May 30, 2009
May 29, 2009
No. It's simply not. There is absolutely no need for the degree of medication and supplementation that we have come to rely on. It mainly feels like a good idea -- warm fuzzies about really keeping the animal from feeling any discomfort, real or imagined. Encouraging our notions of having an edge on our competition. Feeling enlightened about using only the most ultra-advanced techniques to keep our animal athletes at peak condition. It's an addictive feeling; I know this firsthand. I would love to remove that bubble and make people step back and rationalize some of the things they are doing. They often make no sense at all.
Now, I am a bit sneering and gleeful about it because I am frankly very irritated with reports that Isabell Werth made comments such as, "my horses belong to Madeleine Winter-Schulze. What I give or not give to my horses only concerns me, the owner and my stable crew," in response to the suggestion that German riders should record every bit of medication that is administered to their animals. That, to me, shows a disregard for authority and a sense that her practices are beyond reproach. I hate to break it to you, but if you are an international athlete all your business can and should be on display to the public. Sorry, them's the breaks. I don't think it's such an unfair system.
And apparently, Ludger Beerbaum gave an interview to a German newspaper in which he stated, "in the past everything that could not be detected was allowed." How lovely -- I mean, everyone knows that's true. To say so is utterly stupid. To speak in this manner is just patronizing to the public -- I can't even fully explain it, but anger boiled up in my chest when I read these comments. I would kill to be him and to see him speak to the fans (me) with such a moral superiority; it enrages me. And in response to the medical log proposal, he said: "You run the risk that a buyer of a million dollar horse wants to see all the information in the log." Jesus, we wouldn't want that. On the off-chance that I could ever buy a million dollar horse, I certainly wouldn't want to know about that month he was on Robaxin for back pain. No way.
Here's hoping Mine that Bird wins and Borel gets himself a "jockey Triple Crown." I'm rooting for him!
May 28, 2009
By Shel Silverstein
There was a girl named Abigail
Who was taking a drive
Through the country
With her parents
When she spied a beautiful sad-eyed
Grey and white pony.
And next to it was a sign
“Oh,” said Abigail,
“May I have that pony?
May I please?”
And her parents said,
“No you may not.”
And Abigail said,
“But I MUST have that pony.”
And her parents said,
“Well, you can have a nice butter pecan
Ice cream cone when we get home.”
And Abigail said,
“I don’t want a butter pecan
Ice cream cone,
I WANT THAT PONY—
I MUST HAVE THAT PONY.”
And her parents said,
“Be quiet and stop nagging—
You’re not getting that pony.”
And Abigail began to cry and said,
“If I don’t get that pony I’ll die.”
And her parents said,
“You won’t die.
No child ever died yet from not getting a pony.”
And Abigail felt so bad
That when she got home she went to bed,
And she couldn’t eat,
And she couldn’t sleep,
And her heart was broken,
And she DID die—
All because of a pony
That her parents wouldn’t buy.
(This is a good story
To read to your folks
When they won’t buy
You something you want.)
This is brand new and only in practice in the Morgan world, but it is super cool! I love the idea of Western Dressage and wish it would be adopted by more breed organizations and maybe more disciplines. I mean, in theory, good Western trainers should be training with a foundation of dressage, whether consciously or instinctively, so this isn't much of a stretch. And I LOVE the way the association explains the difference between this and traditional Dressage competition:
"It is not the goal of the western dressage classes to use Dressage Horses under western tack. It is the goal of the western dressage to maintain the integrity of the western horse and western traditions through the use of dressage. This is very important. A western horse moves differently; western dressage can just help it move more correctly. Western dressage is all about being the best western horse and rider you can be. Dressage is not about the outfit or the tack. It is about the horse. If the western riders want to participate, we must give them the opportunity. The rider wins, the horse wins and the show industry wins as well."
The above video was the only demonstration of this new division that I could find online, but I assume more will eventually become available. In the meantime, I hope this catches on and maybe it will allow for more dressage crossover amongst other disciplines.
May 22, 2009
I made an exciting discovery yesterday evening -- Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty!
So, it was incredibly hot here last night and I made the grave error of keeping the curtains up all day and letting the hot sun turn my room into a suffocating sauna. I have lots of idiosyncracies about sleeping -- I couldn't take one of the hot blankets off the bed because then there wouldn't be enough weight on me. I have to have the weight of blankets to lull me to sleep. Turning my fan to high speed didn't work either because it would start this inconsistent clicking noise that totally drove me mad. I can handle little bits of noise at night, but they have to be rhythmic. Otherwise, just as I'm falling asleep a random click will make my eyelids snap open in a rage. Yes, I really do get that irrationally angry about not sleeping. I have many issues - insomnia is just one of the more irritating ones.
Anyway, I wandered around the house looking for something interesting to read, even though I have about a dozen really cool horse books just lying around waiting to be read. But I'm on this kick right now where I can only read children's or young adult books. The story of Lil E. Tee or Citation is just not where it's at for me. And I came across a stash of vintage children's books that I hadn't previously seen. I collect the things and store them pretty haphazardly, so every so often I find a couple of titles that I don't even remember owning. So, lo and behold, sitting there on the shelf between Cowgirl Kate and A Kiss for Little Bear was Jean Slaughter Doty's Summer Pony. It was just the right blend of adorable 70s cover art and slim sizing that convinced me it was perfect for a midnight read.
It's nice a little book. I'll admit that I don't remember reading it as a child and usually when it comes to horse books, I just DO NOT forget. However, that being said it probably would have appealed to me as a child. It's totally on the simplistic side, which always bugged me a bit. I know it's meant for kids in the 7 or 8 year-old range, but even at that age I was definitely reading a few levels above that. But when it comes to horses I guess I can forgive a lot.
The plotline totally feeds into every little suburban / city girl's fantasy of Mommy and Daddy bringing home a pony to live nights in the garage and spending lazy days tied to the tree in the backyard, cropping the overgrown grass. I mean, did ever such a thing happen? I suppose it may have, but the sheer nonsense of this always struck me even as a little girl. Whose parents are naive enough to think that a pony is almost no expense / responsibility at all? And that they trust their little girl to know enough about ponies to properly take of one, well....it just leaves me rolling my eyes. My parents were not that guillable. Well, not quite - they did trust me a lot to buy me a pony, but we also boarded it somewhere for a couple of years until we made the decision to get a tiny farm. OK, OK, enough sidetracking, on with the story.
Anyway, Ginny (a name that I love, by the way) has apparently spent enough time at camps riding ponies that her parents decide to lease a pony for her for the summer. It's here that the story opens on the three of them at some godawful hellhole of a farm, trying to find a pony to bring home. The description of the deplorably dirty conditions and dejected, starving ponies kind of skeeved me out. I know that the typical narrative for the majority of horse and pony stories revolves around a little girl's desire to adopt a misunderstood outcast of a horse and make it her very bestest friend in the world and yes, in theory I get how this plot structure works and how it can be compelling. But in my own personal experience, even as a child I never desired this scenario for myself. Basically I ended up liking books in spite of this silly plotline. I always figured that these books were catering to the horsey-minded girls who would probably never spend much time with a real horse and eventually end by becoming more obsessed with boys, leaving that silly horse-mania behind. I still happen to think that's true, by the way, because by the time I was 6 my little horse-obsessed brain had devoured every riding manual and veterinary handbook I could possibly get my hands on. I spouted out facts and trivia like my life depended on it, so the idea of rehabilitating a half-starved, dirty little pony wasn't that appealing. I had enough sense to guess it wouldn't be such a lark. And besides I had been riding enough by then to realize that ponies were not going to be my best friends. Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE ponies. But I also had been stepped on, bucked off and pushed around by enough of the little monsters to know that our relationship was not founded on true love, but rather on whether I happened to have a treat in my hand at that particular moment.
And so, Ginny ends up with an emaciated, mangy little pinto pony (Question: Why, at a certain time in children's horse writing, did pintos and piebalds always represent the outcast horse? See National Velvet, Bluegrass Champion, Summer Pony....those are the only ones that pop to mind, but with some more thought, I could probably list more. I really had no idea people looked down on pintos so much.) Of course, Mokey, as she comes to be known get into all sorts of minor troubles, such as getting cut up by a rope when she is left tied to a tree with no supervision, not wanting to jump because she has a horrid curb bit in her mouth and getting loose and eating all the apples in a nearby yard, causing a terrible bout of colic later that night. WHICH IS TO BE EXPECTED WHEN A FAMILY ADOPTS A HORSE AND KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT HOW TO CARE FOR IT. Ugh, for reals, dude. Even my 7 year old self is groaning inwardly. Please to not write any more books about little girls that know nothing about ponies and have to learn the hard way (i.e. the pony suffers). I am so over it.
Of course, we also discover Mokey is a beautfiul, shiny, fat little pony with a lovely stride and a talented jumper. Of course. Moreover she is a very good girl that seemingly doesn't have a mean bone in her body. I am not saying these ponies do not exist. But come on, guys. Even the best of ponies nips or pins his ears sometimes. Sue me, I like some realism with my pony fiction.
Also, by the end it turns out that she gets to keep the pony because a supermarket developer purchases the cruel pony-lenders property and he decides to sell his sad little ponies for as little as possible, as quickly as possible. How convienent. And untrue. That dude would have totally gone on to prosper and do the same to other poor little ponies. I had when bad guys don't get punished. Humphf...makes me very cranky.
However, one very bright and shiny spot that makes up for everything in this book! I love that Ginny ends up taking Mokey to a show and she does just okay. She suffers from nerves in her first jump class and doesn't pin. And in her second class she does well, but she doesn't win. The pair comes away with 3rd place. I cannot tell you how much I appreciate a horse story that doesn't make the heroine win first prize, over some of the finest horses in the country. Dude, that shiz is not cool. I can forgive anything. But not that. I worked my butt off with my $300 pony and was a VERY GOOD little rider. But winning first place was a rarity in my wealthy county, where the girls all had sleek, push-button hunters.
It probably seems like I don't like this book, but in all honesty it was a good little book. One I will give to my nieces to read one day. They like horses, but aren't totally obsessed and this little book can serve to teach a lot to girls like that. But will I revere and cherish this book? Eh, likely not. It was just okay.
May 21, 2009
Now she was a little bitch of a mare. I think she kicked everyone who ever worked with her, at least once, and it was rare that her ears ever flicked forward unless you had treats in your hand. But.She was old. She had carried many a beginner rider safely through the day and she had earned the right to be a cranky old woman. Anyway, she had been declining in health for many months and in the last few days her eyes had just gone dim.
I was one of only two people to arrive to the barn early one morning to find that the old mare had collapsed, likely hitting her head in the process. We opened her stall and she struggled to her feet, confused and unsteady, while we just spoke softly to her and caressed her face. But she could only manage a few steps before falling again. You just know when it's the end. For some reason I don't like that thought, but the tired cliche is true - You just know. And the thing is I'm not writing this because I am so sad at the thought of her dying. I mean, of course it was awful, but that's not what bothers me so much, that to this day I have nightmares. The vet was unavailable for a couple of hours and it was clear the little mare was in pain. So, someone handed me a vial of sedative and told me to dose her up and hope she would just pass away peacefully.
And this memory haunts me, but I just couldn't do it.
I had given plenty of shots in my life. I was standing there, remarkably detached from her death, knowing it was time. Yet I still just froze when that person handed me the syringe. Instead, we had to wait another half hour until another colleague showed up who could give the dose. No one said a cross word to me. No one made me feel guilty about it. But when I cried later, it wasn't for her death. It was because I couldn't relieve her suffering. Which really is what I am charged to do each day in my role as an animal caretaker. Giving an animal what it needs is the only duty that I have to fulfill in my owner's contract. I must provide food, water, shelter, exercise and the means to relieve pain and suffering when I can. But I just couldn't fulfill that last clause and I still worry about what that means.
I don't have a lot of commentary for this next post. Honestly, it's just an excerpt from The True Story of Dan Patch book that upset me horribly while also becoming a bit of an obsession. Like a car wreck from which I couldn't turn away. (Though anyone who knows me knows that I can all too easily look away from a human accident. But an animal accident is another story altogether.)
Yesterday, I discussed the interesting issue of how ugliness or poor conformation cannot be taken as the full measure of a horse. Well, keeping that in mind and knowing how fundamentally important such an ugly, misformed horse such as Abdallah was to the development of the Standardbred breed, I now present the description of his death. I don't know why I feel so strongly about posting this. It's grotesque. It makes my skin crawl and yet I want to read it and have other people read it.
"[I]t wasn't until the spring of 1854, when [Abdallah] was thirty-three, he was sold for $35 to a Brooklyn fishmonger, who used the grotesque-looking stallion to pull his wagon. In November of that year, the equine artist Henry H. Cross was sketching at the Union Course when, Cross wrote, 'a man drove in, bringing the news that old Abdallah had just been found dead on Gravesend Beach. I accordingly drove over with other horsemen to get a look at this celebrated stallion. The sight that met our eyes was indeed a grewsome one. The old horse had been turned loose in the wind and weather all the fall, subsisting as best he could upon beach and marsh grass and such other forage as he could pick up. Finally he had taken refuge in an old shanty on the beach, which he had grown too feeble to leave. There he literally starved to death. He had died standing, game to the last. In his struggles he had dug a deep hole with his forefeet, in the endeavor to escape the torments of the sandflies and mosquitoes, and appeared as if half buried, his foreparts being three feet lower than his hind ones...He had never lain down. Instead he had leaned against the side of the shanty for support, and in that position had drawn his last breath. I can never forget the spectacle he represented. It was one of the most extraordinary and at the same time the most pathetic I have ever seen -- his strange posture, his gaunt, skeleton-like frame covered with long woolly hair and the ghastly surroudings.'"
I felt compelled to post that in its entirety on my blog. It's poetic and horrid and serves as a reminder that for every horse (past or present) that has spent its life being babied and spoiled, there is an Abdallah that was abandoned. Or a Ferdinand that was shipped to Japan and slaughtered. Or the little backyard pony whose name no one knows that was slowly starved to death by a family that could no longer feed it.
May 20, 2009
What if conformation does not make the horse?
And no, by this I am not presupposing that any horse with excellent conformation is destined to be great in whatever his field. What I am trying to ask is whether ugly, terribly conformation is necessarily the bad thing I was always brought up to believe?
I ask this because I have been busy reading Crazy Good: The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America. I actually even stopped reading the book because I couldn't finish it with this thought nagging at the back of my mind. The author spends all of about two pages describing Abdallah, the horse that sired Hambletonian 10. This is significant because through 4 of his sons, 99 percent of all harness racers today can be traced back to Hambletonian 10. So, via Abdallah (and Messenger before him), we have the origins of the entire Standardbred breed and its racing prowess.
The thing is, as the author notes, "he was, in an age of truly ugly, ill-made horses, the worst-looking animal that many people had ever seen. His ears were shockingly 'long, thin and sharp,' wrote one eyewitness, and [...] had a 'large, heavy head,' a thin, rat-like tail, a hollow back, and scrawny 'cat hams,' all of which combined to make him look like he was two different hideous horses 'joined by an attenuated cylinder.'" From this we have the makings of greatness. I think after reading that passage I closed the book for about an hour and just considered that. And I was a bit shocked at the implications of this.
And just to put a finer point on this, Dan Patch himself had a crippled left hind leg. A deformity that almost made his owner kill him off at birth. He had to wear specially made shoes that prevented him from slicing himself up by his erratic striding, allowing him to make the records that made him famous.
Would either of these horses have passed a vet check? Likely not. Are they horses that I would have thought had any prospect of use for competition? No. And they are definitely not horses that I would have chosen to breed.
So, this leaves me with the realization that perhaps I cannot be so quick to judge a book by its cover. That maybe the oh-so-precious vet check that I put every horse through isn't the holy grail that I've made it out to be. Like the racing industry says, some horses have heart and that makes up for their imperfections and infirmities. And yet this is an extremely uncomfortable line to toe for me. Because, lest you mistake me, I do not support some of the horrid backyard breeders out there. But looks and conformation also shouldn't make the horse. I have seen many a gorgeous, fully vet-checked Dutch Warmblood suddenly go lame forever. And many a "maybe-not-entirely" sound, ewe-necked thoroughbred be one of the most solid jumpers ever - right up into his twenties.
This should serve as a reminder to us all that there are ultra-talented horses out there that don't meet the specifications that we have in mind or that vets consider the norm. Sometimes we have to look beyond the obvious and see the individual talent that may be lying dorment. And I don't expect to find a million diamonds in the rough. Just one or two, but those will make it all worth it, I suspect.
May 19, 2009
So, I spent a couple of days thinking about how to write about the Preakness before crafting a post. Basically I spent my entire Friday and Saturday in a state of paralyzed excitement, so when I finally saw the actual race I was totally spent. In fact, I will even admit that I was depressed by the final outcome. Even though I was right (which I love more than life itself) and even though Rachel Alexandra won.
I was depressed because I felt like she didn't win impressively enough. That Mine that Bird was not the one-hit-wonder that I made him out to be. In fact, Mine that Bird shocked me with his strength, bravery and speed - so much so that I completely questioned my entire analysis of Rachel A. up until now.
And then I slept on it. And read the analysis of the race on Sunday morning. And talked my husband's ear off about the race. And slept on it for another day. And watched the race over and over again obsessively.
And then I decided that I feel pretty vindicated by the filly's performance. What she did was ultimately more impressive than that late, great surge of speed that Mine that Bird dazzled us with. He might have proved himself a better horse than I thought. He may be a great colt in his own right. But Rachel Alexandra was tested and proved herself more than capable. She was unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the track. She broke from post position 13 (a position from which no horse has ever won the Preakness) and had to use a massive burst of speed to go wide enough to outrun the field and reach the front of the pack by the first turn. Borel managed to trick the field to stay at a slow enough pace so that she didn't tire too early. And in the final stretch, when you know she was hurting, she dug in and held on to the lead. That's what I have always revered when I thought about my great racehorse legends. A horse that doesn't give up, that gives 200%. A horse that goes to the lead and stays on the lead. You don't get to see those types of horses anymore. She's game. She has courage and heart. I hope that years from now I can say I saw this day -- that I saw the filly rise to the challenges of the Preakness and overcame it 100%. She is a racehorse in the old-school sense of the word.
May 12, 2009
Please, dude. No one cares that Borel is going to turn down the ride on Mine That Bird for the opportunity to ride Rachel Alexandra. And, as I apparently speak for everyone now, if you do care, then that's just kinda dumb. I would do the same thing if I were in Calvin's shoes. So would, I guarantee, anyone. She's the better horse and he obviously has a connection to her (yes, this is just a guess, but I stick by it).
But the most aggravating thing this dude writes is, "He has given the back of his hand to the horse that gave him the greatest ride of his life, the horse that engraved his name in turf history, the horse that put $140,000 cash in his bank account for 10 minutes of work. [...] Does anyone think Leno flew Borel to the West Coast because he won the Kentucky Oaks on Rachel a day before the Derby? Not a chance. He put Borel on that plane for only one reason -- Birdie's blockbuster Derby win that thrilled the world. Now Borel is going to bask in TV glory at the very moment he is kissing Birdie off as a second-rate ride in the Preakness."
Hold. Up. That is a horribly, horribly ignorant thing to say about Calvin Borel. He deserves much better. I should not have to remind any sports writer that Calvin already won the Derby once before -- 2007's Kentucky Derby with Street Sense. And as wikipedia states, "On July 5 2007 Borel became the sixth jockey in the history of Churchill Downs to win six races on a single race card. With his victory in the July 5, 2008 Bashford Manor Stakes, Calvin Borel became the thirty-fourth jockey in North American Thoroughbred racing history to win 4,500 races." And he is the 2nd jockey since Jerry Bailey to win the Oaks and the Derby in the same year. He deserves nothing but the utmost respect (and Hall of Fame honors, stat).
In my eyes, he can damn well ride whichever horse he wants to. Switching mounts is not 'devaluing' the horse that won the Kentucky Derby. Mine That Bird was the best horse on Derby day 2009. That doesn't mean he is the horse that Calvin Borel thinks is the best overall. And it should not be viewed as desertion. Borel was not the only key to victory that day. Mine That Bird either has it in him to win the Triple Crown or he does not. His jockey is a factor, but not the only one.
In all seriousness, if you had the chance to ride a good horse that has a chance to do well or a great horse who could bomb spectacularly, which would you choose? I know I would rather fail on a great horse than win on a good one. But maybe I'm just corny that way.
Firstly, let me just get this out of the way: Mine That Bird did a super job in the Derby. He came prepared, his jockey was clever and courageous, his trainer had all the pieces in place just right that day. Kudos! Seriously.
BUT. Maybe I will regret saying this, but he is not a Triple Crown horse. Frankly, I don't really think much of him at all. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, Calvin Borel, who could have swayed me in the little horse's direction, didn't persuade me to change my mind on that point.
Rachel Alexandra is the far better horse and could have had a solid chance of breaking our Triple Crown dry spell. That being said, I don't necessarily disagree with her then-owner's decision to run her in the Oaks versus the Derby. I don't know that I would have the heart to put one of my horses in the Derby. 20 young, unruly colts banging up against each other? I'll pass, please. And not because she's a filly, but just because she's a good horse. Why ruin her in a jostling free-for-all to the finish line? No other of the well-known Grade I stakes seem so reckless to me. Maybe I'm just a bit biased, but the Derby has ALWAYS struck me as rodeo-ish.
But there is absolutely nothing wrong with Jess Jackson's decision to run the filly in the Preakness. I think it's awesome! I want to see her prove herself to any remaining doubters. (Are there really any?) So, this post by Jim Squires is absurd. In short, he is saying that there is no doubt she can beat the field, but why should she? It doesn't increase her value; she has already made piles of money, so need to up her winnings. He says, "Her presence would undoubtedly increase fan interest and television ratings, and maybe the handle, too, although the opposite effect is possible as well. There we go talking about those in it for the money again, but while we’re at it, imagine the outcry against racing if she got hurt running against the colts. The game is in bad enough shape already."
Seriously, WTF?! Firstly, her being a filly should really have nothing to do with it. She's loads bigger and tougher than our Derby winner colt. Secondly, who the eff cares why she runs the Preakness (and/or the Belmont)?! It's for a myriad of reasons - the money, the fame, the fans, the legacy, the breeding shed value, the potential value of her babies, and so on...
His premise is basically that running in this race could be dangerous to her, so she shouldn't. And what he isn't saying is pretty obvious -- that he thinks running Eight Belles in the Derby last year was the reason for her breakdown. That running Ruffian against Foolish Pleasure was the cause of her breakdown. I'm sorry, but that's patently absurd. Racing, in general, was the cause of both of those fillies' deaths. And numerous other colts over the years, too, I might add. No, Rachel Alexandra doesn't have to run in the Preakness. But neither do any of the other horses. I don't see him making a fuss over whether we know what Mine That Bird's true desires are. Please don't anthropomorphize my animals for me. I do that plenty on my own. If you have a problem with racing, please by all means, exit the sport and campaign against it. But don't churn out ridiculously flawed arguments as to whether a great horse should enter a race. I, for one, want her there. I DESPERATELY WANT to have a great horse to believe in. Isn't that what sports are supposed to be about? Giving the fans a hero to believe in when life is a little too grim.
May 11, 2009
I, for one, was extremely impressed with his decision to continue running Curlin as a 4-year-old. The norm for racing a colt for only a maximum of one and half years before retiring to the breeding shed is doing NOTHING for the sport. And, as I've said before and I'll say it again, this emphasis on early speed is having a detrimental effect on the types of racehorses being bred. We may indeed be churning out speed monsters, but they also have a overwhelming tendency to break down. Where are all the tough stayers that can have long, healthy careers?
You want to know why fans don't flock to racing anymore? A huge part of that has become inherent in the sport itself. Why would I get emotionally involved with a Kentucky Derby winner when I know that realistically that horse will, at a maximum, run 3 or 4 more races before being retired? There's no legacy, no basis of comparison to past runners. There are no career ups and downs that I can follow with abated breath.
But Curlin was an exception. And a great horse to boot. That is the type of change this sport needs.
In his testimony before a congressional subcommittee on drugs in horseracing, Jess Jackson encouraged the establishment of a national governing body to regulate the sport (as well as to ban all steroid use and other non-therapeutic drugs). He urged Congress to amend the law in order to allow the formation of "a legitimate national owners governing body with federally sanctioned authority to make and enforce consistent rules, regulations and standards. [...] [S]uch an organization could solve most of the industry's central problems, which [...] include a "lack of transparency of medical records and ownership, uniformity, accountability and enforceability (of rules)."
He continued, "The industry's 'broken business model' depends on profits from breeding rather than racing [...] noting that current estimates are that horseowners invest $4.3 billion a year for a chance to compete for approximately $1.1 billion in purses. "There is every incentive to shorten horses' racing careers, racing them too young and retiring them too soon, in order to get them to stud sooner [...] We used to breed to race. Now we race to breed. [...] The industry focuses excessively on breeding horses for early, brilliant speed at relatively short distances. Today too many breeders end up producing heavily conformed upper body muscled horses with relatively fragile legs. It's like having Arnold Schwarzenegger's body and Don Knotts' legs. We need stamina and durability as well as speed."
I could not have said it better. I do not care that the man is obscenely wealthy with nothing to lose by making such statements (unlike other owners). I do not care that it may be hypocritical of him to be saying this when he let his own trainer run Curlin on steroids. We all make mistakes; what sets him apart from other owners is that he is willing to find a new way forward. He is speaking out. He is trying better the industry from within. And, more importantly, he is doing exactly what he promised he would. His decision to run Curlin at 4 should be enough to silence his toughest critics.
May 8, 2009
May 7, 2009
A rider should be as in shape as the horse he or she is riding. If you are very overweight (read: obese), you have no business getting on a horse until you can do the equivalent of the same work you ask your horse to do.
I rode a few time with a French Saumur master and he said as much to me when I was only 12 years old. Hey I felt a little bad, but overall I am grateful for the advice he gave me. I still carry a few extra pounds; I probably always will. I can, however, do the equivalent of the work that I ask my horse to do. It is only fair. There are riders out there kicking and pulling at their horses, throwing them off balance, yanking them in the mouth, bumping them in the kidneys and so on.
I don't care that the horse can carry the weight, that he is strong enough. That's not an excuse to me. You expect your horse to be an athlete, you better damn well be one yourself.
May 5, 2009
Oh, and by the way I did end up getting to the Arabian horse show on Saturday. I like how when I haven't gone to a show in a while, I can get SO excited about it. I do little dances and talk really fast. And then I get to the show and remember how boring they kind of are. At least if you're not participating in some capacity. I always forget that. By the next show I be completely psyched again. Cue me already getting interested in heading down to another show again next weekend.
Anyway, it was fun in its own way. I like seeing that Arabians are very different animals compared to the horses of my youth. They are solid with big bone structure -- horses that look every bit as versatile as they are. There were a couple of just gorgeous Western pleasure horses that took my breath away. I wish I could have seen them trot out a little more (I guarantee some of them would have made amazing Dressage prospects).
But I didn't take any pictures because all I only felt compelled to take pictures of bad (see cruel) training methods demonstrated during the lunch break. I figured that moving to a new town only to Internet-shame my fellow horsemen would probably not be the best move. Sometimes I do have a flash of wisdom that keeps me on the straight and narrow.
Yeah so anyway it was depressing, but not terribly surprising, that all the same devices are being used to create those beautiful artificial headsets. And what's so stupid is that with a bit of time and some intensive training, you could totally teach throughness and get the horse nice and round without all the devices. I, in fact, would love to be the type of person who sweeps in and revolutionizes the Arabian world by training saddleseat, western, show hack, etc...all under the influence of classical dressage methods. And then I would win everything and become a hero.
Whoa there! I need to rein (heh heh) in my tendencies to revert to my 8-year-old self.
But all joking aside, why couldn't I do precisely that? I suppose I have always been the dressage rider who tends to be doing everything except just dressage. Maybe it's just that I am stuck in this old mentality that dressage is simply a set of good tools that you use every time you mount a horse. The whole sport aspect of dressage is just a way to compete and show off your "mad skillz" in riding and training. But that's not all it has to offer. Why aren't dressage riders and trainers teaching everyone, regardless of riding discipline? That's my goal. I mean, I even hesitate sometimes before mentioning that I am a dressage rider and trainer. Because I either encounter two people: the ones who seem to love the niche-y, insular connotation of that word OR you have the people who politely nod and seem to be thinking to themselves, "she has nothing to offer me." I hate that. I want to show the potential of showing how my methods can be applied to all riding. Dressage isn't a dirty word. I promise I am not a horse elitist.
On the contrary, I live for the flaring nostrils and toe-flicking of the english pleasure horse. I adore the silvery, sequiny splendor of the western pleasure horse. There is individuality and drama there. It's like a horse-y soap opera that I can't turn away from. No, my only problem lies in the fact that I can easily live with myself for getting swept into General Hospital, but there's far more guilt in loving a fancy western pleasure horse that has just spent the previous hour with its nose tied to its chest.
Let me just preface this with my personal tragedy in this matter. I bought the DRF at Wegman's Saturday and was reading up on all the horses when, in a flash, it occurred to me that this race was totally wide open. Just too many horses and too much expectation. So, I thought, if I were really smart right now I would just go the OTB and bet money on each of the longshots. I figured it couldn't hurt and I just might make money.
Unfortunately for my parents, I did not voice this opinion (as I never trust my own judgment) and we did not win big on Derby day. But dammit, I was this close! From here on out my parents are taking control of the betting in this house.
But yeah....so Mine that Bird won. And totally impressively. But WTF?! Who knows if he's a Triple Crown horse. My gut says no. (And I swear that's not indigestion.) Look, I've been wrong before. In fact, I am often very wrong, but there was something about the candidness of Calvin Borel's comments directly after the race that struck me. He didn't come out and say anything negative. In fact, he was utterly adorable. But he also didn't come out and say anything like his horse was amazing or that he always knew he could do it, etc...It totally seemed like he was really surprised and just enjoying the moment. Maybe I am reading too much into the comments, but when that adrenaline is pumping is just when you're liable to make the most goofy, overly adoring declarations about the horse. And he held back. That tells me something.
Anyway, here's the race....
May 1, 2009
I meant to do a post on the forgotten sister to the Kentucky Derby, the Kentucky Oaks, but in the end I realized that I didn't know the horses well enough to comment on them. However, I do think the Oaks deserves some love and I'll be sure to do it a solid. Soon.
BUT! Did you freaking see Rachel Alexandra destroy her competition? Good girl indeed. Mark my words - that one is a monster and deserved to destroy the boys in the Derby tomorrow. But, that being said, I couldn't really argue with her owners who opted not to put her in the Derby because of the sheer number of entries (20 at my last count, though that was several days ago). That's the thing that always aggravates me about the Derby - the number of horses running. God, there are so many! You can't possibly expect the best horse to win. Especially after getting knocked about several times and getting boxed in. It's a wonder anyone makes it out intact, equine or human.
So, I'm super psyched about Rachel Alexandra. What a machine. I have a new racing idol.
So, a few months ago I finished reading this superb little book called Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend. It's funny because I think around the same time another book came out about the same jockey called Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Jouney of Jimmy Winkfield. I looked at both and ultimately picked up Black Maestro because I didn't like the word wink. Or at least that's what I remember now. The reasoning behind it seems a little fuzzy now, but I could see myself not liking the word wink suddenly. Right now it's not bothering me. Wink, wink, wink.... See? No issues. But I could probably have seen myself cringing at that word at some point. I get things like that in my head sometimes.
Whoa! I've really digressed here. Anyway, the point is that it's a terribly interesting little book. I am a bit obsessed with this untold legacy (untold at least from my point of view) of phenomenal black jockeys in American race riding. Call me stupid, naive, whatever...but prior to about a couple of years ago I hadn't even realized for a fairly large span of time (from the Civil War up until the turn of the century) America's best jockeys were African American. I happen to find it very bizarre that you don't always see see a lot of color in the horse world. It makes me feel like my sport is very elitist (yes, I know it is....but please give me the benefit of a doubt).
But it makes so much sense. This was a legitimate way of battling racism and gaining some modicum of equality (at least on one tiny level). Jimmy Winkfield endured a disgusting amount of cruelty on a daily basis and yet this man transcended racism by becoming somewhat of a racing legend. He won two back-to-back Kentucky Derbies! Only 4 jockeys have done this! Why is he so forgotten, then? I can't for the life of me figure it out.
Yet really, this book isn't just about a black man who defeats the odds and makes it big. No, it's far more complex than that. It's about a man (simply) who wins two back-to-back Derbies before feeling like he had to escape the increasing violence in America. He ends up in Russia and becomes a true celebrity. He dominates everything and has a massive amount of fame and respect. He becomes fabulously wealthy and marries a Russian heiress (who is white, mind).
And it all happens again. He loses everything in the Russian revolution and banding together with like-minded jockeys and trainers, he drives 200 thoroughbreds across the Transylvanian Alps to Poland, all of them barely surviving the journey. Jimmy is the kind of person I cannot imagine being, the kind of person who can utterly lose everything and still pick themselves up and start all over again. Not just start again, but succeed all over again. And so he does, in Paris. Hobnobbing with the wealthy and famous, training racehorses in a villa outside of the cosmopolitan city. Yet it's not long before Nazis come through to commandeer his property and he must flee back to America.
I guess, like I said, I have a fascination with people who are what is commonly referred to as 'survivors.' There are days in which I feel so fragile and I get so devastated over the smallest of things, that I cannot possibly comtemplate being tough enough to deal with a fraction of what Jimmy went through. I know this isn't true, of course, but I let myself get a bit depressed too easily. And I look at someone like Jimmy and I think, "Well, if he could do that, I can certainly pull myself together and meet my ridiculous fears today." This man was a master of his own destiny and a man we should all read about and aspire to be.
There's no happy ending to this book, really. Jimmy wasn't a great man; he was often fairly cruel to those who loved him. But it doesn't matter - you love him anyway. You love him because he didn't stand idly by. You love him because he lived life to the fullest, with the highest of highs and lowest of lows. You love him because he didn't give a shit what anyone thought of him and he made that totally clear. I loved him for showing me that there's no stopping me from accomplishing all the things I aspire to do and be. Well, except my paranoia and anxiety disorders. :)
I try to stay as anonymous as possible, for work reasons. But I will try to make every attempt to respond, as long as you're nice (or at the very least, civil) to me.
But, I suppose it all works out in the end; I will be heading out tomorrow morning to see some of the dressage classes and do some 'networking.'
Maybe I'll have something interesting to add to the blog. And I'll try to charge up my digital camera and see if I can't take some interesting photos. Ooohhhh! That's kind of exciting. I've never done something like that before.