Saturday, January 21, 2012

The trouble with 'smart' horses...round 2

Trygve -- Part II
As we all know in the Thoroughbred business, sales preparation is about turning sows-ears into silk purses.  Trouble is, when you already have a silk-purse, you're going to be waging an uphill battle.  Yeah uphill.  See, farm managers are simply the concierge in somebody else's hotel and the first person to fall in love with this remarkable horse already owned him.  And believe me, farm managers are all too familiar with the drill.  It begins with an off-hand remark:  "Damn he is well-built.  And look at those nice flat knees!  What'd ya suppose he'll bring?"  This is where I scratch my head and seek out the best possible response:  "Grief if you don't sell him!"
No matter.  The die was cast.  As the two of us (The horse and I -- the other one was hopeless), progressed in our odd relationship, I began to notice how smart this horse really was -- but not in the sense one might think.  See, apparently we both had a case ADHD.  No, I'm not kidding.  I already had decided that cribbers and weavers were smarter than most horses, primarily because science has proven that it takes a degree of skill to develop a bad habit.  Just ask a drunk.  It takes skill and cunning to drink yourself to death without actually dying.  And in case you're wondering, I can testify on the accuracy of the research.

Trygve -- One of my favorites. [image: ajuell]
Now even though this yearling was smarter than most, he didn't develop those kind of habits. Instead, he exhibited a strong need for surprises, something my own teachers had expressed, only not in those same words.  "Fails to pay attention.  Stares out the window too much."  Hell, they were building Interstate 5 at the time which was a lot more interesting than Columbus wandering around the damn Atlantic Ocean.  But keeping a yearling interested in day-to-day life isn't as easy as it may sound.  Sale's yearlings are normally kept up by themselves (so they don't get kicked, bit or chewed on), only turned out at night (to prevent sun-fade or bug bites), and if they are a colt...well, you've got those puberty issues and you are not going to geld somebody else's superstar, even if the idea is awfully appealing.  So that just leaves you as a sort of equine social director.  And since most horses don't speak English, play chess or watch TV, some creativity might be in order.  So every day he lived in a different stall, wore a different halter, had different oats for dinner (rolled, whole, crimped -- most days with a little molasses and cider vinegar), traded carrots for bananas with an occasional Guinness thrown-in (carrots are actually an acquired taste, as opposed to beer which seems to just occur naturally), and every day I'd wear a different hat.  Most evenings I'd take him on a walk to meet different neighbors.  Not sure that was always appreciated, especially since we'd show up around dinner time.
It finally came time for the long-awaited Select Yearling Sale held at the new pavilion adjacent to Longacres race track.  My new friend Trygve and I seemed to get a lot more attention than we planned.  Everybody wanted to stop by and say 'howdy,' often spending more time with the horse than me.  I became a little suspect over their cordiality, but figured that was how it probably went at a sale.  One fellow in particular came around a little more often than I needed, particularly since we had already met on numerous occasions -- the boss.  Most times he visited, he was a little red-faced and sweaty, spoke nervously and kept looking over his shoulder like somebody was following him.  Somebody was it seemed.  A large Italian guy.  No, not the mob.  He was the man who owned that San Francisco treat, not to mention more than a few racehorses, most of whose names ended in a variation on the word:  Roni.  And my boss, well, he was on the brink of some kind of nervous condition.  All Trygve and I could do
The morning of the sale, the two men collided in front of Trygve's stall.  At first, the conversation seemed friendly...and like most, 80% bullshit on the weather.  Then quite suddenly it became a little ominous.  The Italian gentleman sidled up to my boss and said matter of factly, "I'm gonna buy that colt and name him Kiss My Roni!"  Well, if anybody has ever worked on a bomb squad and cut the wrong wire, this was one of those moments.  The boss went from red to plum purple, mumbled something in Norwegian and headed for the sales office.  Over his shoulder, he yelled back at me, "Load him!"  Of course I just shrugged since I was a little busy with a rather predatory looking group of bloodstock agents.  Those boys get a little upset when you piss all over their commission.  I pulled down Trygve's sale sign and shut the top door of his stall -- then went looking for a double Gin & tonic and a disguise.
Yeah, the boss pulled the horse out of the sale.  The sale's committee said something like, "You can't do that!"  The boss said, "Watch me!"  I said, "I don't care what size the sweatshirt is, just make sure it has a hood!" 
Tomorrow: Part III

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