Across her left shoulder, often hidden from sight, a tattoo reflects the love Emily Diggins has worn on her sleeve since she was a little girl.
Inked in black, the number V11290 is offset by a red ribbon encircling a horseshoe. It’s a bold graphic that honors an even bolder racehorse who wears the same number on her lip; and small tribute to a horse who left the track underweight and green, to befriend a young girl, insecure and in need of a companion.
“When I got Ax I was 12 years old, and I was going through a tumultuous time. I was going through that awkward and unconfident stage that all young girls go through,” Diggins says. “We grew up together. As I matured so did she; she grew into a sleek and intrepid mount who would do anything I asked her to.”
After five years of showing nearly every weekend, often early on Sunday mornings, her mare was proving herself time and time again. Not only did she win blue ribbons and show courage in everything she tried—dressage, hunter pleasure, equitation, trail and beach riding, but she taught Diggins the virtues of patience and persistence.
Race name: Ms Axeu
New name: Ax
Sire: John’s Roll
Foal date: March 16, 1992“She wasn’t just a horse to ride. She was my faithful teammate in every endeavor. Each trophy was like an affirmation of my bond with her and of the journey we were on together,” she says. “This is partly the reason why sharing a tattoo number with her seemed so fitting.”
So when Diggins turned 17, she got her tattoo to honor the horse who had raced nine years at Suffolk Downs and Penn National under the name Ms Axeu.
She has never regretted it!
Diggins says Ax was her first love, from the moment she saw her at her riding stable in Lakeville, Mass. A girl who was always immersed in horse books and movies, she couldn’t help but notice that the mare bore a striking resemblance to Black Beauty.
For weeks after she met her, she begged her riding coach to let her ride the striking animal. And when one day she finally did, the mare didn’t disappoint.
In fact, the lessons progressed so well that after two months, the horse’s owner stunned her with a gift of a lifetime.
“I’ll never forget it. It was the end of the day and we’d finished mucking stalls and we were all sitting around when the owner (of Ms Axeu) came in,” Diggins says. “She said, ‘You can have her if you want her.’
“Then my Mom went home, crunched the numbers and said, ‘I think we can do this.’ ”
In order to afford her, Diggins mucked stalls and did other chores around the barn to defray costs, and she gave up other extracurricular activities.
It has been ten years since Diggins got her horse. And in that time they
have made great strides on several fronts. Together they have become accomplished in an array of disciplines, including dressage, hunter pleasure, equitation, cross-country, trail riding, and also a sport called team penning, which involves herding cattle under strict time constraints, she says.
“You work in teams of three riders, and gallop toward a herd of cows. The announcer calls the number worn by one particular cow, and you have to cut out other cows in the ring,” Diggins says. Teams are given 90 seconds to get it done, she adds.
“The first time we tried this, Ax was a little wary of the cows. But we still got first place!”
Sometimes Diggins rode Ax in a cow-herding contest on a Saturday evening, and then got up early on Sunday to go to a horse show. “She was always so good about it. She just got right on the trailer” and off they went.
This year, Diggins plans to attempt a foxhunt and a low-level event with Ax.
The future is bright, not just in her horse life, but in her professional world as well.
A recent Boston University graduate with a history degree, Diggins landed a job at SmartPak Equine LLC, a leading provider of horse supplements, horse-health related items, and a wide range of horse, barn and rider supplies and equipment.
Diggins works in the accounting office and loves being surrounded by other “horsey” people.
And even though she keeps her tattoo covered at work, a reminder of her Thoroughbred it always close by.
“She was and is my first love. As a teenager I spent every spare moment at the barn … and I loved nothing more than the pulse of the reins in my fingers,” she says. Ten years ago and now, she cherishes everything that comes from being in this horse’s life.
“Sometimes I don’t know if it’s horses in general that I love so much, or it’s Ax that I love.”