How do you measure a horses life?
Is it in competitions won? Purses earned? Ribbon’s hanging? Or live’s touched?
I surround myself with some pretty phenomenal horsemen and women. Living in Lexington, Kentucky, I get to be with the best of the best. The best breeders, the best veterinarians, the best blacksmiths, and the best staff.
We spend our days, our nights, our lives caring for animals. Only to us, these animals are not just entities. They are so much more. They are our bread and butter, our stock market, our friends, and after 100-hour weeks, missed weddings, lack of sleep, and lack of relationships, they become our families.
Our days are consumed by what most assume are trivial activities – fixing a fence, mucking a stall, repairing a tractor. It is such a strange life to the outside. Words like meconium, hippomane, breast collar, and batwing are normal dinner conversation – if we can actually get off the farm to interact with others. Beers are gulped as the foaling season is discussed.
And as the beers go down, we begin to discuss the great’s. Of course there is always the one person at the table who gets to declare that they foaled John Henry, or that they once galloped Game on Dude. The person who gets to say they were there the day that Affirmed won the Triple Crown, or led The Green Monkey to the ring.
But normally, the horses that consume our dreams and haunt our conversations are horses who’s names that many may not have ever heard. Broodmares who provided us our first “big sale” – even if it was only $25,000. Fillies that we brought into the world who may not have won the Oaks, but put food on our table’s as breeders. Colt’s who didn’t hit their stride until their four year old year. Who may not be millionaires, but who hit the board Every. Damn. Time. I have these horses. Horses like Hazard’s of Love, and Hit Girl, and even Firehouse Red. You might not have heard of them, but they are mine. They are the one’s who’s stories I get to relish with friends over a beer.
We lost one of those hidden great’s last week. A mare whom many of us young bucks wouldn’t remember, whose name does not adorn a street sign in Lexington, Kentucky. A mare who ran in TWENTY TWO stakes races, three G1’s, and won over $600,000. A mare who won the G1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga, who won 14 of her 34 starts, and hit the board in another seven. These are the fact’s that we as an industry regurgitate to the outside. But to the insiders, the old boy’s club of the Thoroughbred Industry, the people who will never be interviewed on Derby Day or analyzed on The Today Show, she was so much more.
Feel the Beat left us last week, with those who knew her best surrounding her. She might have not adorned the winner’s circle in 27 years, she might not have produced a foal in ten, but she was regarded with extreme respect, and extreme love. Immediately after she was put down at the age of 31, the daughter-in-law of her owner messaged me. Questioning why it is that we never hear of these stories? Why is everything published about “us”, the “we” of the thoroughbred breeder’s negative? Or if it isn’t negative, it is about a Derby winner, a sale’s topper, a millionaire. It is never the other’s.
These mares, like Feel the Beat, are the true superstars of our industry. These warhorses, who pass on their heart, their endurance, and their legacy onto others. Their lives deserve the same level of respect, the same fanfare of a farewell when they leave us. But they don’t. They simply slip away, acknowledged and grieved by only those who knew them in their last few years, and nothing else.
Pennland Farms did not have to buy this mare for $1,200 at the Fasig sale in 2005. She was 20 years old, she was barren, and she would not reproduce for them. They did not get her for some get-rich scheme. To a financial advisor, this probably wasn’t the most intelligent money spent. This was a smaller operation, one that relied on their horses producing strong, healthy foals. But the owner of Pennland Farm wasn’t investing in his own future, instead, he was securing her’s.
This mare, Feel the Beat, had done for his family and his farm, more than enough. He had owned her sister Whitebread, as well as Whitebread’s daughters. These horses had paid for the mortgage, the feed, the bills. And while it is assumed that these horses are viewed as entities, for him it was different.
So, for $1,200 he secured this great racemare. For $1,200 that could have been spent on new fencing, or a transmission for the farm truck, he brought what many would view as a “useless” mare, and put her in a field on his farm. For eleven years, she has been turned out with her two girlfriends and a donkey, living the life of ease. A retirement suited to the greatness she once was. An ode to the spreading effect she had had for him, and his family.
There was no parade last week. There was no fancy cemetery surrounded by monuments and pillars. No one at The Bloodhorse wrote a great eulogy. Instead she was laid to rest next to her two best friends who had already left this earth, in a peaceful passing of old age and lack of pain. She was surrounded by this man and his family, who acknowledged what she had done for them. A farm which took care of it’s own, no matter how far related, no matter the cost. She touched their lives, just as I know they touched hers.
So here is your eulogy girl:
Rest in Peace, Feel the Beat. May we be reminded of the brilliant racehorse that you once were. May we acknowledge the family that you produced, and the line’s that are stronger because of you. May you run swiftly again. May you be free of aging pain, and free of lingering doubt of if you were great. If greatness is measured not by one’s worth or objects acquired, but by the number of lives they affected, then you were great. You ARE great.
RIP Feel the Beat. Run swift, run strong, run free.