Blog .:. May 2010 6 Entries
I’m window shopping again.
Tonight’s theme: I Spy, with my Right Eye, Something That Begins with WTF.
Thanks to ill-conceived photos, awkward lighting, bad angles, unfortunate growth stages, and other factors that can screw up photos of otherwise nice horses, I have seen ads today apparently trying to sell the following:
- A giant, wooly-mammoth of a ski slope hind end stitched to a dainty, fully clipped miniature horse head and neck. Think Frankenstein creation. On a bad day.
- A horse jumping in such bad form that it would lose a hunter class to a deer on crack. It took me five minutes to realize the horse wasn’t even jumping—it’s just an insanely bad camera angle coupled with indifferent lighting.
- A blue, horse-shaped tarp.
- A horse with pasterns that would give M. C. Escher wet dreams.
- A living balance beam suitable for use in training the next U. S. Olympic Gymnastics team. At least, I assume that’s what the photo of people cartwheeling off the horse’s back is supposed to imply.
- A buy-one-get-twenty-pounds-of-mud-free special.
- Some fat, fuzzy ponies so adorable I almost want a kid. If you’re keeping track of the WTF moments, it’s in the last half of that sentence.
- A plethora of self-propelled lawn mowers.
- Some random body parts, including a bunch of noses, massive eyes, and over-muscled butts.
- Horses who have mastered the art of standing around.
- Horses who have mastered the art of growing hair.
Mob Bosses.Donkeys with attitude. I mean, more attitude than normal. I haven’t been this scared by a photo since the last time I saw a still shot of Paula Abdul.
- A draft cross teaching her owner to join up. Ok, it was video, not a photo. But the horse had obviously figured out that it could stop every six steps and the owner would let it come into the center
for pets and scratchesto “join up.” No work + attention? The winner in that situation is not walking on two legs.
- Several three-legged horses.
- A horse holding up a trailer with his head. I’d be afraid to buy him: what will happen to the trailer then?
- A Shire front end and a pony-looking hind end. This is why friends don’t let friends breed disparate types.
- A horse with a straight line from throat latch to toe.
- Pieces of paper. Presumably these are registration papers, but I hadn’t realized we’d reached the point where pedigree entirely trumps the horse itself, so that sellers don’t even need to show the horse anymore.
- A camel. Sorry, I mean a roach-backed palomino. That’s been sold. I am in awe—I’m not sure if it’s of the seller’s marketing prowess or the buyer’s stupidity.
- Little blotches of color> Listen, if you have to draw a circle and arrow on the photo so the buyer knows where the horse is? You might want to rethink your choice of photo.
- God. Oh, sorry, that’s just backlighting making that halo effect. According to the fine print, divinity is not included.
- A horse with no knees. Apparently he uses telekinesis to move his feet.
Although I don’t really follow what is happening in the racing world, even I am aware of certain events and debates. They percolate into common knowledge. There’s a race called the Kentucky Derby. It’s pretty popular. And a series of events called the Triple Crown? No one wins that anymore, but every year the winner of the Kentucky Derby is touted as a “serious” contender.
Even I, in my fog, know about the ongoing debate on the age at which Thoroughbreds are started. I know the arguments against it, and I know the defenses: look at history, they say. Horses used to race all the time as two-year-olds and go on to long and glorious careers. It isn’t the starting young; it’s the modern tracks. Or training. Or not racing them hard enough. Or we aren’t breeding sound enough horses.
On the last—surely you know what people say about Unbridled offspring? I figure if I do, everyone must. And you can browse through any sport-horse breeding forum to find people blithely reading pedigrees and talking about how X offspring are known for bad knees and Y offspring have brittle feet.
What I find interesting about all of this, aside from the fact that I’m aware of it, is that it is often debated as if these are modern concerned and in the Glory Days… I don’t know what people think about the Glory Days. Is there an assumption that historically people didn’t care about these issues? That they weren’t issues at all, because horses were inherently sounder and better managed?
At any rate, I was reading The English Turf by Charles Richardson this morning. It was written in 1901—over 100 years ago—and I found these quotes from the first chapter interesting:
It can hardly be denied that the average modern English racehorse is a poor creature. Nine out of ten of those which have been before the public of late have neither constitution nor stamina. Speed they certainly have, but there are far too many horses who cannot travel an inch farther than five or six furlongs, and many more who cannot get beyond a mile. These are not the sort of animals to maintain the supremacy of the English Turf, and their presence is accounted for by the fact that we have got into a bad groove, both as regards breeding and training, and also because we have had far too many short races and too many selling handicaps. [...] Many, perhaps a majority, of these sprinters that have been a natural product of the system are as unlike the typical racehorse as it is possible for them to be. High on the leg, too short from shoulder to quarters, narrow, split up, and light of bone. How many of this stamp of horse, and yet gifted with speed for a short course, do we not see in any race paddock nowadays? The question hardly requires an answer. These are not the right sort of horses, and the more of this stamp we continue to breed, the more we make room for the Americans and Colonials.
Unsoundness of limb has far more weight with most breeders than roaring has, and as a consequence a yearling who is unsound of limb is seldom seen at the sale ring, or in any lot which is sent to the trainer during the autumn. Yearlings with suspicious limbs, on the other hand, are common enough, but limb troubles do not as a rule develop until the horse which bears them has been broken and put to work. Then it is either a case of breakdown or of putting by until the limbs have become stronger. We need not, however, concern ourselves with this side of the question, for a good judge will hesitate long enough before he puts into training a youngster who is wrongly formed, or who shows a marked weakness in some part of his anatomy. A much more serious matter is the fact that the present fashion of putting thoroughbreds into training far too young breaks many of them down before they have a chance of distinguishing themselves. Dozens of likely-looking yearlings who bring big money when sold are never seen on a racecourse, and we may take it that a fair proportion of such have developed hereditary unsoundness when put to work. So far as the colts are concerned not much mischief is done, because only a very exceptionally bred horse can command any stud patronage if he has never run in public, and even then he must be loudly trumpeted as the victim of an “accident” in his yearling days. The fillies, however, are often put by for the stud, and thus the supply of unsound matrons is increased.
It is a curious reflection that at the shows held under the auspices of the “Hunters Improvement Society” no horse or mare is entitled to a prize until he or she has passed a veterinary examination, and yet there is no obstacle whatever to breeders of thoroughbreds using either an unsound sire or dam, or both in their attempt to raise a galloping machine.
There’s no real question or point here. I was just surprised to see that a 1901 book on racing would be touching on the same concerns that swirl around modern racing. It’s easy to scream “why hasn’t anything been done, then?”—but the truth is, I don’t know what, if anything, is being done.
It’s important to realize that what the casual racing fan “knows” is almost certainly not a reflection of debate and discussions occurring within the industry. And I’m not even a casual fan. But I do know how the media and popular opinion work—I know how it latches onto sensational stories and ignores anything that may counter the sensational nature of those stories. I know that once the public gets an idea in its head, nothing will shake it. I know statistics can be manipulated to support any position.
So while I know what popular opinion says about the modern racing industry, and I was surprised to see these criticisms reflected in a book 100 years old, the fact remains that I don’t know what the actual state of the modern racing industry is.
I’m trying to be optimistic here. I’m trying to hope that, after 100 years, we’re not making the same dumb decisions.
In preparation for next month’s schooling show, and because so far I have not found a test whose instructions include “Between A and the eighth time you pass A again [transition],” I thought I should work on transitions in tonight’s lesson. I am pretty sure they are supposed to happen in less time and space than it takes a VW bus to accelerate from 0 to eighty.
Since promptness in a transition isn’t much good without quality, we started by focusing on quality. Things started coming together. Not surprisingly, as they got better, they also became more prompt. Walk-trot. Trot-walk. Working-lengthened-working trot. And… canter.
Canter right went ok. Better than usual. Mini conference with my instructor. Reverse.
Right, I thought. And now we’ll…
The horse’s owner swears he canters when you just think about it. I swear he canters on the fourth attempt, and only to prove he’s capable and I’m an uncoordinated monkey.
But that transition was the Vulcan Mind Meld. I think it took three strides before I shut my mouth and my brain caught up with my body.
...canter. What? We’re already cantering? How… wha… I… connection! connection! Leg! Focus!
So now that we know what’s possible, the trick will be to work on getting that sort of quality consistently.
And, um, keeping my mouth closed when it happens. Otherwise, I can just see the judge’s comments on the test: “Try not to look shocked when things go right.”
If I bought a small gray pony, I’d name him Shrink Wrap.
On the other hand, there was once a British Thoroughbred racehorse whose jockey wrote his name on his stall as “Potoooooooo.”
The owner had an awesome sense of humor and kept the spelling. You’re more likely to see it in its shortened form as—you guessed it—Pot8os.
Sorry. I had to share. It makes me laugh.
At work, we go out to lunch on Fridays.
Normally, this entails a lot of “not driving!” protests as we head out of the elevator. When they start protesting too loudly, I offer to drive. This shuts them all up and keys start appearing in their hands.
I might have forgotten about some dirty saddle pads in my car once, one of those weeks when we were having really hot weather. They, uh, might have had a very… pungent… lesson in what I mean by ‘barn car.’
They don’t ask me to drive anymore.
Recently, a couple of the guys have bought new cars or trucks. They are shiny and have that new car smell. I remember new car smell. Vaguely. It was back in the days when I still had floor mats instead of mud flats in the car.
I can justify it, too. If I am going to buy a horse, I should have a truck and trailer. That is the responsible thing to do. Never mind that I know people with trucks and trailers who I could count on in an emergency. I like big, shiny toys. In order to justify my desire to own big, shiny toys, I have convinced myself that I should buy a truck and trailer before I buy a horse.
So I tried to explain this to the guys:
Me: I think I’m going to buy a truck. A big truck. Shiny. With New Car Smell.
The Guys: Oh, to haul your horse.
Me: Right. But I couldn’t buy a horse until after the truck was paid off. [pause] And the trailer.
Guys: But you don’t have a trailer.
Me: Right. But I’d have a truck.
Guys: That could pull the horse and trailer you don’t own?
Guys: If you don’t own a horse or trailer, why do you need a truck?
Me: Just in case.
Guys: In case what?
Me: Something happens to my horse.
Guys: What horse?
Me: Any horse!
In my defense, I was doing really well fighting off the big, shiny toy urge until the guys started buying new cars and trucks. Maybe I should just take my car into a detail place and have them clean it up and spray some new car smell in it. I could get my new car fix and there’s probably enough change mired in the mud pits that used to be my floor boards to pay for it.
Of course, I couldn’t tell the guys if I did that. They might start asking me to drive to lunch.
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