- Horse Racing - Let's get back to true horsemanship

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Monday, July 31
Let's get back to true horsemanship

There is a facet of the Thoroughbred industry that in my opinion is rapidly disintegrating. The scary thing is that it's the most important ingredient -- being a "true horseman."

Growing up in the heart of the "Horse Capital of the World," I have been around Thoroughbreds all my life and have witnessed the game take many turns. I've seen horses sell for more than $11 million that never raced and I was personally involved with one selling for $17,500 that nearly won the Triple Crown. But this latest turn is very disappointing.

Because my mother had horses she owned or readied for sales for someone else, I spent a lot of time at OBS sales as a young man. I always thought it would be satisfying to have a horse and get it ready to sell. I have readied horses for sales, but only for the farms I was managing. Now I would like to try my hand at this facet of the industry for myself, but the things I was taught by my parents I very rarely see in practice today.

I was taught that when you go to an auction to buy horses "you'd better put on your tennis shoes and bring your sun block." You should be the first there and the last to leave. You never know where that diamond in the rough will be. I was also taught how to view conformation and to envision what a horse will look like down the road. In addition, I learned not to be so caught up with minor imperfections. My parents taught me that the welfare of the horse is the most important thing: if you take care of the horse then the horse will take care of you.

It seems to me that some buyers today have lost the art of horsemanship. That makes me feel like the Thoroughbred industry is losing some of the very things that make it so special. Some buyers today don't seem to spend the time looking for good horses. They seem to lack vision for what a horse could be. It appears they all want the same kind of conformation, which leads to a lack of diversity within the breed. Subsequently, breeders take their mares to stallions that don't even cross well in order to produce a particular type of horse that is geared for the marketplace.

Last but certainly not least, the welfare of the horse is at stake. Because buyers demand that horses work fast at under-tack previews, the consignors are placed in compromising positions to get their horses to work faster than they will ever have to run again just to prove to a buyer that the horse has speed. We all know that they can run fast and some are faster than others, but how many sprinters have ever won a Kentucky Derby? I've always believed that somewhere down the line the loss of these practices will hurt the industry. That time is upon us. The time is now to get back to the art of horsemanship. Based on the trends I've witnessed, I could have my 8-year-old daughter pick out the sale topper today by going in and grabbing a time sheet and finding the fastest work. That shows me that there is very little skill being exercised anymore to find what is truly the top horse in a sale, not just the fastest. It's no wonder that consignors feel pressed to set their horses down feeling the pressure that if they don't work fast their horses won't sell.

For example, local breeder Roger Chak has expressed great disappointment about having to part with one of his two-year-olds at a sale last year. He sold what he knew was a nice horse for only $35,000 just because the colt worked what some considered slow fractions; 11.0 and 22.1. As Chak tells it, "Unless you have an outstanding pedigree or breeze a hole in the wind your horse will go unnoticed." As a three year old this year, the same horse has since won the Louisiana Derby (G1), the Bluegrass Stakes (G1) and finished third in the Kentucky Derby. That horse is Florida-bred Peace Rules.

Horses like these continually slip past buyers for some strange reason. In my opinion, it's because some buyers have lost the art of selecting runners, or more appropriately they just don't take the time. If these trends continue, will we be teaching true horsemanship to the next generation? It will be a sad day for our industry if that question remains unanswered.

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