over and over, weeping every time, trying to get herself strong enough to hear it in public. She wants Gobee to hear it for the first time. She helps slip the headphones on, works the buttons until the music begins.

Say your prayers Bobby's gone away Somebody's been grieving His mom is so in pain

Who could have known Bobby was so strong And Dr. R's not the same since He can't believe that you're really gone

Barbaro You are gone All along … God had, God had another plan for you

Gobee listens, struggling. When it's over, she cannot speak. She opens her mouth but no words come out. "Mmm-hmm," she says.

"Did it get you?" Crumb asks.

"Uh-huh," Gobee says.

Tears form behind her glasses. Gobee quickly stands up and heads toward the kitchen to compose herself. Crumb stands to meet her. They hug.

"I need a copy of this," Gobee says finally.

"This is it," Crumb tells her. "This is the real deal."

Revelations

So, why?

Their zeal is both ridiculous and endearing. The truth is, the more time you spend around them, the less of the former and the more of the latter you feel, which could be because their goodness is contagious or because, after a steady diet of increasing wackiness, everything seems reasonable. But that still doesn't explain it. What makes so many people rearrange their entire lives for a horse they've never met? Why this horse? Why now?

"It's interesting to try and figure out," says Roy Jackson. "I still can't answer the question: why?"

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