Sep 10, 2009

Oklahoma Training Track Tour

Jesus, having infections throughout your head just about kills any drive to do anything.  And knowing that my job is particularly busy right now is not helping.  Anyway, now that I can see properly I wanted to belatedly get to the rest of my Saratoga posting. 

Maybe I'm just so far removed from the real racing world that I just sound like a clueless hick when I discuss it, but I hadn't heard about the Oklahoma Training Track Tour ever before this last trip to the Spa.  It was about a week before I was due to leave when I just had a slight break-down -- I just HAD to see the training stables, the view from behind-the-scenes.  However, it just wasn't apparent how to go about doing that, so I ended up googling a myriad of different boolean combinations, when PRESTO!  The Oklahoma Training Track Tour run by the horse racing museum popped up.  I signed us up instantly.  That was how it came to be that my poor, obliging parents were forced to get up at 6am on their vacation so that I could get a glimpse of what the racing scene is like from the inside.  I can't speak for them -- there was some definite fatigue and yawning -- but I loved every second of it.  Though I feel like I should go move to Saratoga and run the tour myself, I couldn't fault the gentleman who led the guided tour.  He had more patience than I when fielding questions such as: "Is that statue of Seabiscuit life-size?  I heard he was very small."  Or "Do horses like to stand on their hind legs?"  I know, I know.  I'm terribly impatient when it comes to people whose only knowledge of a horse is which end is the front and which is the back.  But.Seriously.People.  Think a bit before you speak.  If Seabiscuit was really as small as the statue in their courtyard he would be racing against dogs, fool!  I would just feel the need to smack people in the middle of my tour -- which may be entertaining, but not good for business.  (Also, as a sidenote, I just want to point out that everyone on my tour was only interested in racing because they had read SeabiscuitAnd wasn't that just the best book you've ever read?  Wasn't that an amazing story?  I have an internal battle with myself constantly about that book.  On the one hand it was really fascinating and well-written.  On the other hand, it seems to be many people's only reference point for the horse world, and in particular racing.  There are other books.  Other movies.  If you loved it that much, learn more about that world.  Maybe it's my obsessive-compulsive personality, but I cannot fathom having even the slightest interest in something without diving into it feet-first until I have either devoured everything on the subject, or eventually tired of the subject.  This is spoken by a woman who became obsessed with pigeon racing which spilled over into a fascination with Mike Tyson that continues to this day.)

I just coped by pretending the tour guide and the other participants had mystically disappeared and just lost myself in my obsession for the track.  I almost felt like I wasn't an obvious outsider and that somehow I belonged there.  Ha!  I know I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was the one with a giddy smile on my face, taking notes and photographing everything. 

So what did I learn?  Well, for one it was strange to learn that one mustn't waste precious stall space on a pony, so they occupy makeshift shelters that are tacked on literally everywhere you look.  I felt a bit sorry for their pathetic quarters, especially in relation to the beautfied stalls occupied by their more valuable counterparts.

I was also a bit taken aback at the condition of all the stalls.  I just always imagined that the thoroughbreds of Saratoga always lived in the lap of luxury and frankly, their stalls were just meh.  In fact, if I were an owner I'd be a little squicked out by the obvious wear and tear on the barns there.  The wash racks are just cement blocks, the manure piles are giant and out-of-control.  It was just like at every show facility I've ever been to.  Which I suppose is normal, but it just really struck me as odd.  Some of those horses are probably worth twice what those barns cost -- seems like it would be worth updating them in order to reflect the money inherent to the sport.

I don't even think I want to talk about the grooms' and hotwalkers' quarters.  Obviously that wasn't part of the tour, but what I saw was pretty bad and I felt really terrible about that.  How can you ask people to care for your expensive when their own conditions are so bad?  You know, I can't even think about this because I realize that I, too, have been guilty of this behavior in the past with the staff caring for my boarded horses.  I continue to be really conflicted and hope that I'm wrong about their quarters. 

BUT.  The MOST IMPORTANT thing that struck me throughout the entire tour was watching the riders exercising their horses.  Those are some damn fine riders.  They put me to shame.  They put some top dressage riders I know to shame.  I submit that if anyone wants to see a prime example of what it is to be a light, ultra-balanced rider that knows how to stay out of his horse's way, you simply need to go to a racetrack.  I would kill to ride like that.  And it just cemented my firm belief that excellent equitation is not owned by any one discipline.  Years of lessons and study do not a rider make.  After watching these talented individuals, I wholeheartedly believe in the notion that there are simply riders and trainers who are self-taught masters.  They may not understand the theory behind what they do; they may call the techniques by a different name, but they are most definitely classical riders. 

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