I walk up the show ring – back and forward, back and forward. Stand and pose.
Wash, rinse, repeat.
It is the annual Keeneland September Yearling Sales, or as us thoroughbred officienados refer to it: The Marathon.
18 days of 5-5. A hundred shows a day per horse. Millions of dollars sold, and hopefully millions of dollars earned.
And each time that I arrive on that first day, I have this wave of awe overcome me. I watch these 1000 pound yearlings tolerate so much with so little prep. There is no schooling show or warm up round.
They ship here to a new place–many times their first trip off of the farms they were born on. Happily loading on and off the scary trailer.
And they step out of their stalls for the that first day and run the gauntlet of what anyone would consider good horse behavior:
They stand for a bath in an unfamiliar place.
They accept the bit and a change of halter.
They lead to and from an environment they’ve never seen without putting a foot wrong.
And at the end of the day, they are happily bandaged and bedded down, waiting for the next.
I have long been a supporter of this magnificent breed known as the thoroughbred and am a hardcore advocate for retraining the ex racehorse. And when people ask me what I love so much about that journey, I always respond that it’s because it’s usually so easy.
The racehorse is so exposed by the time they get to you. They’ve seen numerous tracks, numerous riders, numerous routines, and numerous lifestyles. They have a lead change and 4 beautiful gaits–the least of which is the gallop. They travel both ways happily and take things in stride.
But even before they get to that first start, these animals are so trained. And why is that? That is because of the breeder, and maybe more importantly the broodmare manager, yearling manager, and plentiful staff that lays their hands on these horses every day.
After these pivotal few weeks the breeder gets much less press than is deserved. Occasionally they get the shout out in the TDN or DRF. And sure, if the horse runs in the Derby, there may be background story on NBC. It is short, it is brief, and the blurb is simply not enough.
But where the breeder does get the attention is potentially moreso in the negative ways that are undeserved. The entity that is the breeders gets blamed for the seeming abundance of thoroughbreds (crop size is down almost 40% since a decade ago). They get blamed when a horse is found in a bad situation, even if the horse has exchanged hands countless times since it left that pivotal homeplace. And they get blamed for the route of the horses life–from the nursery, to the sales, and then the track. Being told that it is too much, too quick, too careless.
So much of this animosity or targeted behavior is so unwarranted. So much of it is unfair.
But what is maybe more unfair is the lack of thanks that we give these men and women for the amazing horses that we now have access too, and the behavioral attributes that we relish so much. Things we take advantage of without considering where they originated.
Because of Mill Ridge, Mak loads on a trailer and happily stands for hours.
Because of Chesapeake Farm, Kennedy lowers his 18hh head and willingly accepts a bit and bridle.
Because of Shadowlawn Farm, Nixon happily ties and stands for an hour long bath.
And because of Hinkle Farms, I get to spend my September showing some of the classiest and well behaved young horses. Horses that put most fancy show ponies to shame.
We all need to thank those men and women a bit more often. Look on Equibase, find your horses origins, and then whisper a thank you into the universe. Each of them was mated with purpose, foaled with care, and then raised with the upmost consideration and thought.
Your horses race trainer might have taught your horse to break from a gate. And your horses retrainer may have taught him how to jump a crossrail. But it was your horses breeder who gave your horse his first mint, taught him his first steps on a shank, and nurtured him through his first wound.
So thank them. They deserve it. Every single ounce of it.
Thank you St. George Farm LLC….your “Easy” (Isa My Love) is happy and loved because you helped make him who he is today.
This is a bit of a random question, but I was interested in the farm you work at, and the horses you care for. How hard is it to follow a yearling through his career, in order to offer him a home after he is done racing? I’ve read several of your posts about the struggles you faced in trying to bring one of your horses back home, and I’m curious as to what would be required of someone like me (no contacts in the Thoroughbred world) to bring home a horse that I’ve begun following, when he is ready to retire or retrain? Thanks for any help/advice you can provide!