Mar 30, 2010

On the Obligation of an Industry

There was a touching letter in BloodHorse today, written by Herb Moelis of the Thoroughbred Charities of America.  He is retiring as president after 20 years and took the opportunity to write an open call to the racing industry, exhorting all members to make the care and welfare of horses at the end of their career an obligation rather than a choice. 

For those who may not be aware, the TCA is a fund-raising organization whose mission is "to raise money for distribution to more than 200 charitable organizations in Thoroughbred rescue, retirement, retraining, research, education, jockey & backstretch, and therapeutic riding programs." 

As anyone who is even a casual fan of horse-racing knows, there are far more unwanted Thoroughbreds churned out by the industry.  Many of these end up neglected or even slaughtered.  Moelis' point is that by making financial support to charitable organizations an obligation to everyone involved in the industry, you would easily be able to provide the necessary care and support for these unwanted animals.  It makes perfect sense.  Why shouldn't the burden of responsibility fall on the part of all racing participants (from all sectors from breeders to trainers to jockeys and vets) to ensure that the horses will be provided for, even after their useful life is over?!  Moelis states it most eloquently:  "How about the racetracks and owners, where annual purses are about $1 billion? How about purchasers and sellers at the sale companies’ auctions, where about $652 million changes hands every year? How about the vets, trainers, and jockeys, all of whom make their living from racehorses? If we were to assess a small percentage on everyone who participates in the Thoroughbred industry, we could accomplish our mission without burdening any one sector.

My point is pretty obvious. The necessary funds are there to care properly for racehorses when their careers end.  We, as an industry, must step up and support a program that is an obligation, not a charity—to support racehorse retraining and retirement."

Whether or not this will ever happen is a huge question mark.  I am optimistic, but not holding my breath.

Mar 25, 2010

Only NYC Carriage I Approve Of

I can't add to the brilliance of this -- an artist who made a Hummer into a horse-drawn carriage, which currently can be seen on the streets of NYC.

Video Killed the Radio Star!

I am torn!  I really, really want to enter this Purina blog-o-spondent contest to get to go to the World Equestrian Games and cover dressage and/or reining.  BUT!  I detest doing anything video-related.  Why, oh why must this be a video submission?  So, do I swallow my pride and get over it?  Probably....but I'm going to have to work on my "happy-happy, get-up-and-go" enthusiasm.  I admit it may not always be my strongest quality.  Maybe after a glass of champagne!

Mar 15, 2010

And the Tragedy that Befell Rachel

Without Further Ado, I Present the Greatness that is Zenyatta

Rachel v Zenyatta - It's Off

On Horse Racing - Rachel Alexandra-Zenyatta Showdown Is Off, and It’s a Wise Move - This article really eloquently expresses my feelings on the whole Rachel vs. Zenyatta thing. As we are all aware by now, over the weekend Zenyatta kicked some ass with her first race back since the Breeder's Cup. Unfortunately, the same can't be said of Rachel Alexandra who appeared to have some trouble, finishing second to a horse that probably shouldn't have even come close to her heels.

The problem is really that Rachel waged a grueling campaign last year and was rightfully allowed to rest for the past 6 months. Alas, all that time off seems to have agreed with her so much that even Steve Asmussen admitted (even prior to Saturday's race) that she was clearly not 100% back in shape yet. A race under her belt probably pushed her closer to that mark, but she's not in racing form and may need some time to get back to that point.

As Joe Drape points out, this is just going to fuel the fires of rivalry between the various Zenyatta / Rachel camps, but it's so ridiculous. This race does nothing to diminish Rachel Alexandra's greatness; it just shows that she's still just an animal that performs according to her strength level and, possibly, mood. Last year's racing card took a lot out of her and only time will tell when she will regain her powers, if she does. And it is possibly she might not. We always have to face that fact. Athletes seem to peak before anyone is ready to give them up. So, we all have to be patient. In the meantime, it is useless to speak of Rachel's inferiority to Zenyatta: she already proved her point on the track and in the legacy she will leave behind. Whether she and Zenyatta ever meet on the track? Well, I'd like to see it, but I won't be devastated either way.

Mar 10, 2010

Have You Heard the One About the "Campaign" to Encourage Dressage Riders to Wear Helmets?

I write "campaign" primarily because it seems like a big show, a way to capitalize on the events du jour.  If you haven't heard, Heather Blitz, a professional dressage rider, has issued a call to action.  A call for all dressage riders to wear their helmets when riding.  So, you think, this is great!  What's your beef, BunnyRider?  Well, since you asked....

Initially, I was charmed by her zeal.  What better way to promote wearing a helmet than to have a premier, professional dressage rider wear hers while on the circuit in Florida?  Ahhhh...but it's actually not that cut-and-dry.  Let's put aside my inclinations to simply roll my eyes when hearing about her campaign.  Oh look, Ma, a rider who rarely wore a helmet previously is now calling on everyone to wear one.  You know, because of the tragedy.  Then, I realized that was just being ridiculous.  I can't expect people to change if I ridicule them for doing so.  She deserves congratulations, right?  Well, no actually.  All it seems that Heather has managed to do is capitalize on Courtney's accident to raise her profile through this campaign-sham.  You may think all is hunky-dory if you simply looked at her facebook fan page with this photo of her in a helmet displayed prominently.  You might think that she is as good as her word.  Especially when you glance over at her horse's fan page, with the photos posted of her warm-up ride at the Palm Beach Derby.  Yep.  Helmet, check.  Oops...but if you click to view all of the photos from her warm-up ride, you'll find this little gem.  If I am not mistaken (and I don't think I am) it is a photo of Heather swapping out her helmet for her top hat.  You know, for the actual showing part of the day.  I guess her little helmet-wearing campaign doesn't extend to showing.  Just warm-ups and schooling.  Talk about really going out on a limb for something you believe in.

I call this a major FAIL.

Mar 6, 2010

But Dressage Just Isn't That Dangerous

  I cannot even begin to count the number of times I've heard that one before.  So while it is incredibly distressing to hear that Courtney King-Dye has suffered a major head trauma after falling from her horse, I cannot say that I am terribly surprised.  I am flabbergasted at how the majority of dressage riders just dead-on refuse to wear a helmet.  Or wear a helmet for schooling sometimes -- depending on the horse dontcha know -- and never wear one during a show.  I find it troubling and distressing.  I've often spoken on this subject:  it's a bit of a pet topic of mine.  I was one of those kids that watched high-profile dressage riders and thought to myself, I can't wait until I'm old enough to ride without a helmet.  In retrospect, how stupid was I?!  And to tell the truth, the only real reason I feel differently on the subject today is because I had one beloved dressage instructor who ALWAYS wore her helmet, whether she was schooling or whether she rode a Grand Prix test at a show.  She believed in them very strongly, and as I idolized her, I also became a strong supporter of helmets as well.  Seriously, you guys, for no other reason than I just looked up to her.  That's all it comes down to sometimes, and all of these Olympic riders without helmets are just encouraging more of the same.  Except in this case, the tradition the younger generations will carry on is fraught with danger.

When Courtney came to the Syracuse Invitational to do a demonstration/clinic, one of the questions posed to her was in reference to how she felt about helmets in her sport.  She skirted around that issue and I was frankly very irritated with her.  In that demonstration she did wear a helmet, but she never had an honest conversation about how she felt about it, about whether she wore one all the time (most of the time, I believe, was her answer) and whether she felt they should start making an appearance in the show arena at the uppermost levels.  What I'm saying is that she had the perfect opportunity -- an adoring audience, full of teens and college students -- and it was clear she just didn't want to take on the controversy.  And if she wouldn't, who will?  We need some young, high-profile role models in our sport willing to make that stand. 

So now we hear that she was trying out a young horse at her farm, not wearing a helmet, and the horse tripped and fell; she struck her head.  Seriously, why do equestrians do these things to themselves?!  It takes two seconds to put a helmet on.  It might save your life.  The only things, I believe, that would prevent someone from putting a helmet on (especially if you opt to wear one sometimes) is either sheer laziness or fear of looking bad.  I cannot think of another option, unless you are really vain enough to care about how your hair may look afterwards, but because that option is so repulsive I choose to ignore its existence.

And I never, ever want to hear another person tell me:
  • A helmet may still not completely protect you -- No shit!  Does this even warrant a response?!  Where is the logic in disregarding a safety device just because it is not 100% effective.  I'd like to ask them how they feel about their birth control plans.  Maybe we should just do away with those, too, because they're only 99% effective.
  • A helmet may cause you more damage -- Yes, and it is possible someone may lose control of their vehicle today and crash into the side of your house, but the probability that this will occur is likely very slim.
Look, I'm in the reining world now and I wear my helmet.  My instructor doesn't wear one, but she has never said a word against me choosing to do so.  When I show, I will be wearing my helmet.  I may be the only one out there, but it only takes one person to start to make a difference.  The western world is going to need to start making that change, too, and that's going to be an even tougher sell.  I haven't been immersed in this world long enough to know how that will work itself out, but the dressage world already has the reasons to change and the tools to do it (there are some pretty nice looking English safety helmets anymore, I might note).  Until there are high-profile people willing to step up and show in the helmets, it will continue to be the status quo.  And I will continue to have little sympathy for people like Courtney King-Dye.  Don't get me wrong, what has occured is tragic and I feel for her family, but she made a very bad choice for the wrong reasons.  Someone needs to point that out.