Thoughts on the Kentucky Derby--love/hate
I watch the Derby every year, as well as the Preakness and Belmont. My first love, even before dogs, was horses, I played with toy horses as a 3 yr old, not dolls.
My two favorite horse breeds are the Arabian and the Thoroughbred… As an artist, I adore Arabians, they are the product of the Original Artist, not man. As a rider, I love the TB. Their strength and power is unmatched when combined with ‘heart’--in GSDs they call it drive. Imagine one of our hard, working line GSDs, except weighing 1100 lbs., 16 or 17 hands high, and you're on its back running all out. That's a TB.
So I love watching the races, remembering my youth when I greenbroke horses for the track and when I took in TBs off the track and re-schooled them for jumping and dressage. There's no man-made machine that can give you an adrenaline rush like sitting astride a living, breathing, thinking mass of muscle, knowing that your key to safety is the strength of the bond, the partnership, you have developed with this animal. That partnership is never more important than when you are galloping toward a jump, your eye measuring the ground in front of you, controlling the length of his stride with hands and seat, counting each stride so he takes off at a perfect distance to soar over the jump and land safely on the other side.
So the Thoroughbred has a spot deep in my heart, which is why my feelings for the racing industry involve more hate than love.
TBs are saddlebroke as yearlings, start to race as 2-yr-olds, raced hard as 3-yr-olds. Their growth plate does not seal until they are maybe four, often not until they are six like their progenitor, the Arab. As a result many, many good young horses break down and are off the track and sold to the ‘killers’ by the time they are four years old. When I was young you could get such animals cheap, rehab them, re-school them, and sell them as riding horses for a decent profit. Today the racing industry allows so many meds that a horse can be raced with chronic injuries until he is damaged to the point he can never carry a rider again, will never live without pain again, he's way beyond rehab. This is the life ahead of the vast number of TBs who never make the ‘big time’, are never seen on TV in the prestigious races, but are raced over and over again on the ‘B’ circuit tracks until they can’t run any more.
This is why you see breakdowns on the track, like when the filly Ruffian years ago blew her ankle in a match race. With both sesamoid bones snapped in her right fetlock, she ignored her jockey and kept running until the bones were pulverized, tendons and ligaments were destroyed, and the fetlock was wide open. Because of her heart (or drive), her jockey could not stop her. After surgery, she couldn’t tolerate the cast on her leg, damaged her elbow, and tore up the cast. The attending orthopedic vets opted to put her down. A tragedy in my mind, a lovely young filly dead for no good reason.
So I watched the Derby today with interest, cheered California Chrome on--except for one extra white sock he could be a down-sized Secretariat--but in the deep reaches of my heart I cried for all the fine horses who are living a life no horse should live.