Oct 30, 2007

Neat is My New Favorite Word

I think I have a migraine. My head hurts and I am on a sugar high, but I haven't had sugar. Yet. Oh, well, there's booze for that.

Anyway, check it. Here's a story about Lulu and Wilbur. Lulu is a Standardbred horse and Wilbur is a pig. They're just super good, neat friends. Awwww.....Listen to this: "If they are put together at night, the pig will sleep in the stable and the horse will stand over the top of it. If they are in fields next to each other, then they will touch noses through the fence. When we first separated them, the pig would squeal and grunt and make a lot of noise, but he's becoming more used to it now." That's too adorable.

I love pigs. They're just cute. And I have ridden one once. I have a picture. Someday I'll drag it up for you. In the meantime, you'll have to make do with this picture of Wilbur and Lulu eating together.

Ugggghhhh....blogger is being difficult. I'll post the picture tomorrow. For now, just imagine the cuteness that is a horse and pig eating together.

Big, Fabulous Equestrian Festival!! In Fabulous France!!

Also, this is cool....though not as cool as my previously mentioned event. But why don't we have awesome things like this in America? Okay, so it's a little gayish, but it's also pretty neat-o. It's a big equestrian 'festival' in Avignon, France. It's from Jan 16-20.

I think it's because, like in many things, Europeans actually treat riding as a legitimate artistic pursuit. They are respectful of choosing to be a full-time rider or trainer. Americans only respect greed and killing yourself for a corporation. Yuck! Can you tell I'm over working for the financial world?

Yeah, but seriously, this is way neat. Imagine a world in which my choice of profession is celebrated....

Clash of the Riding Titans

Hey, check it out!

On November 23th, 24th & 25th, there will be a classical riding exhibition in Paris. The 4 main classical riding schools will be demonstrating - Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Cadre Noir of Saumur, Royal Andalusian School of Jerez, and the Portugese School of Equestrian Art of Portugal. Holy crap! All four schools at the same time!! I don't think that has happened before. Dude that is seriously awesome. Buy tickets here, if you can. And frankly if you believe that riding is an art, you should totes go. And if you don't, you should also totes go...in order to see the light.

I am seriously debating going to this. Seriously.

My checkbook is also seriously debating with me against going to this.

Oct 29, 2007

Pony Round-up

- This is a month old now, but I've been holding onto it for a rainy day....it's a cute article about Thoroughbred names. And mostly about people's attempts to name their horses naughty or downright rude names and the Jockey Club's job to thwart them. But it's pretty funny how many have slipped under the radar (Blow Me or Pussy Galore, anyone?) and it's funny to revisit some famous names through non-horsey eyes, like Jail Bait or Barely Legal. My husband always tells me that horse names are just bizarre. His ideal horse name would be 'Chicken Amazing.' It would just go one step beyond the cute and absurd and just weird everyone out. I'm kind of on-board with it. But he also wanted our niece's name to be Shish Kabob. So, I'm just saying....

- On a totally different track, it depresses me to report that 13 draft horses (mostly yearlings) were killed in an utterly horrific accident in Illinois over the weekend. Apparently it was a violation for the tractor-trailer to be hauling the over 46 (!!!!) horses contained within it. They were stuffed into a double decker trailer designed for hauling poultry. It seems the driver disregarded the traffic signal and was hit by another vehicle at an intersection. The truck overturned and the animals were trapped in there for hours. I can't even begin to think how they rescued those animals. Or at least the ones that they could. $1000 says they were on their way to a slaughterhouse. And get this, it is unclear who owns the horses. Yeah, who wants to put money up on whether an owner ever owns up? Clearly some shady dealer or knacker has possession of these animals and I'm sure he's going to do everything in his power to avoid being caught. He deserves to be kicked in the head. By a horse. Repeatedly.

Oct 27, 2007

Tell me if you've heard this one before

This is a good one - there is a report on MSNBC that horse cloning may be horse racing's next horizon. So, is this just a thing right now? How to save horseracing? Because like most other things, greed has made horseracing be a bit absurd and cruel. I love racing - don't get me wrong. But as I have said before most racehorses (at least in this country) are bred for early speed at the expense of the health and stamina of the horse, and frankly the sport.

Anyway, this article is itself absurd. The main argument is that there is more money in breeding racehorses than racing them, which is why they get retired early to go to stud. And because of this breeders are selecting only animals for early speed. Which is totally retarded.... Yeah, there's a crapload of money in breeding, but the way I see it most of these horses are being retired early to stud because of injuries, injuries stemming from stupid breeding practices. Don't even try to tell me that a tremendous 3-year-old, horse of the year colt is going to be retired simply for the breeding money. Sure, if he's injured (which he probably will be), but plenty of sound horses are racing at 4 and can be retired then for the same amount of breeding. I think their arguments are inherently unsound. If this is the cloning proponents' arguments, they'd better come up with something better because this really makes no sense.

But the best thing is what comes later in the article and something I have harped on before. Just because you clone an amazing winner does not mean that that clone is the same horse. Each animal is raised and trained differently and reacts to external stimuli in his development totally differently - genetics only determines so much. And the article actually says this: I guess that they are cloning mules and racing them against each other. 2 identical clones finished 2nd and 7th in a field of eight horses. There was one other identical clone of the same animal that never decided to be a racing mule - he just was bad at it and was retired. So, this totally proves my rightness. Somehow cloning proponents are trying to tell us that cloning is the way of the future and will save the state of horseracing. But how exactly? By cloning Secretariat? And what if Secretariat's clone hates racing for some reason? Or isn't good at it? Genetics only goes so far! There is performance to be added to that as well. And frankly, I would never breed to a stallion (or mare) that had amazing bloodlines, but no performance record. Therein lies the rub - if I am in the minority, then maybe that's why the state of horseracing has gotten to where it is now. Maybe people put way too much weight on bloodlines at the expense of training and performance. And changing that mindset is the only thing that is going to fix the industry. Surely not cloning.

Fires in California

So, I've been really busy lately, but I've kept a close watch on horse things in the world. I just felt sick thinking about the terrible fires in California this week. Okay, yeah, it sucks to lose your house, but I felt even more worried about all the animals that had to go through this ordeal. What can I say? I love animals more than people.

Anyway, there are all sorts of great articles out there about horse people banding together and helping each other out to save as many horses as possible. They're being housed at racetracks, fairgrounds, etc.... It makes me happy to know that when it counts people are good people and willing to help out total strangers. I have a true lack of faith in humanity, but for when tragedies occur. Anyway, make a donation (if you can) to the USEF disaster relief fund. There are plenty of places to donate to, but I know that the displaced horses and horse-owners must have it pretty rough - there is feed and hay and temporary help all to be thought of for hundreds or even thousands of these horses and that's not such an easy or inexpensive task.

Oct 17, 2007

Randomness - Kittenwar!!

I know that all my posts should be in some way horse-related, but I just had to share this. If you are ever stressed or depressed in any small degree, you just have to go to this site. It is guaranteed to perk you up.

I have been so frustrated with the process of looking for a horse farm, that we've found the only thing that can totally get my mind on something else is kittenwar. It's completely awesome. Come on, tell me you can't look at that kitten's face without feeling all warm and fuzzy inside.

Pony Round-up

So, in news that has been accumulating for the past week and I have been storing for a rainy day....

- A 2-year-old filly, Locksweeper, shattered the Colonial Downs track record and world record for 2-year-old trotting fillies on a track greater than one mile. Why don't we hear about trotters and pacers in horsey news. I think it's pretty cool and just as risky and left-to-chance as other horse-racing. I think people just think that because it's trotting (or pacing) it's not as fast and not as exciting. Let me tell you that's a load of crap. Those little buggers can fly! It's crazy fast. Anyway, props to Locksweeper. She knocked a full second off the world record. That's pretty sweet.

- Gunner the reining horse has managed to achieve million-dollar-sire status, which basically means that his progeny have managed to win a total of million dollars in earnings collectively. That's awesome. He's so freaking adorable, first of all. See:

How cute is that face? And he's achieved something pretty awesome, especially considering that he truly only has 145 foals with NRHA competition licenses. He's some stud. But let's not forget the unmentioned baby mamas that (I'm sure) had a big hand in all this, too. The horse world is so patriarchal at times.

- And this is just weird. So clearly it's right up BunnyRider's alley. Australia, in the wake of all the problems with equine influenza and the toll it is taking on the horse-racing industry, is turning to camel-racing. Apparently people feel so strongly about getting out to the tracks to watch something race that Sydney is hosting camel races. I think that's hilarious. I mean, I love racing, but I'm not so intensely addicted that I need to watch things race. But, that being said, I would go out expressly to watch camel-racing. Who wouldn't? You totes have to check out some of these pictures:

Never Fear, BunnyRider is still here!!

Hey there!!

BunnyRider is trying to buy a farm. Buying a farm is awesome, but very frustrating and time-consuming. So, it's not that I was completely devastated by the death of John Henry and couldn't go on....but rather that I am bogged down in budgets, business plans, and the like. It's not the most fun, I should add. But the prospect of being in charge of my own training barn keeps me going.

Oct 11, 2007

More Racing Woes

While I'm on the subject of racing and of other sad things....I know I am late in mentioning this, but this past weekend at Keeneland was a pretty horrible weekend for racing, as far as I'm concerned. It hasn't been terribly widely reported, but one horse flipped over in the paddock area and suffered severe enough head trauma that he had to be put down.

Teuflesberg fractured his ankle in the early part of a race - he luckily has been undergoing surgery and has a good prognosis. As long as he remains calm....(good luck with that)

And two races later Gold Train took a bad step which caused a severe fracture to the right foreleg and had to be put down.

Let me remind you that this is a track that installed Polytrack footing in order to slow the horses down to reduce injuries. Yes, you did read that correctly. I was recently griping about how asinine that is, when clearly the source of the problems are the fragile, too-wild animals that we are breeding and putting into training. Sure, amazing levels of speed are spectacular. But the horse body is fragile and continuing to breed animals that broke down early on in their careers does not compute. Sure, it could be just bad luck, but it could also be that the animal was overly fragile to begin with. Why perpetuate those genes? I just don't get it. This is the outcome, folks. Horses that are basically too fast for their own good. Their bodies don't seem to be able to sustain that speed. Is it really necessary to keep sacrificing these animals for our own pleasure before we realize we must stand up and make a change in the industry? I'm not saying I know best and that I know what needs to be done, but we cannot keep doing nothing....2 horses dead in one day is not okay, as far as I'm concerned.

In Memoriam - John Henry

So, maybe I just knew it was near time for the inevitable and I just had to get my fix of him before the end, but loyal readers know that my passion for John Henry was beyond logic. As reported here, he hadn't been doing very well in the past few weeks and he had to be put down early this week. He was a true underdog that made history and that, more than anything else, can definitely explain a lot of my love for him. Here was a little gelding that no one wanted, sold at a yearling sale for $1,100. He was small and mean with no pedigree to speak of and frankly, he wasn't much of a racehorse for a good portion of his early life. In this loving portrayal, Bill Finley puts it best: "But what nobody knew back then was that there was something innately extraordinary about this animal, who had a burning desire to succeed. It was as if he one day decided that he wasn't going to settle for being mediocre anymore. From that point on, he tapped into an inner strength that allowed his desire to overcome any shortcomings he might have had."

And okay, it might be a little sentimental and hokey, but it best describes why I am so enamoured of the horse. I have a soft spot for those underdog stories, especially where the hero never compromises. And as anyone who met John Henry knows, he never compromised his nasty behavior. I love that about him. It's like he haboured an inner rage against people for dismissing him all those years ago and he could never forgive and forget. That rage is what drove him and made him great. It feeds into my belief that you don't have to be nice to succeed, sometimes the greatest of them all is the one who uses his anger as a motivation.

But anyway, we've lost a track legend. A horse who kept running until he couldn't run anymore, at age 10. He was a horse you just couldn't stop and just kept getting better and better. I dare people to name me 5 other horses who were/are at the top of their game at 9. He is a inspiration and a role model for the sport of racing. Like the resonating lines from that Pixar movie, Rataouille: Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere."

Oct 8, 2007

Equus - Blonde Redhead

A Band You Should Know - Blonde Redhead

Today is a little different for this column....I'm introducing you all to a band that I love instead of a horse that I love - Blonde Redhead. Why, you ask? And what does this have to do with horses? Well, the lead singer, Kazu Makino, is an avid rider. In fact, she is a Level 3/4 jumper as well as doing some dressage. I think that's more awesome than just about anything. Not only do I love, love her music, but she's completely super-cool for being obsessed with horses. I mean, what's cooler than an ultra-hip chick that also loves to ride? Ummmmmm, NOTHING.

Anyway, I got to go to Randall's Island on Saturday to see some super bands, including Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, LCD Soundsytem, and Arcade Fire. All amazing bands, but the highlight for me was really Blonde Redhead. And they truly were phenomenal. She's quite possibly the coolest front-woman I've ever seen. And believe me, I've seen loads of bands. Kazu is pretty rockin'. And, oh yeah, there was a giant horse sculpture-thing on stage. If I were a singer, I would also have a giant horse-sculpture thing behind me. Actually I would like a giant horse-sculpture to just follow me around as I go about my day. Typing at my desk, buying lunch, taking the subway....where would this not be cool, really?

But I digress...

So, I totally got into the weird, loud after-party later that night and being the loser-y fan that I am, I walked up to Kazu and totally introduced myself. And she's super sweet. We had a long conversation about horses and riding and all that and it turns out we know a few people in common. Anyway, I only bring this up because I love their music and probably few in the horse community know about this band. And if it takes more than what I've written to go check them out...well, she often puts a bit of horse imagery into her song lyrics. I mean, what's not to like?

I'll just put this out there, but I believe it's totally irrelevant. There is a lot of press about how she was badly injured from a fall off a horse several years ago. And of course, people definitely discuss how that entered into her songs, etc.... Well, whatever....I don't really care about that so much. They write great songs and there is definitely horse imagery in the songs, but beyond that I don't see a lot of point in digging more. Your art is not always a complete reflection of your personal life. But basically I bring this up because it seems to be a big thing that she fell off and got badly hurt, etc...but no one talks about the fact that she's a really accomplished rider. Hell, I fell off badly many times in my life and I'd hate for people to only remember that about me. I'd rather that people make it secondary to the rest of things I've accomplished in my life. Anyway, that's my little rant....take it or leave it. But I'll definitely put a link up to their video. You'll adore it!!

Oct 4, 2007

Pony Round-up

This kid totally freaks me out. I also started riding at a very young age and I would totally put my 3-year-old niece on a horse in a second, but something about this picture freaks me out. It think it's the fact that he's jumping. And that he doesn't look totally in control. And that his heels are up. He's clearly an awesome rider, but that pony is also probably a saint in pony's clothing.

7 Haikus in Honor of the Quagga

When I was seven
I wrote a quagga haiku
It won a contest

For those who don’t know
The quagga is now extinct:
A type of zebra

Its color differed;
Stripes over the head and neck,
Solid brown behind

People hunted it,
Killing this subspecies off.
For no good reason

It might seem silly
To recreate the Quagga
But Reinhold Rau is

To breed the zebras
Whose color and look most match
Those sad, stuffed remnants

They are not quagga
No, not true recreations
But a worthy goal…

Sep 27, 2007

Zebra Air

I'm all for horse-y things. I'm all for black and variations of black-and-white, including stripes. But, dude, this is just plain silly. Why would someone want to have zebra Nikes. Okay, maybe you're thinking that's kinda cool, BunnyRider. And I grant you that. Zebra stripes are cool. But they're zebra stripes done in some sort of faux pony-hair. I thought that dumb fad was over. Pony-hair on ponies is good. Pony-hair on clothing is just weird.

Review - SmartPak

I'm totally going to shill for SmartPak here, but I just want to point out how awesome of a service SmartPak provides. I honestly wish I had thought it up myself. I can't imagine anyone doesn't know what the company is and what they do, but on the off-chance.... SmartPak is essentially a company that repackages giant tubs of supplements into individual wells, containing an animal's daily dosage. Think of it as the equine equivalent of those plastic vitamin/medicine divider trays that you sometimes see people using. I love this company. And yes, no one needs to tell me that I pay more to feed my horse supplements like this. They are charging for the service and the convenience. And you know what? My horse takes up way too much of my time anyway. This just makes one less thing I have to think about.

If you have a small barn with just a few horses I can get why you wouldn't want to go down this route. I mean, at that level I would just buy the tubs, save money and do it all myself. But if you're boarding your horse, I think it's a must. I won't say anything negative against people who are working at barns, but I will say that if you're working in the horse industry, you're harried and trying to do 100 things at once. To expect someone to get the feeds and supplements right for 20 horses and upwards...well it's possible, but is it necessary? Save them the hassle (and the frustration of dealing with angry owners) and just have it be totally mindless. They won't be stressed about dipping into 30 different wells of easy-to-spill powders, and the owners can be sure the horses are getting what they need when they need it. So what if it's a little extra money? Please. It's worth not having the mess, the headache, the realization that you've run out, but forgot to order more (yeah, did I mention that they send it out automatically on a monthly basis? it's a perfect system), etc...

If I had a complaint, it would only be this. I think that SmartPak has made giving your horse vitamins and minerals and other assorted supplements so easy that there is a danger you will start giving your horse plenty of totally unnecessary extras in his diet. And it's not a benign danger as I see it. I have almost fallen into this trap on numerous occasions. I'm all: "Ooh, I want my horse to be more coppery, let me add this." or "Maybe my horse should take glucosamine. I mean, it's right there and it can't hurt?" I mean, it's great for SmartPak that we load our animals up on tons of extras (ka-ching!), but is it really so good for your horse? I see a lot of those extras as just filler, but when I think seriously and honestly on whether I would put say, creatine (a muscle builder), into my body... Well, no, absolutely not. So, why should I give it to my horse?

Now that's really my problem, not SmartPak's. But I think that it's fueled by the extra convenience that they provide of just clicking online and adding 2 more wells to my horse's daily feed, and not giving it another thought. Just saying.

Sep 26, 2007

Fallen Idol

So, I have a great love of outlaws. I would love, love to be an outlaw if I weren't so afraid of being in trouble. I'm lame, I know. But it's sort of like, I'm afraid I already might be an outlaw and I just don't know it yet. You know, like I have a split personality and my other personality is out there wreaking havoc and the police may have a warrant for me....This all goes through my head. A lot. So, I'm afraid of being in trouble for weird reasons....like that I might already be in trouble. Yeah. Um....so, I don't do drugs. Honestly.

Anywho....This made me sad. It's an article about how someone actually sued Jesse James and won. And didn't get shot. Jesse James, you were supposed to be above the law. You totally sucked. Some outlaw you are, JJ.

The article is kind of long, but the gist is this (and YES, it does involve horses): Basically JJ and another of his crew held up a bank and shot the cashier. The two men left the bank and mounted their horses. One of the horses bolted, its rider's foot caught in the stirrup and he got dragged for awhile until he freed himself. He then jumped on his companion's horse. They rode out of town and met a rider along the way. They held that guy up at gunpoint and took his horse. A beautiful, well-bred mare was left behind in town, alleged to be JJ's mare. The dude who lost his horse decided to sue. How American, even in 1870. Well, only one lawyer would touch the case - McDougal - and he represented his client, suing for the value of the horse, saddle and bridle. The litigation continued for 21 months. And JJ retained the services of an attorney. God, you were a loser, Jesse James! Why didn't you just shoot the dude?! Or ignore the dude?! You're Jesse James. The law didn't apply to you. Oh, whatevs....JJ is so dead to me now. Ha-ha. That's kind of funny. You're dead to me now. But seriously, you are.

Anyway, to make a long story short, the court was unable to serve the James brothers with papers and finally the court declared in favor of the plaintiff. So, he got to take posession of JJ's high-class mare.

Yeah, that's a part of the Jesse James legend you don't hear every day. You know, because it might just have added to his mystique. Not.


This may come as a shock to all of you long-time readers (tee-hee), but I am in such a good mood today that I don't feel like ranting. Hold the heart attacks though. I'm sure I'll be curmudgeonly by tomorrow and will bring you the full force of my anger towards humanity.

I'm all about fun stuff today. And also, this may come as another shock, I am not drunk. Yet. Still I am happy. Possibly there is something wrong with the universe.

More Round-up

DUDE, so much awesomeness today! Did the world finally get clued into BunnyRider's need for the weird, cute, and absurd?!

Well, this is THE BEST...

This mustachioed master of invention was originally looking to create a safe, simple vehicle to drive a small pony. And he discovered that you couldn't really beat the CHARIOT. Yes, folks, mustachioed man rediscovered that a small pony can pull a large man in a chariot with ease. (Sidenote: originally horses were kind of small and weren't really rideable; hence the creation of the chariot.)

So, Simon the 'stache invented this 'high-end' chariot. He calls it the Saddlechariot. So, inventive and evocative. Tell me, how did you dream up this lovely name?

But, I do kind of what to be him in that photo. It looks like super-fun.

Pony Round-Up

So many worthy news items today, so little time...

- Firstly, I love this dude. This falls under yet another one of BunnyRider's obsessions - horse-related Central Asian steppes things. It's a rather broad category. This guy has spent three years on horseback to retrace the route of Genghis Khan crossing into Europe many centuries ago. And shockingly, this is not the sole reason why I love this guy. It's simply due to the amazing awesome-ness that is the intro sentence to his news article: "He scared off wolves with firecrackers in Mongolia and rescued his dog from hungry miners in Kazakhstan." I mean, this is a guy I want to go camping with - he is prepared for everything.

- The coach of Oklahoma City's minor-league hockey team helped to prevent a stampede of Belgian draft horses at the State Fair by biting the ear of one of the spooked horses. Is this guy for real? He claims that that is the way to stop a spooking horse - by biting its ear as hard as possible. I have so many questions. How did he learn this? Why would you want to bite the ear of an animal that weighs around a ton? How do you reach said horse's ear with your mouth? Please, I really need to know.

- And in news of the 'little' variety, some weirdo smuggled a miniature horse onto a flight from Germany to Atlanta, GA in a dog crate. He was trying to pass it off as a dog obvs. And this is totally bad of the person for many reasons, but the photo of the horse in a dog crate is kind of adorable.

Sep 25, 2007

A Horse You Should Know - Halla

When I was a little girl, I had a ratty old 'Encyclopedia of the Horse' that I was obsessed with (hence the blog). Anyway, there was this little black and white photo of a tall, gangly horse jumping a huge fence. And I became enamoured of that photo. I mean, the horse's name was Halla, for starters. And most showhorses that I knew were named very long and fancy names like "CFS Foxxy Lady" or some such nonsense. But more importantly, in my little 8-year-old eyes, was the fact that Halla was a mare. I never remember hearing about lots of famous, cool mares then. I only ever heard sorta crappy things about them. No one wanted one. (I still never do and ALWAYS end up with one.) But there was this gangly, handsome (yes, I love that word for girls) mare who was a 3-time Olympic gold-medal winner. Lots of places say that she is the only horse ever to have done that. But I never fully trust what I read on the Internet. I just pass it along.

Anyway, today we celebrate Halla. I don't know how many people know of her now, but she was something pretty special in the 1950s and 60s. You don't really even find that much out there on the Internet about her. But I will always remember my obsession with that totally unremarkable photo in my ratty book.

She wasn't really that pretty and she comes from unknown breeding. I say this because I very clearly remember my book telling the 8-year-old me that she was a Trakehner (I never forget a horse-related fact). But Wikipedia is trying to tell me that she was half-trotter and half-Standardbred. And yet another site is trying to me that she is a Hessen (which I totally didn't even know was a legitimate breed. Warmbloods confuse the hell out of me.) But whatever....She was meant to be used for the Military, but was considered too difficult (translation: a mare) and ended up with the rising star of Hans-Gunter Winkler. It became a match made in heaven. Clearly this was a guy who had a way with the ladies.

Halla won back-to-back World Championships in showjumping by the time they got to their first Olympics in 1956. Of course, now is the part of the story where our hero overcomes the odds to win anyway and I shall not disappoint. During the first round, Halla took off early and launched Hans high out of the saddle. He landed back down into it very heavily and pulled a groin muscle. If he withdrew the German team would be eliminated, so he opted to ride through great pain of course, they won. Screw groin pain. Those Germans are eat groin pain for breakfast. They won the team and individual gold medal. And four years later Halla and Hans helped the German team win gold yet again. In all, they won 125 jumping competitions. And as I said, she is supposedly the horse with most gold medals won in the Olympics. She is supposedly listed in the Guinness Book of Records. I have not seen said listing. But it's probably true. The internets told me so. But I have a pretty good question: If this is true, why is she not better-known? And why is she not a mascot for the sport in general? It's a great story - a difficult mare turned champion!! Hey Disney, this is a movie just waiting to be made. Well, maybe nix the groin pain. Wait, I don't really mean that. I'm all about the groin pain.

Sep 22, 2007

Better Know a Breed - Cleveland Bay

I've missed doing this column for a couple of weeks and am working to get myself back on track all weekend. Anyway, I'm resuming normal service with a look at a relatively tame breed for once. Or what I always thought was a tame breed - The Cleveland Bay. It's been only in the last few years that I discovered that this breed was listed as critically endangered. Who knew? At the barn that I hung out at as a kid, there was this sweet mare that a particularly snobby girl owned. The mare was a Cleveland Bay and, you know, where I grew up people weren't into particularly exotic breeds, so I never really thought much of it. I suppose that even then she was quite a rarish breed, but I never knew it. To me, she looked like a heavier-bodied thoroughbred, maybe an unrefined warmblood. And I always treated her as such - oh, just another one of those posh warmbloods that everyone was doing dressage with nowdays. Hell, I kind of feel bad now. She was actually a rare breed that should have been kind of cool: the pre-warmblood. So, now I know better and I am bringing you today's column in honor of that sweet, talented mare whom I treated so indifferently.

So, the Cleveland Bay is apparently the oldest indigenous English breed. Their origins can be traced all the way back to the middle ages in the Cleveland district of Yorkshire (hence the name). There were a herd of bay-colored (again, the name) horses living there at the time that were the general purpose horses of their time. They were expected to work in the fields all week, do pack-work, hunt in the fields and then be hitched up to the carriage for the Sunday church visit and not require any special care or treatment. That's a pretty steady, hardy horse right there. And I imagine, though it is unclear from any of the websites, that this was a heavier cold-blooded herd of horses. (When you see the Cleveland Bay, in person (as it were), you just get the sense that they definitely came from hardy draft stock.) In the 1700s, they were cross-bred with Oriental (i.e. Arabian, Barb) stock and Thoroughbreds, since the fashion was leaning towards lighter, faster coach horses. (But make no mistake: by the late 1800s, this breed was well-established as its own "pure" breed, genetically quite distant from the Thoroughbred.) But with the advent of the railroad, the coach horse started to quickly wear out its usefullness.

Interestingly, the United States was an unlikely hero to this breed. In the 1850s, a Cleveland Bay stallion named Scrivington was imported to a Virginia plantation, in the hopes of improving the quality of his horses (and thereby the horses around the region). As a sidenote, he and his fellow plantation owners created a venue to show off the offspring of their precious import, thereby creating the oldest (still-operating) horse show in America - the Upperville Horse Show. This sparked a boom in importing English horses to America, Thoroughbred and Cleveland Bay alike. The Cleveland Bay was the all-around horse - the beauty, the brains, the brawn.... The Thoroughbred, the speed horse. By 1907 2,000 Cleveland Bay horses were registered in the Cleveland Bay Society of America. Buffalo Bill even used a hitch of 4 Cleveland Bay stallions in his Wild West Show.

Known for its stength, quiet temperament, and excellent health, the Cleveland Bay was used in the early breeding of nearly all the 'American' breeds - the Morgan, Quarter Horse, Standardbred, etc...and was a huge part of the successes of the US cavalry breeding program. And in Europe it was used in the initial bloodlines of many of the Warmblood breeding programs, most notably the Oldenberg. It is the uber-warmblood, if you will. But, used extensively in Europe and America in both the World Wars, by the 1960s only 6 mature pure-bred stallions still existed. (There were only a handful more mares.) And frankly, we owe a lot to the British Royal Family in preserving the breed. In the 1920s, the Queen's grandfather had bred Cleveland Bays and she felt close to the breed. So, when one of the remaining stallions was earmarked for export to the US, Her Majesty stepped in and purchased him, and from him re-established the Cleveland Bay stud and breed. Today there are about 500-600 purebreds registered worldwide and probably about 50 or so of those registered in North America.

I want one. The horse is the original warmblood - the OG of the sporthorse world. Their conformation is beautiful, all thick bones and huge muscles, and their temperament cannot be beat. It sounds like the perfect sporthorse combination, strong enough and built well-enough to negotiate the demands of modern English competition, but also sensible enough to deal with the mental demands of our sport. This is a warmblood that is carries that draft strength, but with enough lightness that doesn't stem from the neurotic stupidity of a Thoroughbred or Arabian (and no, I'm not dissing those breeds). It just seems like it's high time to resuscitate this breed's popularity. Why recreate the wheel (i.e. the modern sporthorse), when the original has patiently staring you in the face for several centuries?

Schweppes Bull

Thi is totally absurd, but as anyone who reads this blog knows, I love anything bullriding-related, so my love for this silly commercial knows no bounds.

Sep 21, 2007

Maiden for Life

Oh, I feel bad for this horse. Her name is Dona Chepa. And she has never won a race. In fact, it appears as if she now owns the (unofficial) record of number of races lost - 125. I feel really bad for her. Clearly she's not good at racing and yet her stupid trainer has been entering her in races for 4 years now and she still isn't winning. Poor little mama. Why can't they retire her and give her a job she might be good at? There are lots of things - dressage, jumping, trail riding, maybe she could be a good broodmare. And yes, just because she's not a winner doesn't mean she can't be a good mommy to racehorses or hunter/jumpers or something.

What's even sadder, I think, is the fact that in all the articles about her, she is just made out to seem pretty awful. She's referred to as a brown horse. Dude, that's just sad. She looks kind of bayish in the picture. Can't she have that at least? I mean, brown is the color all my non-horse friends call any horse that isn't white. I know it's a legitimate horse color, but dude...it's brown. How more pathetic can you make this mare seem? And what's up with this picture? Why is this the only picture I can find of her?! Has there ever been a worse photo taken of a horse? I have to try hard to make a horse look that bad and I can't take photos to save my life.

Ultimately though, I just want to say this to her trainer. Guy, give it up. Your horse wants a different career. She doesn't care about running around a track and trying to reach the finish line first. She came in 2nd once in 2003 and it clearly wasn't a rush for her - she certainly didn't try to duplicate it again. So, come on... There are other horses in the world to train. Maybe you're striving for being the trainer of the least-winning-nest horse in history and I guess that's something, but you could probably do better. In fact, it's really easy to do better.

Sep 20, 2007

A Horse and His Boy

You know, one of the other reasons horseball was created was actually to attract more boys to horseback riding. I haven't been able to stop thinking about that. We're always trying to attract more boys to riding, but in my point of view at the high levels of every discipline, there are A LOT of boys/men. Okay, I don't have exact numbers, but I still think it is pretty clear that in the grand prix dressage and jumping competitions, the number of men and women is fairly even. Maybe there are even more men at the high levels of Western and I would probably say the same for Saddleseat. This is all just empirical evidence that I've witnessed over the years, but overall what I'm trying to say is that I don't particularly see a dearth of men in the upper echelon of riding. Maybe a dearth of straight men (oops, did I say that out loud?), but not men in general.

The interesting thing is that at the entryway into riding (school-barns and the like), you're going to see primarily girls, girls, more girls, and silly older women. There are so many horse-crazy girls who aren't even that into the sport, but for some reason are obsessed with the cute furry creatures.... It's super sweet, but it kind of irritating at the same time. I wish girls weren't so silly about horses. I love the creatures, but I don't feel the need to treat them as my best friend or my baby or my doll to dress up. Sometimes I just think that if we really wanted to make riding more attractive to boys just starting out, we could do something about the hordes of little girls at the stables that just hang out, braid and dress up the ponies constantly, all the while proclaiming their undying love for a certain pony and that they will surely marry him when they get older. Look, I endured that ALL THE TIME as a riding instructor. One on hand it's kind of cute in a retarded way, but it gets old fast. I can't blame the boys at the edge of the crowd just rolling their eyes. I don't remember being that absurd as a little horse-obsessed girl. I wanted to learn and compete (in addition to braiding purple ribbons into C's tail), but the point is that I wasn't always encouraged to be a silly little girl around the ponies. I was encouraged to be a good, competitive rider and to read and study horses not just play with them like dolls. If we spent more time encouraging the girls at the stables to take an active interest in being better horsewomen and showing them great role models, we might not create such an insular world that boys don't always feel welcome to join. Instead many lesson and camp activities seem to revolve around how to make our pony pretty or to parade him around like a stuffed animal. It's okay to do those things, but we don't have to treat it like the end-all and be-all of being at the barn.

Is it blasphemous to think that we could be creating smart, thoughtful, competitive riders of both genders? Someone I actually want to hang out with away from the barn?

Look, I realize this could be construed as me being misogynistic or something, but that's totally not my goal. I'm just saying that we have a tendency to encourage girls (and women) to have infantile interactions with horses that is just totally absurd and way off the mark. It's a sport, people. (And a risky one at that.) Can't we just attempt to acknowledge this and not actively encourage silly behavior as the only type of horsey interaction?

Horseball is Tres French

So, I would never, ever want to admit that I didn’t know something horse-related, so let’s just say that I only had a ‘vague notion’ of what horseball was before today. The funny thing is that now I know more about it, I still don’t know how I feel about it. Frankly, I’m torn – half of me thinks it looks kind of amazingly awesome, and half of me thinks it’s just a fancy name for (barely) organized chaos.

So, those of you who also only have a ‘vague notion’ of what horseball is, allow me o show off my newfound expertise….Apparently it’s described as a sort of horse basketball, mixed with a little rugby. There are two teams (of 6 riders, I believe). There is a ball with lots of crazy handles all over it. There are strange basket-esque goals. Sporty things ensue. I’m a real sport-gal. It shows, doesn’t it? Mostly it just sounds like basketball on horseback; your team attempts to make goals into the basket-thing and whoever scores the most goals wins. What it amounts to is lots of people galloping an arena around with a ball.

What’s super cool and awesome about horseball is that you can ‘tackle’ your opponents. I don’t quite understand what the ‘tackle’ is all about. On one hand, it doesn’t seem like you can use physical contact against another rider, but on the other it seems you can use your shoulder and weight against another player, as well as placing your horse in their horse’s way to force them to move off-course. In theory this seems cool. I approve of mild physical violence at any time. Another thing that I am totally into is the fact that when the ball falls to the ground, a rider cannot dismount to pick it up. S/he has to swing down and scoop the ball up with his hand. I so want to be able to do this. And I’m sure it’s pretty good to teach your horse to deal with someone flopping all over and not freaking out. In fact, this would have come in handy the last time my mare unseated me and I was struggling to stay on, halfway off of the saddle. She utterly FREAKED OUT completely terrified of my new precarious position and I had no chance but to hit the dirt. Horseball training could have made that day less painful.

But I digress….Anyway, it’s kind of a cool sport in theory. Though like any team sport, when I try to watch it, it kind of makes me sleepy and bored. Trust me, it sounds cooler than it looks. And possibly it’s more fun to play than watch. I guess it was created in order to encourage people to engage in better riding and horsemanship. Because at many, many points during the game you must totally let go of the reins to catch or throw the ball and simply steer with your legs. Okay, being who I am, I’m totally down with that. Everyone should be able to steer off the seat and legs. But would I want to rely on that in that sort of situation? I don’t know, when I see all those horses galloping at each other and several riders with their hands in the air, I just cringe. You know, because theoretically you’re steering off your legs, but you’re also focused on making a goal and less on steering away from that horse dead in front of you…..It really creeps me out. I envision pony pile-ups. Maybe the horses just know what to do, like cutting horses and bullfighting horses. Their instincts are so good, they’re doing a lot of the steering for you. But still, I dare you to look at the chaos that ensues in those games and not cringe a couple of times. My horse would kick at another and suddenly in the middle of a goal, she’d take off in the opposite direction at full-speed. And she’s a well-trained horse. But clearly people do it and it seems to go well, so I don’t know…

And oh yeah, it was started in France. Who knew? First dressage, then horseball. But the French are great at it, so don't knock it. They seem to be sucking in the other horse discplines right now. I guess they excel at sports that they create the rules for. I'm so mean. But it just feels so good to be so mean. You gotta do what feels right....

Sep 19, 2007

The famous diving horse at Atlantic City New Jersey

This is kind of amazing to watch just for the pure shock value. But what's terrible is that there are people commenting on youtube that this wasn't so bad and it didn't hurt anyone...and that the horse wasn't forced to do it. Okay, that's just retarded. Of course the horse was forced to do it. He didn't decide to do that for fun one day. Horses typically learn to do what we tell them. And if one doesn't, there are 10 more who will. That's why they became domesticated. They wanted to co-exist with us and do things for us.

Sep 18, 2007

The Unbearable Stupidity of Humans

So, file this one under "WHY"? Yeah, pretty much I don't like most people. I don't really get why anyone really would. Take, diving horses, for example. This is just an reason to hate people in itself. I mean, these are two words that probably shouldn't even go together: diving and horse. Yeah, because when I think diving, I totally associate a horse with being great at it. Exactly.

So, anywho, in the late 1800s a man by the name of Doc Carver (a former partner of Buffalo Bill Cody) was putting on shooting exhibitions in the tradition of a real Wild West show. Yet, you know, shooting just wasn't enough. And by the mid-1880s he had added diving horses. It was a huge crowd favorite. He claimed that he had gotten the idea from a personal experience in which he was crossing a bridge that started to collapse (as he was on it) and the horse he was riding had to leap into the water below to escape. I don't know. Maybe that happened. I'm skeptical, but who really cares? He got the idea to make horses jump from platforms into tanks of water. And people loved it.

But get this. It wasn't simply making horses jump into the tanks of water. Oh no. They had riders. And of course people ate it up. Humans are pathetically savage. More than any other creature. I mean, it would take so little for us to devolve into getting high on daily gladiator fights, dog-fighting, cock-fighting, horse-fighting (oh, yes....it is a thing and it will be brought to you), etc... We love cruelty and bloodshed. Look, I get that nature is cruel and dangerous and all, but I don't know.... People should be able to refrain from forcing animals (and other people) to engage in weird and cruel acts just for entertainment. But I also want to punch hald the population for my own personal enjoyment, so let's call it equal...

Anyway, so people paid good money to come and view riders on horseback plunging about 40 feet off of a ramp into a tank of water. And shockingly (yeah, I'm truly shocked) on February 17, 1907, 18-year-old Oscar Smith was doing his typical diving horse routine and died in the act. The horse was okay. And, by the way, anyone appalled at the state of media nowadays that sells papers and advertising through taking advantage of personal tragedy....yeah, well, that photo was on page one and the paper sold out all over Texas. The paper bragged that it had scored a major coup. People haven't changed so much. And the horse-diving act kept going (even days after the accident).

I couldn't find information on any horses getting hurt in the act. And often, that was the whole conceit for people defending it. Well, I view that as being really super that no horses were hurt and incredibly lucky, but not as a reason to continue doing it. I mean, on what planet should horses be jumping into tanks of water?! There is footage of the act on youtube that I'll post and it's amazing, really. But the whole time I was thinking: why the hell do animals let us touch them....ever? Because we really suck at taking care of them. It's a testament to how forgiving and adaptable they are, in my opinion.

But, hey! Guess who made a movie out of diving horses?! That's right - Disney!! In 1924, a young woman by the name of Sonora Webster joined Carver's show as a horse diver/jumper/rider person. Lots of young girls did this act. I don't know why. She eventually married Carver's son and the show settled at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. She continued to do the act and one day in 1931, something went wrong and though she survived the fall (as did the horse), she was blinded (detached retinas caused by the impact). For some ungodly reason, she continued to do the diving act after she recuperated. Luckily for Disney, of course. Sonora wrote a book which was adapted by them into a movie in 1991. The film was called (get this): "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken." How touching. How heartbreaking. How moving. These horses and this girl were so brave for America and the world. Please. Some people just deserve to be slapped. And my hands are great shape.

In the 1970s the act was shut down by animal-rights groups. Finally. And in case you were wondering, most of the horses who outlived their diving days were typically sent to slaughter. Yeah, after they spent their lives leaping into the air to land in a giant pool of water, we showed our gratitude for their blind loyalty by slaughtering them. Luckily the very last two diving horses were saved by the Fund for Animals and allowed to live out their days on a nice sanctuary. That's about the only bright spot in this story.

Pony Round-up

-Bunnyrider's unhealthy obsession (amongst others)- the racehorse John Henry (who is 32 by the way) had a bit of a health issue last week. Apparently he became dehydrated, due to the oppressive heat in KY, and some blood tests showed elevated levels of blood urea nitrogen and creatinine, which could potentially indicate kidney problems. He's gotten plenty of IV fluids since and seems to be doing much better, though he hasn't gotten the 'all clear' yet. Fingers crossed he'll be okay. Bunnyrider loves John Henry. And the bloodhorse article says that everyone's favorite curmudgeon (their words, not ours) is enjoying whatever foods he wants. Apparently that means chocolate, cookies, and doughnut holes. Bunnyrider now loves John Henry even more. In fact, bunnyrider is John Henry - old man crankyness, sweet tooth and all.

Sep 17, 2007

Pony Round-Up

This is kind of interesting....Dover Saddlery is going to do a presentation at the Thomas Weisel Consumer Conference in NYC. I think the equestrian consumer market is vastly under-represented and underserved and anything to get that onto the markets' radar is pretty smart. Dover is a pretty good business model actually (though I don't always love the idea of the tack conglomerate, in general). They went public two years ago and since, they have been great about positioning themselves as virtually the only tack provider to be business-savvy about the equestrian consumer market. They should hopefully pave the way for other equestrian services to make some change off of the ridiculous amounts of money we spend on horse-related things (for lack of a better word).

Sep 16, 2007

A Horse You Should Know - Wing Commander

Yes, I'm back. I would never let my adoring fans down, now would I? Anyway, to continue with my Monday regular column - A Horse You Should Know - I was going to pick another racehorse out to profile. I have been overly obsessed with racehorses lately and particularly since I picked up a great 1970-ish book written by two sports journalists of the era that I find really enthralling about some lesser-known animals. But it occurred to me that I might be a little heavy on the racing/throughbred stuff right now. You know, because that was never the idea of this blog. I'm fascinated by all things relating to the horse and I find that many horse people tend to have their one obsession (whether it is a breed or a discipline) and don't really venture to check out the rest of the horse world. That's so bizarre. If you like horses, how can you not be obsessed with EVERYTHING horse-y? What?! Yeah, well it's called OCD, okay?

Anyway, without further ado this week's column is devoted to Wing Commander. For anyone not familiar with his name, he was an American Saddlebred and yes, he was a bona fide 5-gaited, saddleseat extraordinaire.

I'm going to pause right here and just address any of you horse people about to start rolling your eyes at the mere mention of saddleseat and the breeds generally associated with this discipline. Let me just point out that the Saddlebred and Hackney and Morgan and Arabian and however many other of these breeds you want to lump into this category were all working breeds originally. EVEN THE HACKNEY. These were cart animals, carriage horses, hunting hacks.... That's how people got from point A to point B without cars. With the Saddlebred and Tennesee Walker, any of those rare breeds that could include extra gaits, they became extra important in the 1800s in the Southern states in America. Owing to the smoothness of their slow gait, the owner of the plantation could ride all day long, comfortably, through his tobacco or cotton or whatever else kind of fields. But like any other horse, during the civil war, they were enlisted to work. Their history was not unlike any other horse's. And like all the rest their existence was gravely threatened by the invention of the automobile. Suddenly, there was a great shift in our mindset towards horses. They were no longer our comrades in work, they were these giant pets. Showy, gorgeous, flashy, giant pets. It was only natural for us to start devising big competitions around showing off these sudden luxury items. And "saddleseat" just came about as a idealization and nostalgia of those old Southern ways - I mean, geez, does anything come out of the South that isn't hung up on nostalgia for the pre-Civil War days? So, they sort of froze saddleseat in time - conjuring up the old days of the saddle suit and derby and plantation saddle. And we moved the saddlehorse from the dusty backroads of the plantation to the showrings to seek out the titles of best saddle horse to show off the famous slow gait and rack, the gaits that made them so popular in the first place.

What is shocking to me is that in the 20s and 30s and especially by the 50s, the American public was going crazy for these saddleseat shows. They were huge! Crowds flocked to them. And Wing Commander was just simply one of the greatest 5-gaited Saddlebreds ever. Luckily for him, he was bred and shown at just precisely the right time in American history to be a complete phenomenon. Born in 1943, he was a bit of a gangly chestnut colt that by all accounts took a little longer than some others to mature. Of course, it's never a good athlete story unless you talk about the hardships along the way, but it seems to me he didn't have it all that hard. It's said that he was willful and strong and it took months before he settled into a rack naturally under saddle, but if that's the extent of his hardships, sign me up for that path to fame and fortune! As a 3-year-old he was shown 7 times undefeated and was 5-gaited Champion Stallion at the Chicago International. In 1948, he won World Champion, the first of six times he would be crowned with that title.

The next year his 1949 World Champion title was not won so easily. For anyone who still has doubts as to the hardiness and toughness of this breed, think again. The judges at this particular show did not seem keen on Wing Commander winning the title yet again. They were set on another horse. They called the horses in to make them strut their stuff. (Mind you, it's about 100 degrees at the time.) No consensus. They're called back for a second workout. No agreement between the judges. A third workout was called for the animals. They showed off like pros in the heat and not one pulled out, but finally Wing Commander's rider had had enough and pulled his horse up into the center of the ring for the line-up. The other riders followed suit. In the end, Wing Commander won the title again, but not without the fight of working nearly non-stop for 2 hours in 100 degrees heat. It took all night to cool the horses down.

In all, he won 6 world championships. He was nearly unbeatable and while there are no videos of him performing, I can believe that he must have been something special. In the heyday of saddleseat, for one horse to come along and sweep it all....well, that's got to be pretty spectacular. His rack was supposed to be fluid and fast, two words you don't often hear about a racking horse. It's usually one or the other. And get this, he was the feature of a 1954 LIFE magazine article. You hear of lots of pop-culture racehorse icons and the odd jumper that is recognized by a large section of the non-horsey culture, but how many other riding disciplines have you come across that have enjoyed that same sort of success? Ummmm....not so many. He was so famous that people would come from all across America (and other countries) just to see a glimpse of him. And many avid Breyer collectors will tell you that he was been immortalized in mini-plasticized horsey-form for 8 year-olds everywhere to play with. I'll admit it - I own that model myself.

I for one think Saddleseat is pretty interesting and an important part of the American history, in general. It harkens back to a time that, hell, never really existed. I mean, not the way you see it embodied in those hot-blooded, flashy, high-stepping horses at the shows. And that rack. I don't know if I am awed by it or creeped out by it. That's probably so naughty of me to say. But really, the rack is very different. It is equal parts awesome and disturbing (probably because I have such a limited experience with this gait). I have actually ridden the rack, twice actually. Yes, it is ultra-smooth. But that's not what I was feeling when I was experiencing it - it is electricfying. Honestly. You're excited to be doing it and the horse is just exploding with tension the entire time. It should be said that the rack is extremely strenuous and that's probably what I was feeling - the extreme power and energy required to keep the gait up. But anyway.....you should see a saddleseat show just once. At the very least, if you can't see the beauty in it, you must just experience the fetishization of a bygone era, admittedly a very creepy time when men surveyed their slaves in the fields from astride a smooth-riding, fancy-stepper, trying to emulate the aristocratic airs of a veritable English lord.

Sep 13, 2007

Bunny Rider is on Vacation

I am on vacation until Monday with limited access to the Internet. This will explain my absence for the last week. Monday I will return in full (possibly fuller) glory. I know you all cannot wait.

Sep 6, 2007

Saratoga Springs, Parte the Third

Zombies. What ultimately made cinched the deal for me (and the reason I'll be going back every year if I can) is that Saratoga Springs itself is just a little bit on the quirky side, probably because it's a college town, too. So, I LOVED the fact that on Sunday night dozens upon dozens of teens/college kids descended upon the town in full-on zombie make-up and dress. All night, I kept telling the zombies just how cute they were. I'm sure that's not the reaction they wanted, but how cool were they to do that amidst the leather-y, gold-adorned yuppie set that makes up Saratoga's race-goers?! Kind of super cool.

Road Trip: Saratoga Springs, Parte the Second

I haven't been feeling very well lately and thus, my blogging has not been as awesome as I would like. My apologies...awesome-ness will return soon.

Anyway, the thing that I loved most about Saratoga was that it was the first place that I have ever been in my entire life where EVERYONE was obsessed with horses. The obsession ranged from simply wearing a horse-y tee-shirt or owning a couple of racehorses or being a small-time claiming trainer. I've traveled a lot and I've never been to a place where horses are number 1 all the time. And there's no pretension about it, really. I mean, yeah, you get a few irritating know-it-alls, but in general everyone is pretty chatty about anything horse-y. That just instantly made me pretty cheerful. I don't care that the couple behind me at the races wondered whether the same horses that were racing today would be racing tomorrow: the majority of the people aren't experts, just fans. That's just fine with me. Refreshing, in fact. You get a bit jaded being around hunter/jumper or dressage barns. They can be so snarky and insular that you forget what it's like to be around normal people (who just happen to love horses).

The only thing I can really attribute the camaraderie to is that the town's one true industry is simply tourism and the horse-racing is a huge chunk of that. So, they owe a lot to the horses and the industry. And frankly from what I can see Saratoga attracts a fairly well-heeled horsey set that just adds to the coffers.

Pony Round-up

- Wow. Huge freaking shocker....NYC carriage horses not being cared for properly. They are working without enough water, shade, or vet exams. Wow, I'm so surprised. Not. Anyone who thinks those carriage rides are magical or romantic or whatever the hell they're supposed to be, should be strapped to one of those carriages themselves for 12 hours. I loathe the industry and the tourists who keep it going. And no, I don't think you can make the working conditions better. It's just a ludicrous, dangerous industry for horses and should not exist.

- Within the first paragraph of this story from bloodhorse.com is this astute observation: "It's no secret that today's Thoroughbreds tend to be less sound, rugged, and durable than in the past." This is a real problem - anyone who says that the Arabian is just a fragile breed that is unsuitable for most disciplines needs to take a look at the modern Thoroughbred. Well, at least this is a start towards possibly fixing the problem - a listing has been compiled of sire lists whose bloodlines are identified as being more durable and sound.

- By the way, I like the way many within the horseracing industry are trying to remedy the faults of modern Thoroughbred breeding (and the breakdowns that that engenders) by installing new 'polytrack' surfaces in certain racetracks around the country - to combat speed. Okay, I'm all for making racing surfaces safe...but you know, if the industry stood up and started really clamoring for changes from the ground-up, we might not have to do silly things like installing racing surfaces to slow horses down. I don't know. It just strikes me as silly to combat the symptom, not the underlying problem.

Sep 5, 2007

Road Trip: Saratoga Springs, Parte the First

So, we took a train from NYC to Saratoga. It seemed the easiest and, besides, I have an unhealthy love of the train. I suppose it’s growing up in Europe. Anyway, across the aisle from us, a nice older gentleman was on the edge of his seat with excitement and I could tell he was going to be one of those gregarious types that sort of annoy the crap out of me. Without fail he picked my husband and me out as much too nice suckers who can’t seem to bow out of an unwanted conversation gracefully. He introduced himself (we’ll call him D), asked us if we were headed to Saratoga and if we were going to see the racing. When he found out that I was a horse-lover, the floodgates were unleashed. But what he had to say surprised me. It quickly came out that he had been going to the Saratoga meet for a good 13 years out of his adult life and just when I thought he was just some ├╝ber-fan, he blurted out that he had worked at the tracks since he was 14. I was immediately intrigued. D. told me that he had started out (yes, just like in the books) as a hot-walker, moved his way up to groom and finally assistant trainer. And he loved every minute of it. You could tell by the way his eyes lit up just talking about it. It was cool enough, but within minutes I was looking for an out to our conversation when D. starts listing off some of the horses he worked with and casually includes John Henry somewhere smack in the middle of that list. John freaking Henry?! And being a jaded New Yorker, the first thing you think is: This guy’s a joke. I’m dismissing him. And yet…I came to realize after only a weekend in Saratoga, you can’t underestimate anyone there. So many people are owners or employees or somehow involved in some important event in racing at one time or another. And as it turns out, the great racehorse John Henry was housed in the stable that D. worked for and whether he just walked the horse once or groomed him once or everyday, that cinched it for me. That gangly, clearly infirmed older man who had the eyes and demeanor of a crazy religious proselytizer had been part of a history that I revered. And he deserved my respect.

Unless he was talking specifically about horses his thoughts were a bit jumbled and disjointed, just purging out his words as they came, without censure. I rightly judged that he was the product of a self-help system, with their ideas of earnestly offering up every feeling as they have it, in some misguided attempt to rid themselves of guilt or shame. But anyway, I pieced together that he had succumbed to the temptations of booze and gambling, losing wads of money and the only career that seemed to be his calling. He hadn’t been to the track in 18 years and was as excited as a kid to be finally able to go back. It deeply troubled and moved me that here was a man who was utterly destroyed by the track and the temptations that go hand-in-hand with it, and yet he couldn’t stay away from that allure. It was his greatest love and biggest destroyer. (For God’s sake, he lives across the street from Aqueduct in NY. I mean, dude, give yourself a break.)

Now, I realize I am on the verge of over-sentimentalizing this story, but I just wanted to point out that D. is just one human casualty of horse-racing over the decades. I realize that it is all too easy for me to point out the toll that racing has taken on horses over the years, without mentioning that for every horse that breaks down or is carried off to slaughter, there are several men like D. who lose everything because of the nasty allure of gambling. And, yeah, you can argue that D. is sober now and able to revisit the places where he lost it all. But all I see is a product of our laughable self-help systems that turn people into the equivalent of a religious zealot. A man who uses stock phrases like: “God always gives back tenfold what he has taken away.” Or “Bless God for letting me see the folly of my ways.” He is a shell and no matter how much he blurts out that he is going to start a barn and working on the business plan and attracting investors, you know that he knows it’s too late for him. He lost his chance and now his only solace is those empty words. I’m dead serious. Not one person on that train wanted to speak with him, recognizing in him that overly-aggressive enthusiasm that street-corner fanatics possess and finding that extremely uncomfortable. He might be sober, but he's neither happy nor well-adjusted. Mostly, it made me feel terrible for D. I wanted to save him from the self-help crap he was spewing and tell everyone that here was an important man – someone who had touched a legend, someone who had many things to teach us about this sport that we revered. But instead, I just went back to reading my book.

Pony Round-up

- This is kind of fantastic: A British man faces charges of careless driving when his horse and buggy went up onto a lawn, trampled a bike, and nearly ran a car off the road. Apparently, he was drunk when he lost control of his horse. First of all, kudos to the horse who actually had the balls to run a car off the road and trample a bicycle. And, way to go to Amish-guy who was drinking and driving.....ha. The constable says drinking and operating a horse and buggy is very "serious" (not so much, actually) and "all too common." Wow, I want to live there and see all the crazy drunk-buggy action.

- This is interesting. A study was done in New Zealand to determine whether horse performance is affected by dental work. They took 11 horses and performed dressage tests; directly after, floated half of the horses teeth and performed the exact same test the following day. Performance was neither improved or diminished. But weirdly the rider was correct in guessing 7 of the horses as to whether they had been floated or not. So, clearly there was a difference. The rider felt it. But frankly I think the whole study is kind of dumb. The two groups were horses that had not had their teeth floated for at least a year vs horses that had had regular 6-month check-ups. Frankly, all that tells me is that I can save some money and only do my horse's teeth once a year. Doesn't disprove that floating is helpful. Not sure what the point was here.....

Sep 4, 2007

Dirty Secret

So many things to blog about, so little time. I was away for the weekend (in Saratoga Springs, actually) and will be blogging many an item about the fab horse-racing there. But something I meant to write about last week has to take mini-precedence here:

I have a dirty secret. I LOVE bull-riding. I cannot explain this love. It is so great a love, in fact, that I am not even that embarassed to tell people about it. Since it always seems to be playing on a channel somewhere in my 5 gazillion stations from TWC, I will put it on for guests at my house - so they, too, can marvel at the amazing-ness that is bull-riding. Yes, it's sad and someday I will go in depth about why I find it so fascinating, but today I just want to profess my love. And now that you understand this about me, you will better understand just why on Wednesday night I was flipping through channels, nursing my 2nd blackberry bramble (an awesome drink that can floor you faster than you think) when I stumbled upon MY FAVORITE TV SHOW EVER!!! Ty Murray's Celebrity Bull-Riding Challenge.

That's right, ladies and gentlemen. Celebrity Bull-Riding. We have moved way beyond reality tv shows that simply humiliate. We now want our z-list celebrities to be in extreme physical peril. And that's sort of awesome, with an "A." There's not a lot to be said about the show itself - it's pretty dumb and they sort of dredged up the lowest of the low on the celebrity list. Why these people would risk not only public humiliation, but possible death is just beyond me. Maybe they figure that the career is dead, the body just needs to follow.... Whatever - who knows, really... But, anyway, they are participating in a television show in which they have 10 days (!!) to learn to ride a 1,800lb bull at a Nashville PBR event. Celebrities include: musician Vanilla Ice, actor Stephen Baldwin, actor/musician Leif Garrett, actor Dan "Nitro" Clark, actor Francesco Quinn, former football star "Rocket" Ismail, Ultimate Fighter Josh Haynes, X-Games motorcycle legend "Cowboy" Kenny Bartram and Survivor reality star Jon "Jonny Fairplay" Dalton. I think basically they should thank their lucky stars every time they get on and don't instantly break every bone in their body.

And, so far, in every episode at least one person has gone to the hospital. For some reason that cracks me up. I am a mean, mean person. Stephen Baldwin broke his shoulder. Some dude, Francesco Quinn, broke his arm and a rib (close to the lung, I might add). I mean, YEAH. Of course. Who thought they could learn to ride a bull in 10 days?! Who thought they wouldn't break their bones?! Who thought this was a good idea?! Well, okay that is silly - it IS a great idea. The person who thought this up is GENIUS. The person who persuaded celebrity morons to do this is FANTASTIC. I love this person. I love this show. And I love bull-riding the most.

Aug 30, 2007

Get Me Some of Those...

If you're a dressage rider looking for well-made, attractive breeches you should look at Goodfellow breeches. I was clued into this brand about two years ago by a friend at my barn and frankly, they're some of the best breeches I have ever owned. You can customize fabric, color, slim or full-fit (warning: full-fit is the silly-looking pleated variety that I wouldn't be caught dead in), and whether you want full-seat or knee patches. The price cannot be beat for the quality - EUR 124 for full-seat (real leather) slim fit breeches. That's probably about $168 (used to be less, but the exchnage rate is getting crappy for the $) and I am the absolute last person in the world to tell anyone to spend loads of money on tack and equipment, but I would definitely encourage anyone to buy these breeches. For the price, they fit like a dream on all body-types; you get to choose from a wide variety of colors; and they last forever. I am not joking. I have had loads and loads of breeches die after one year of regular usage. These can last 2 or 3 years, even more (my friend had hers for like 5 years) and this is with someone who can not be bothered to use correct laundry detergent (for leather) or correct washing methods.

Their website sucks majorly, but it just adds to the charm. It feels like you're supporting a real mom-and-pop shop. I don't know. Maybe I just have a totally irrational love of this brand, but I do and I think more people should give these guys a shot. Really, what have you got to lose? Well, except $168? But if you have only one amazing pair of dressage breeches, this should be it.

I Hope This Isn't a Typo

Wow. I was trolling other blogs, looking for something awesome, and via bridlepath came across this. I don't even have words for this. It is the single most amazing thing EVER. Just wow.

Odds and Ends

- I found a great news item from a couple of years ago about a yearling moose and a 20-year old horse that were best friends. It just seemed fitting to post here. What with my recent musing on horse-moose dating.
"For weeks, a young moose was seen wandering around the Groton village area and on July 12 ended up in a field adjacent to Route 302 outside the village. [...] And in a hayfield close to that farm, a horse was paddocked. The two animals came together and before long, the moose was following the horse back to the farm yards and barn. They romped together, trotted together and could be seen peering out the barn window or standing side-by-side at the fence just outside the farm's kitchen door.
After more than seven weeks, the two female animals are still attracted to each other. They are both brown, the moose taller and longer. The horse is the leader and the moose follows wherever they go. The moose is about a year old, according to neighbors who have spoken with a Vermont game biologist. The farm children named her Mary."

Awwww....that's too cute.

- And what with my rant on the lack of helmet-wearing yesterday, I figured I should post a link to Troxel. They've created a helmet concealed within a traditional derby hat, for saddleseat riders (and I suppose you could use it for dressage as well). I didn't know that this existed. And yeah, I admit it's not gorgeous, but why couldn't we continue to work on creating options like this and slowly make them more attractive. I'd wear it.

Aug 29, 2007

I'm in a Ranty Sort of Mood

Heads are sweet. I like mine. It gives me so much and asks so little. That’s why I wear a helmet when I ride. How many riders can honestly say that? Not as many as I would hope.

When I was growing up and just learning to ride, I wore just a hunt cap. Remember those velveteen-covered shells that were like ½” thick and probably made of heavy-duty cardboard? I’m not sure when it became required in showing to have an approved helmet, but I must have been just on the cusp. I remember taking many a fall on that hunt cap and nothing seems to have done too much damage (yeah, I left myself wide open on that one, I know). But by the time I was 10, I think that safety standards were in place and my mom bought me one of the early egg-head helmets that were just the least attractive item of clothing ever invented. Yet it wasn’t created to be pretty – it was protection. I remember the women I rode with at the barn, though….they would never wear one of those helmets (protective or no). I can barely remember being around a single person who wore a helmet to ride. The excuse was always that they were heavy or hot or that they would mess up one’s hair. And I’ll admit it right now: I couldn’t wait until the day that I was old enough to be as cool as they were and not wear a helmet. It wasn’t until I started riding at 12 with my beloved Dressage coach that I started seeing helmets in a new light. She always rode with a helmet, and this was a tough lady who had been riding for years and years – I’d never seen her get unseated. She told me that no matter how good of a rider you are, you’re never too good for a helmet. And that stuck more than anything.

You see, I get it. I really do. Helmets kind of suck. I will readily admit that I still get that twinge of jealousy every time I see my compatriots training, hair flowing free behind them. And then I realize that really bugs me. If I still get excited about belonging to the cool group who doesn’t wear helmets, what does that say about all of the kids and teens who are at the barn (any barn) day-in and day-out, soaking it all in? They’re surely feeling my desire to join the cool kids times ten. You know what’s really underlying those feelings though? I think I do, and it’s pretty disturbing.

There are really only two reasons that people don’t wear helmets:

1) They never had to wear a helmet in all their experiences riding and have trouble changing their ways now. This includes many Western riders, Saddleseat riders, trail riders, and older riders (in many other disciplines) who had been riding and competing for years and years before safe helmets were marketed and recommended. I can understand and dismiss these people. Why fix something that isn’t broken, right? And in the case of Western riding, it’s going to take years to ever change from Western hats to helmets. If that can really ever happen at all. If statistics don’t motivate change, then who am I to argue.

2) But other reason people don’t wear helmets? The one that makes me load up Vice City and just go on a violent spree? Here’s the dirty truth: They think they are simply too good to wear a helmet. Anybody who argues this point is simply a liar or in denial. By taking your helmet off, you’ve removed all doubt from people’s minds that you’re not ultra-confident. I’m not saying that you are, in fact, a better rider. Puhleeeze. No. But you seem tough and carefree and undaunted by any challenge. The perception of you changes. Every time you work around a horse there is danger. All people are aware of this in even a rudimentary way. Seeing those people work with a horse and not wear a helmet – well, that’s just ballsy. You’re so tough that the thought of getting hurt doesn’t even give you pause. This is the subtext, folks. No matter what your primary argument is: that you need to practice without a helmet because you show without one; that you haven’t fallen in years; that you don’t own one; that your horse is so quiet….the list goes on. And hell, in America at least, old-fashioned machismo trumps caution and skill any day. It’s absurd and dangerous. But mostly, it bothers me because everyday at a barn somewhere a little boy or girl is watching a really amazing rider and picking up on the subtext that being a top rider somehow equates with nonchalance about risk. And if that doesn’t disturb you, it should.

Riding Apparel for Non-Riders

You know, because riding apparel is just SOOOOOO sexy and comfy. I've just been dying to wear my breeches to parties and things. Finally I can. Joy of joys. Thanks, fashion companies, for bringing breeches to the masses. Now you too can enjoy the fun of showing your cellulite to the world and getting uncomfortable rashes in unmentionable places. Awesome.

Aug 28, 2007

Look up in the sky! Is it a Moose?! A Horse?! No, it's Ugly!

You know, because I am nothing if not loyal to my unintentional theme of the day. I bring you another oldish story involving genetic oddities. This one comes from Canada - Quebec to be exact. A Canadian rancher claims his horse gave birth to a horse-moose hybrid. This is Bambi, the hoose. Or morse. Whichever. Frankly, I think Bambi is just a very unfortunate-looking baby horse. But Canadian rancher-dude (For real? A rancher? In Quebec?) is convinced that this foal is a hoose based on the following evidence:
  • It has an ugly moose-head.
  • It's legs are long.
  • It likes to sleep lying down.
  • And his stallions were castrated shortly before the mare became pregnant.

Okay, let me first say Canadian fake-rancher: horses can carry their foals for nearly 12 months sometimes. In my mind, this does not rule out your stallions. Secondly, some horses are butt-ugly. I'm sorry. That sucks, but mostly for poor Bambi. Finally, I would think that even as a fake-rancher you would know this, but horses sleep lying down more than people realize and foals have long legs. Always.

However, in his defense (I have some French blood, never trust me entirely), let me just mention a few things here: It is apparently fairly well-documented that moose and horses do attempt to mate. These are not successful matings (i.e. no pregnancies). It is not completely impossible for a baby to be conceived from such a mating, but it is EXTREMELY improbable. From my rudimentary understanding of genetics, the simple fact that a moose has 70 chromosomes and a horse has 64 would make it virtually impossible for a live baby to result from the pairing. Simply speaking, a baby receives one set each of chromosomes from the mother and father. The wider the discrepancy between the amount of chromosomes the mother and father have, the more difficult it becomes for a hybridization to naturally occur. It could happen, but it would be HUGE NEWS.

So, Bambi is probably just an ugly horse baby. And since scientists were supposed to be doing testing on whether he was a moose-horse, and there is no news since (this happened like a year ago), I suspect that he was not a freak of nature. Well, genetically speaking.....

They Clone Horses, Don't They?

So, I have old-ish news for you today. People are cloning horses. Okay, yeah, where have I been for the last few years? (Actually where am I right now? Maybe I'm drinking too much. Or not enough. Yeah, that sounds about right.)

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Cryozootech, a French company, has been cloning horses for the past several years. You know, I imagined this was happening, but I figured it was probably motivated by scientific research. Yeah, well, not so much. So this company has cloned quite a few horses - their website isn't terribly clear (they're French, after all) - and while I am sure they are learning quite a bit about genetics and the process of cloning, etc...their primary objective seems supremely weird to me. It seems that owners are asking this company to clone their champion performance geldings (castrated males, for all you non-horsies), in order to keep the cloned foals as stallions and breed them. Examples are the clone of ET, a famous showjumper; the clone of Quidam de Revel, also a showjumper (though I must point out that Quidam is a stallion, but he's reaching the end of his baby-making days; thus, the clone); Pieraz, a famous endurance-racer; and they are looking in the future to clone Rusty, the dressage horse, and Calvaro, another top show-jumper.

Okay, first of all, WHAT?!!! Props to the horseracing world which does not allow 'weirdness' in the breeding of its horses. Cloning would definitely fall under that category. Okay, let me just be clear. I don't really have an opinion either way about cloning. Whatever. I don't honestly understand why someone would want to clone something, unless you're a scientist studying DNA and genetics, etc... But morally, I could care less. It's just not a problem for me. What I think is super-bizarre and vaguely offensive about all of this has nothing to do with the act of cloning. I mean, my knee-jerk reaction is: Well, why clone your horse? He was gelded (castrated). Too bad. That's the way it is. Deal with it. But that's just me being silly. The world changes and things adapt because of those changes.

No, I have a problem with people who think that just because you can create a clone with the exact same genetic code as a champion horse, the clone is the same horse and should be at stud. I would never breed my mare to a clone of ET. Yes, the genetic code is there. But the clone was bred for the specific purpose of being a stud. He will have been handled completely differently from the original animal. He will not be in any performance training and therefore have completely different experiences, not to mention that his immediate environment (climate, for instance) is totally different from the original's and his system will adapt accordingly... To say that he will pass on the same behavior, temperament, and ability is absurd. The expression of his genetic code could differ pretty greatly from the original horse and therefore, express itself differently in the way it is passed on to the progeny.

So, to me this is just mostly motivated by money. The clone of ET cannot and will not be ET. Collecting (probably exorbitant) stud fees for the purpose of having ET's genetic code just seems to be taking advantage both of people's misunderstandings about how DNA works and the simple desire to breed a winner. I think my mare (and breeding as a whole) would be far better served by picking a stallion that is currently on the market that has the performance, behaviors, and bloodlines that would complement my mare's. I mean, genetics only has so much to do with performance anyway. There are plenty of well-bred horses that are complete duds and the reverse is true, too.

Besides who really wants to breed their horse to a clone when the clones themselves "face a high risk of falling sick or dying young, apparently because of flaws inflicted to the genetic code during the cloning process." Um, okay, how exactly do these flaws to the genetic code not pass themselves along to any babies he might have? Please explain.

Aug 27, 2007

1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup - Exceller

This is what the best of horse-racing can be.

A Tribute to...Exceller

So, in keeping with the depressing theme of today, I'm going to introduce you to the great racehorse Exceller. Racing fans are probably already quite familiar with him, but for those of you who aren't, let's delve into his history.

Foaled in Kentucky in 1973, his owner thought he might be better-suited to racing in Europe, based on his bloodlines. He stayed there until he was 4, winning some pretty impressive victories in France and England, especially during the 70s, when many of the breed's finest were racing. Some of those victories include the Prix Royal Oak, run at a whopping 1 mile 7 and a half furlongs (For those of you who are furlong-inept, that's nearly two miles. The Belmont is one of our most grueling races at 1 and a half miles.); the Grand Prix de Paris; and finished third behind The Ministrel (a pretty phenomenal racehorse that ploughed over his rivals in England and Ireland) in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes.

Before his final destination in California, he was stabled in Canada for a short period of time and won the Canadian International. But luckily for him and for American racing, he ended up in the training and care of Charlie Whittingham as a 4-year-old in 1977.

1978 was his best year. As a five-year-old, folks. How many greats are around at 5 anymore? He won 7 out of 10 starts that year, including the Hollywood Gold Cup, Hollywood Invitational Turk Cup, etc... But for my money, his greatest victory (at least, his most spectacular) was against the great Seattle Slew and Affirmed in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup. This race was a killer. Slew broke through the starting gate before the race was started and had to be reloaded. Affirmed's trainer didn't want the Slew to get an early lead and romp to victory so easily, so he entered a 'rabbit' into the race (a horse he knew couldn't win, but who would set a breakneck speed to either force the Slew to slow down comparatively and give Affirmed a fairer chance or make him match it and be too tired to win at the end). It is also said that the jock on the rabbit was instructed to scream at the Slew to upset him and wear him down. Affirmed, Seattle Slew and the rabbit all broke fast and started an unbelievable pace on a muddy track. Affirmed's saddle slipped, which essentially took him out of the running. And Slew continued to run a killer breakneck speed with the rabbit. It looks completely out-of-control on the videos. Of course, the rabbit fades fast, but as Seattle Slew came down the homestretch, Exceller, hidden so far at the back of the pack some - 22 lengths back (that's horse-lengths) - barrels suddenly down the stretch and powers through, barely winning by a nose. That type of come-from-behind victory is legendary. (Though don't knock the Slew - the fact that he was barely beaten after the suicidal pace he ran earlier in the race, well...that's a master at work.) Exceller defeated 2 Triple Crown winners with that race - the only horse in history to accomplish that, regardless of the mitigating factors. Enough said really. That's a legend. He should have spent the remainder of his days coddled and spoiled.

Instead, (yes, here it comes) he was retired to stud like most racehorses, but he wasn't a very successful sire. His babies just weren't very good. So, a Swedish breeder managed to buy out the syndicate that was standing him at stud and shipped him to Sweden. He disappeared from stud duty for while, due to some undisclosed infection and shortly afterwards his owner went bankrupt. For a year he was allowed to stay on a smaller farm until his owner made the quiet decision to have him taken to a slaughterhouse in 1997, the same year he was nominated to Horse-Racing's Hall of Fame.

I don't even think anything needs to be said here. That a horse of his caliber ended up in a slaughterhouse....well, what do you think happened to the scores of lesser-classed horses over the decades? How could we, as humans, treat these animals so poorly? These horses to whom we owe all the money, fame and power. And to anyone who says this is limited to horse-racing, think again.

At least his case, along with that of fellow racehorse Ferdinand (slaughtered in Japan), brought awareness to the racing industry and adoption foundations galore for all those unwanted ex-racehorses.

Interesting sidenote: Charlie Whittingham, Exceller's California trainer, was also Ferdinand's trainer. What a weird, sad coincidence.