Church of Barbaro: Rallying Behind a Horse's Death

"Now we had no reason to be together," she says. "It was like something hit me. It wasn't that I was missing Barbaro. I was missing the family and the friends that I'd made. Apparently, I wasn't the only one, because the phone started ringing."

Gretchen Jackson, Barbaro's owner, called from vacation. Corinne Sweeney, head of New Bolton, did, too. Fans began connecting with Berstler on the phone and with each other at the message board.

Some of the fans left Barbaro behind, especially the children. "When you're 6 years old," says Lisa Freimuth, a first-grade teacher whose students wrote cards, "you move on." The phone rings less. Just last week, for the first time since Barbaro was injured, Berstler didn't order carrots and apples from her wholesaler.

"It's slowed down a lot," she says. "I have even thrown out a few apples in the last weeks."

Others cannot move on. Will not. Their extremism makes others more extreme, each person a little more fanatical than the last. The community is becoming tighter and more active. Fans sent Easter baskets to the folks who worked on Barbaro. A few days ago, the shop delivered cupcakes. As Berstler is talking, the day's mail arrives. There's a tube.

Her assistant, Rachel Rockoff, looks at the label. "Artwork from a Fan of Barbaro," she says.

Preaching the Gospel

A tiny woman with graying blond hair and green corduroy pants rides on the screeching, rumbling Brooklyn-bound B train. Her name is Martita Goshen and she's a world-renown ballet dancer. Now, she's a FOB.

Since the horse died, she's taken the mission a step further, slipping out from behind the computer screen, doing more than donating money or sending carrots and flowers. She's gone out to spread the word.

As the subway car crosses the river, passengers seem to be listening to what Goshen is saying, trying to pretend like they're not. She's attempting to explain how a horse changed her life. The more she talks, the more out there it sounds, which, being self-aware, she realizes. Maybe she's a prophet. Maybe she's loony. Maybe she's both.

"Barbaro was in many dimensions," she says. "He looked at the whole picture. That's why he had that stumble at the Derby. He was ahead of the moment. The Zen of that. That's dancing. For the rest of my life, I'll be working to move with that innocence."

Many years ago on a voyage off the coast of San Diego, she came face to face with the eye of a whale. She saw all of humanity in that eye, the rise and fall of civilizations, love, hate, power, glory, ugliness, beauty, lies, truth. This realization has taken her all over the planet, trying to help save the creatures she holds dear by raising environmental awareness.

Watching the Kentucky Derby, she saw something in Barbaro's eye she'd seen in that whale. When the horse was injured a few weeks later, she put her career on hold. She mostly stopped traveling, except to New Bolton Center to dance for the staff. They didn't know what to make of the stranger before them, a dancer accustomed to stages, moving in a hospital lobby to the sounds of a jambox. She mastered the Internet to commune with new friends. She baked cookies for the doctors and nurses, using her grandmother's recipe. When her dancers — she's a choreographer — would ask what they were for, she'd reply, "For Dr. Richardson and Barbaro."

The first time, one asked, "Who's Barbaro?"

"He's a great messenger," she said. "He's the greatest dancer I've seen since Baryshnikov or Nureyev."

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