Oct 31, 2009

Syracuse Invitational, Day Two -- Photos

Again, courtesy of The Syracuse Post-Standard.

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Syracuse Invitational, Day One -- Photos

Courtesy of the local newspaper, The Post-Standard, as my camera decided it would do exactly opposite of what I asked it to do....

Oct 28, 2009

Syracuse Invitational - Day One

Also, I'll be at two of the ticketed events at the Syracuse Invitational today.  I'll be taking notes and photos for you.  The first thing I'm attending is this afternoon at 2:30 -- "Judging the Hunter Seat Horse".  And then, later today (at 7pm) is the big event -- "How It’s Done - Dressage and Jumping by George Morris, Ian Millar & Courtney King-Dye, presented by Practical Horseman."  Although apparently George Morris has subsequently canceled due to illness.  But in his place we'll have Anne Kursinski.  I used to love watching her and Starman in the 80s.  Anyone remember Starman?  He was one of those few jumpers I becomed obsessed with as a kid.  Him, Big Ben, Milton and Abdullah.  Maybe there were a couple more, but not a lot.  I wasn't as enamored with the showjumpers, but every so often one would come along to whom I would just become so attached.

And I'm dragging my poor parents along to the Budweiser World Cup Qualifier on Saturday.  This, I am SOOOOO excited for.  I grew up watching the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden and by the time I was ready to attend in in NYC, it moved!  So, I will finally realize another childhood dream. 

2009 US Arabian Nationals

FYI, for all those Arabian fans out there.  Nationals are currently going on (through October 31st) in Tulsa, OK.  All the details are here.  And if you can't make the trip to OK (likely the majority of us) they are offering live web streaming of the show here.  I rather love the energy and excitement of a big Arabian show and they don't really come bigger than this.  It's worth seeing once, even if Show Hack and Park aren't your thing.  There are some impressive animals out there.

Oct 27, 2009

Plus ça change...

An excerpt from William Youatt's "The Horse" on the demise of the racehorse industry:

"Childers and Eclipse did not appear until they were 5 years old; but many of our best horse, and those, perhaps, who would have shown equal excellence with the most celebrated races, are foundered and destroyed before that period.

Whether the introduction of short races, and to young horses, be advantageous, and whether slowness and usefulness may not thus be somewhat too sacrificed to speed: whether there may be danfer that an animal designed for service may, in process of time, be frittered away almost to a shadow of what he was, in order that at 2 years old, over the 1-mile-course, he may astonish the crowd by his fleetness..."

Still rings true today, doesn't it.  Amazing that we have been grappling with the same issues for over 100 years now.  I've been quick to defend early 20th century racing and breeding as superior to our own, but maybe it's all been on a slow decline since the late 1800s.  Kind of astonishing to think about.

Oct 20, 2009

Have You Ever Considered How People Clipped Horses Before Electricity?

Has it ever occurred to you to wonder about whether people used to clip their horses?  And if so, how did they do it?  I had always seen those mechanical hand clippers that looked a misery to have to use.  You still see them for sale in vet supply catalogs and I was always curious as to who still bought the damn things.  Also, how did the blades stay sharp enough to keep cutting for what I assume must take hours and days to clip a full coat?  These are the things that keep me up at night. 

And yet, until today I had never seen this -- a foot-operated clipper. 

How new-fangled and complicated-y! It's like some joker tried to come up with the scariest, most dangerous looking piece of equipment to perform a clip job. Well, in my mind he succeeded greatly.  This particular device was featured in the 1899 edition of The Private Stable by Jorrocks (a pseudonym -- which I find especially funny; would it have been just that terrifically shocking to publish this work under his real name?). 

And accompanying the picture is this description: "The process of clipping was formerly done with a pair of shears and a comb, but the hand and foot power machines have, except in remote districts, superseded this primitive method. [...]  Although there are men who make a speciality of clipping horses, any competent stable servant  should be able to perform this task in a satisfactory manner.  [...]  It is said that the record time for clipping a horse with the hand machine is one hour and twelve minutes."  Seriously?!  Dude, that really puts me to shame.  I think the fastest clip job I have done took me two days.  Granted my horse was not the most cooperative, but still....I AM SLOW.

Oct 19, 2009

Endust and a Dream of Shiny Ponies

I was cleaning my room over the weekend, aghast at the frighteningly large dust bunnies I unearthed under and behind the furniture, when suddenly in what could possibly be termed an Endust-induced halluncination I was suddenly transported back to when I was a very small child.  Every weekend I had the exact same ritual:  I took down every single of my Breyer model horses from their shelves, inspected them thoroughly (some were in need of constant medical attention, as my Breyers were not show ponies, but hard workers that invariably suffered broken bones -- I still feel the guilt, mom) and polished them until they gleamed.  I trotted out the Endust and a clean rag and set to work, making those coats shine.  Actually, my parents made me use Endust, which I secretly hated because to my mind it only added a satiny finish, not that slick, corn-oil glossyness that I coveted.  So, when my parents weren't looking I'd sneak into the cleaning cabinet and pull out the Pledge.  They probably could have cared less frankly, but I somehow thought I was doing something incredibly naughty, which probably only fueled my pleasure.  The Pledge was where it was at.  My horses were nearly greasy with product, but they shone.  They looked like the halter Arabians I was so trying to mimic.

I had a load of favorites, but I remember Ginger (pictured above) from the Black Beauty Collection as being my first.  Even as a kid I always loved the crazy chestnuts.  But I think what really drew me in was the balanced, collected canter.  What can I say?  I was always obsessed.  It was beauty incarnate to me, regardless of her vaguely ugly head and thin mane and tail.  And she was a TOTAL WORKHORSE.  She never broke down (I'm looking at you, Black Beauty) under the stresses of competition.  Hey, she was the total package. 

Oct 15, 2009

Drool-worthy: Keeneland Library

Here's a nice little article on the Keeneland Library, devoted solely to the Thoroughbred horse and its history.  It had me literally drooling.  Sign me up to live in those archives.  In fact, I am considering writing a book on a thoroughbred horse just so that I can do research in those vast stacks.

Oct 14, 2009

Embarrassing Post #5 Billion

I fully admit that I will be purchasing at least one bottle of the special "Rachel Alexandra" wines that Kendall Jackson is putting out.  Possibly two.  A large part of me knows how incredibly silly this is, but I also love Rachel A. and I love to drink wine.  So, my fear of looking silly is far outweighed by my desire for good wine.  And yet, on a more serious note, I know how emotionally overwhelmed I get when I encounter some old collectible that was attached to a famous racehorse in history.  So, okay, on one hand it's just a way for her connections to cash in on a marketable brand.  But on the other, I know from experience that it's a legitimate way to connect yourself to a legend in her own time.  I want to be that person who trots this bottle out 40 years from now and proudly shows it off to someone for whom Rachel Alexandra is just a stuffy name in a horse book.

On How I Simply Overlooked Sea the Stars

I had trouble sleeping a few nights ago and my mind became obsessed with the idea that until October 4th I hadn't been very familiar with Sea the Stars and certainly hadn't yet started to follow his career.  As any good horseracing fan knows, he won the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe on October 4th and was proclaimed the next great thing, a horse for the ages.  And the first thing that struck me was that we seem to have a very strong group of horses racing this year, so many so that I can't seem to follow them all.  Look, I fully admit that I am just a casual, but passionate, fan.  I only have so much time left in my day after I finish working, blogging, riding, reading, etc...to devote a modicum of my attention to racing news.  It occurs to me, however, that the majority of people who are already casual horseracing fans, or who could be favorably inclined to do so, simply don't have the capacity to follow the hundreds of races running every week.  We can't filter out the great horses from the merely good.  It takes time and effort.  I'm not saying this is bad -- it's just reality.

The problem really is that there is a glut of racing going on constantly everywhere.  Most other sports are not being run every day, all day, even competing with one another for audience attention.  Sure, sometimes baseball or football games overlap, but not maybe 2 or 3 are running concurrently.  Not 5 or 10 or 20.  If you work in the industry, then sure you might be able to devote the time and energy to follow all these races, but if, like me, you have limited capacity, you're going to get terribly frustrated.  And in the case of Sea the Stars you'll become a fan just as his career peaks, and in a dramatic anticlimax he will be retired shortly after, for all the wrong reasons.

I hate to say it, but this is why racing doesn't bring in the fans like it used to.  Too many races.  Racemeets that are far too long.  Too many mediocre animals out there racing.  A casual observer doesn't stand a chance.  Okay, yeah, I understand that part of the appeal to the sport is that it takes a certain kind of person to be a true fan; one who is willing to do more than pick a side and hope to win.  Horseracing attracts the kind of person who likes the work and formulating a method.  That's all well and fine, but there is a limited number of people out there who fall into this category.  I need focus.  And I believe that it is partly up to the industry to focus me.  I simply cannot and will not be able to follow 50 races over the course of a weekend and keep up with the stats.  The thought is simply overwhelming.  5 races?  Sure, I can do that.  Cull the races, I say.  So some tracks go out of business and mediocre horses are retired.  That's very unfortunate, but in the overall grand scheme of things, it would be a boon to the industry as a whole. 

And then, maybe more money would be focused in fewer races that remain to encourage and support those owners to continue racing their animals.  Because all of these changes are for naught if the next great superstar is simply retired for stud duty. 

Oct 9, 2009

Antimony - Poison or Coat Conditioner?

I was watching "A Most Mysterious Murder" the other night, a delightful little british series that re-enacts real crimes in history -- not famous ones, just ones that held a bit of infamy in their day for having never been solved -- and attempts to deduce who perpetrated the crime and why.  Well, the very first episode (The Death of Charles Bravo -- Google it and you'll come up with loads of informative articles and sites about the circumstances of the murder) hinges on a bottle of antimony being used by a groom on the horses in the yard.  The stable-boy is rubbing his horse down with a rag soaked in the stuff to, as he describes, make their coat healthy and shiny.  I immediately was interested -- I love looking up old remedies for horse care -- and you can well imagine my surprise when not a few minutes later the narrator explained how antimony is, in fact, a deadly poison.  You should watch the movie if you want to know the rest of the story (and if you love murder-mysteries and documentaries, this should be right up your alley), however I was incredibly intrigued by this substance that was ostensibly as poisonous as arsenic (if not more so), but in wide-spread use on horses.  Inquiring minds need to know.

So, I spent the week studying old veterinary remedy texts dating from the mid-1700s to the very early 1900s (I love you, Google books) and have discovered that the poison was indeed used to improve a horse's coat and condition, amongst a myriad of other uses.  As excerpted from The Pharmaceutical Journal, Fourth Series, Volume 12, January - June 1901:  "Their action has never been understood, that is to say their modus operandi, their effects, are visible enough and despite the uncertainty of their action in human practice and the abandonment of these forma of antimony by the medical profession, they are found to assist markedly in producing a good coat, a soft thriving skin, in horses when mixed with sulphur and other simple ingredients.  That the peculiar silkiness of the hair is due to antimony is demonstrable and only one other agent is there which can produce a like effect - arsenic."  Now there is no mention anywhere of the stuff being rubbed directly onto the skin of any animal.  In fact, it was also known to be quite caustic and also used in cases of canker and thrush in an external application to the frog of the hoof.  For coat conditioning, it was always to be ingested, either ground to a fine powder or made into a liquid solution, but I imagine that the dramatic elements of the movie needed a more insidious looking application of the stuff.  But they preserved the overall reasoning behind using the poison, for an improved coat.  I read several texts that indicated that the hair of such animals would veritably sparkle.

And while very extremely poisonous to humans, antimony was given in much larger doses to horses without ill effect.  Though in large enough doses it does still kill.  Interesting how in small doses poisons can sometimes produce appealing effects (at least to a human eye).  However, it must be noted that an other common use of antimony, in tartar emetic, was as a wormer.  It is easy then to draw the conclusion that dosing with antimony would simply kill off the worms in a horse, thereby improving the horse's overall constitution, fatten him up a bit and put a healthy shine on the coat.