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I was hoping 2010 would be better than 2009.

aHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHA!

Yeah, right.

The short list: both our cars are part of the major recalls (Toyota’s sticking accelerator and Honda’s exploding-shrapnel-creating air bags). Michael had a major back flare (ow!). Then there was the identity theft… the family member hospitalized (lots of worry but everything’s OK now)… the dental woes… the toilet that broke… the… well, never mind. You get the idea.

All in all, a stellar start to the year.

Not.

As an aside, and to put it in perspective, what we’ve been through is nothing compared to what my neighbor’s family has gone through in the last several weeks. His lovely wife is Haitian, and I swear, if I hear anyone else on the “righteous right” saying that Haitians “brought disaster on themselves because they made a pact with the devil,” I am going smack them up the side of the head until their brain cells begin working again. It’s called a natural disaster, folks. Deal with it, stop blaming the victims, get off your self-righteous butt and do something to help, like sending a donation to Catholic Relief Services or the Red Cross. Geez.

Anyways, I promised eons ago when I last posted that I was going to take a trip through my old archives and see if I could find some nice photos of Beth, our beloved Morgan mare. And I did find some!

Beth and Rain

This is Beth doing what a good broodmare does… keeping an eye on the young’un and eating. That handsome young fella by her is Rain, Beth’s last foal (he’s a registered Morgan, too). Rain went on to do his momma proud, and became a specially trained search and rescue horse for the U.S. Forest Service.

Beth's Pretty Face

Here’s a close-up of Beth’s face. I took this shot when she and I were out on one of our many long walks, and she paused to look at a distant deer. I think she’s about twelve years old in this photo; she lived to be a month short of 30!

Rain and Me

And here’s Rain, aka Mr. Cutey, himself, at his inquisitive best, having a little conversation with me. Morgans are hard to photograph, btw, as the minute they see you they’re right up in your face, socializing and checking everything out to see if you’ve just happened to bring along a tasty snack or two. Even young Morgan foals like Rain are incredibly curious and friendly. They learn very quickly, too, just how nice it is to have a human scratch their itchy spots, especially when they start to shed their first coat of baby fuzz.

Twilight and newborn Starlight

And, as a bonus, look at this photo I found stashed away! This is a young black Morgan mare I’d leased for a while, Twilight, and her newborn Morgan foal, Starlite. I took the photo shortly after Starlite was born.

Oh Best Beloved, you’re seeing Starlite just as she’s figuring out how to safely stay balanced on those long spindly legs of hers. Isn’t that neat?!

My Equestrian Bucket List

Got this meme from a fellow equestrian a while back. Given how much I love memes (not), I put it aside, and finally dug it out tonight to fill it out. Here goes:

Which of the following have you already checked off of your equestrian bucket list?

  1. Gallop along the beach.
    *snort*
    Gallop on a beach? In Wisconsin? Have you seen our beaches? Like you think you even could gallop around all the trailers unloading ice fishing shanties from the shore?
  2. Win a blue ribbon, even if it’s for the egg and spoon race!
    Does it count if you’ve glued the egg to the spoon?
  3. Enjoy an evening of equestrian theater, from major touring productions such as Cavalia to local performance troupes.
    See #1. Like we’d ever have the chance here in Wisconsin?
  4. Try your hand at cattle work. Find out what it means when they say a horse is “cowy.”
    Oh, Lordy, I can just see what the local dairies would do if I had ever gone out herding their prize Holsteins… yeah, that would have gotten me shot right quick, I’m here to tell ya.
  5. Jump! From crossrails to cross-country obstacles, experience the thrill of soaring over fences.
    I’m assuming you mean jump various obstacles whilst mounted on a four-footed beast, not by, say hurtling oneself at them in futile hopes of getting over? If so, then yes–already done that. Lots. Even did a tad of jumping while riding sidesaddle with my late beloved Beth, the World’s Best Horse. Ever. So we can check this one off.
  6. Fall off and get right back on again. Conquering fear is empowering.
    Yeah, right. Let me slap whoever wrote that up the side of the head to see if I can shake a few of their brain cells into functioning. It’s SO noble. Uh huh. Especially when your horse stumbles while he’s cruising at a nice bold canter and you do a triple cartwheel through the air while your horse equally spectacularly crashes, leaving you both with injuries that are damned nasty and only by a miracle not deadly. Empowering, my a–.
  7. See the majestic white Lipizzan stallions of the Spanish Riding School.
    (Shhhh – don’t tell anyone…. I’d actually love to do this–it really is a bucket list item for me!)
  8. Come to a sliding stop on a well-trained reining horse.
    Done a few of these on a badly-trained brainless Appaloosa named (fittingly) “Bobo” who could jump the moon but loved to pitch riders into the standards just for giggles, but never did one of these on a reining horse, well-trained or otherwise.
  9. Take a lesson with your equestrian idol, _________ (you fill in the blank.)
    Sadly, The Lone Ranger never answered my letters asking for his schedule of clinic dates, before retiring his mask.
  10. Nurse a horse through a crisis and back to full health.
    Yes, and discovered to my chagrin that they’re much better patients than I am, although I’ve drawn the line at providing bedpan service, ungrateful owner than I was.
  11. Watch the horses come through the Head of the Lake on cross-country day at the Rolex Three-Day Event.
    No, but I’ve seen a Belgian draft horse charge through a five-foot tall manure heap and jump a four-foot fence to escape a particularly nasty stinging horsefly. Does that count?
  12. Have the courage to do the right thing for your horse, even when it’s not easy.
    Like what, deny her carrots when she’s had more than The Official Carrot Guru says she should? Puh-leeze–that’s not courage. It’s being “daring.” (waddya mean, I’m sarcastic? NOT! I’m ironic. So there. Nyaaah.)
  13. Attend the Kentucky Derby dressed to the nines-including hat!
    Strike that one. I don’t like mint juleps. Too sweet.
  14. Tackle a trail accessible only by horseback and enjoy the view.
    What view? The view of my riding partner’s horse’s butt scampering off down the trail after dumping her when a vicious fanged maple leaf blew past on the ground and touched his hoof? That view?
  15. Take your dream vacation on horseback.
    aHAHAHAHAHHA! My dream vacation involves lots of down time with fluffy pillows, no alarm clocks, sacks of candy and a case of Frey port wine. The horse is more than welcome to come along if it brings its own corkscrew and snacks.
  16. Master the sitting trot.
    Duh. This one just cracks me up. Sets of cavaletti’s followed by three-foot in-and-outs… (as in a series of three jumps in a row, each three feet tall, with the horse taking one stride in between, for those of you who haven’t ridden hunters or jumpers) without stirrups AND without reins was part of the regular practice routine back when I was riding hunters. Not just for me – for everyone. Master the sitting trot. Hee hee hee. Um, that would be a “yes, already done that. (who wrote these?)
  17. Ride a fine-tuned horse in your discipline of choice, be it dressage schoolmaster or barrel champ.
    You mean like the time I was talked into taking out a highly trained eventer through an Olympic training level cross-country course, because I was naive enough to believe his owner when she said “if you think any of the fences are too hard for you, you can just go around them.” Little problem: my friend neglected to tell the horse that, and being a very talented and competitive eventer, Horsie thought jumping was more FUN than carrots and apples, and the bigger the fence the BETTER and ALL fences were made to be jumped. I’m guessing it must have looked like the equine equivalent of putting a Piper Cub pilot behind the controls of an F-18 fighter and slinging him off a carrier via the steam cat. Screams optional. I’m here to tell you it was six miles of sheer unadulterated terror… but, damn, I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
  18. Watch polo. Even better, try your hand at it!
    Actually, I’ve played a bit of polo, and am totally lousy at it. But, boy, could the Morgans I rode kick butt in a good game of broom polo.
  19. Feed, muck, groom, ride. Repeat daily.
    If this is on anyone’s bucket list, they need their head examined. My bucket list? Owning the horses and having somebody else always do this for me. Daily. For free.
  20. Wake up to a whinny every morning.
    If I was waking up to whinny, it would mean yet another Morgan spent its night scheming out a way to go over, under, around or through a “horse-proof” fence and was demanding breakfast at 4 a.m. by shoving its nose into the house. Does this sound like a life ambition to you? No? Me neither.
  21. Fly down the track on a Thoroughbred.
    You haven’t experienced a gallop until you’ve galloped a just-off-the-track-Thoroughbred who has learned to do one thing in its life (run like hell, with no on-board brakes as standard equipment and about as much steering mobility built in as an oil tanker) and the pig truck arrives unannounced to drop off a load of angry full-grown porkers in an open pen right next to the arena. Yeah, that’s a bucket list item everyone should aspire to have. Special note: be sure to have clean undies waiting at the point you figure your crazed mount will finally stumble to a stop in exhaustion. That will ensure that you can obtain a “newly freshened” feeling after you drop to the ground and kiss it fervently in sheer and abject thanks for your survival.
  22. Meet one of your favorite famous horses in person.
    See “Lone Ranger” above. I always did want to meet Silver.
  23. Ride bareback, bridleless … or both!
    Well, duh, I’m guessing whoever wrote this one was born into money, because the rest of us rode that way because it was cheaper than putting lots of wear and tear on that expensive tack. What, that’s not why you’re supposed to ride bareback and bridleless? It’s supposed to be a mystical experience?
    *eye roll*
    (Remind me again, did I already ask who wrote these stupid questions?)
  24. Share a bond with your horse that’s deeper than words.
    I leased a Thoroughbred for a while who would fight with me over who got the last spoonful of our shared hot-fudge-coffee-flavored-ice-cream sundaes. Does that count?

Whew – that it! That’s the end of the meme. Aren’t you glad we had this moment of sharing?

*snort redux*

If Packers Were Ponies

Yesterday I pointed out that that several NFL players would have to die each year during games for professional football to be as deadly as Thoroughbred horse racing is for the horses that race.

I underestimated.

Michael asked our local experts – the Green Bay Packers – if they could give us the actual data we needed to turn my estimate into a more accurate comparison. Since they are nicest team in the USA, (as well as the best – Go Pack!) they dug out the exact data that we needed.

Have I mentioned how nice the Packers are?

So – how deadly is professional football compared to Thoroughbred horse racing?

If the National Football League had the same fatality rate for their players during the regular season as racehorses have during races, more than 50 NFL football players would die each year from injuries sustained during games.

More than fifty deaths?

Football would get banned.

The individual Michael spoke to at the Packers office, btw, said that the only game-related player fatality in the NFL that he could personally remember occurred back in 2001, and it didn’t actually occur during a game: a Vikings team member died of heat stroke during a practice.

It’s time for the Thoroughbred racing industry to clean up its act. Provide cash incentives for longevity and soundness. Require synthetic surfaced tracks – which have already cut the fatality rate in half where they’ve been installed. And stop rewarding the genetics of greed.

The Genetics of Greed

Saturday’s ugly death at the Kentucky Derby of the Thoroughbred filly Eight Belles didn’t surprise me.

Every horse that ran in the Derby last Saturday descends from Native Dancer, a gray Thoroughbred stallion who racked up an impressive set of wins in his day (he died in 1967). His offspring were also fast. As ‘speed’ isn’t necessarily a trait that is passed along from a stallion to his offspring, this made Native Dance an incredibly popular breeding stallion, so much so that seventy-five percent of all American-bred Thoroughbreds currently racing are descended from Native Dancer.

Unfortunately, Native Dancer didn’t just pass along speed. He passed along leg problems, and this isn’t a secret in the TB racing industry. Even a place as far removed from a breeding farm as one can imagine – the Wall Street Journal – ran an article about it last week, saying that Native Dancer’s line “has a tragic flaw. Thanks in part to heavily muscled legs and a violent, herky-jerky running style, Native Dancer and his descendants have had trouble with their feet.”

The article went on to say,

“How one stallion gained so much influence over the sport is a story about market forces, genetics and in some cases greed. His bloodline’s greatest asset is that it consistently produces precocious, speedy thoroughbreds that dominate the Derby and other Triple Crown events — giving owners a safer return on their investments. But that success has led breeders to mate Native Dancer’s progeny so often that the thoroughbred gene pool has shrunk.”

Big mistake.

As someone who owned, trained and rode horses for over 30 years, I’ve seen my share of what greed for the fastest racer, the most athletic jumper, the highest scoring dressage mount, the best eventer, and even the ‘most desired color’ can do. For the Thoroughbred racing industry, short-sighted gains have sown the seeds for disaster.

How often does a Thoroughbred racehorse die?

When a horse races, it’s called a ‘start.’ If twenty horses run in a race, as they did in the Kentucky Derby, it counts as twenty starts. For the last two years – the only years that have reliable data for the Thoroughbred racing industry, in terms of numbers of horses’ deaths on the track – two Thoroughbreds die from injuries they sustain during a race on a ‘natural surface’ track like that at Churchill Downs for every 1000 starts. That statistic doesn’t include, by the way, the horses that die from inuries sustained during training – it only includes the deaths of horses that actually make it to the starting gate.

Two dead horses per thousand starts. That statistic makes my head want to explode.

To put this in perspective: it’s the equivalent of several NFL players dying during regular season games every single season.

Horse racing inherently has risks. But I don’t personally feel that deaths like those of Eight Belles are from the ‘risks of racing.’ From where I’m sitting, those deaths seem like the end result of an industry that has turned the Thoroughbred racehorse into a disposable living commodity bred to win as much cash as quickly as possible before breaking down.

Where’s the sport in that?

They Eat Horses, Don’t They?

Yesterday, one of my friends sent me Joel Stein’s trolling commentary from this week’s Time magazine, where he advocates eating horse meat. Mr. Stein says,

I decided not to let a bunch of horse freaks… prevent me from eating meat enjoyed in Japan, Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.

Let’s see, we have eight countries in the world that eat horse meat, so therefore the rest of us that don’t condone eating the likes of Barbaro are “horse freaks?”

Huh. Guess this is one of those times where you can count me in with the “freaks.”

Mr. Stein then went on to say,

It’s not that I don’t think killing horses is cruel. It’s just that I think killing chickens, pigs, sheep and cows is equally bad. Morality based on aesthetics is pretty shallow.

Do you now? Personally, I find journalism based on opinion yet presented as fact not only shallow, but contemptuous.

Here’s just one fact – among many – not based on the “aesthetics” Mr. Stein sneered at. Slaughtering horses isn’t the same as killing animals bred and raised for human consumption. The American Humane Society (hardly a radical group of “horse freaks”), points out that

horses are different from cattle (and other animals specifically bred, sold, and transported for human consumption) due to their instinctive flight response in stressful conditions, making it difficult to accurately stun them prior to slaughter. Undercover footage has demonstrated that many horses are dismembered while fully conscious, underscoring the need to ban this utterly inhumane process.

Ah, but Mr. Stein believes that objections to horse slaughter equates us to being “a nation that thinks like a 14-year-old girl.”

Oh, puh-leeze.

Even if I could agree with Mr. Stein’s position (which will happen when pigs sprout wings and fly), I somehow can’t find it in me to respect someone who brags in print about lying on their customs forms so they can illegally import such a “delicacy” as horse meat.

Cultural taboos and humane considerations aside, if Mr. Stein wants to chow down on an animal that has been pumped full of pesticides and insecticidal wormers, injected with antibiotics that aren’t approved for meat animals, or given pharmaceuticals like Lasix, and doused daily with fly spray – all standard practice and allowed under current regulations, as a horse isn’t a meat animal for human consumption in the USA – then, hey, he should go for it. He richly deserves precisely what he’s injesting.

But first, Mr. Stein, move to Japan, Belgium, France, Italy, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany or Austria. This is the United States. We don’t eat horses here.

Bon appetite.