Saturday, January 28, 2012

The shin bone is connected to...the yearling sales.

iStock images [rights secured]

Cross-dressing...Equine Version:

Over the decades, I have spent countless hours exploring the finer points of equine conformation.  Well, female conformation as well, but if I go down that path I'm going to have to invest in a new web site:  you know,  And the next thing you know the place would be overrun with Republicans and defrocked priests.  And if you've read my book, you probably appreciate that I've got enough trouble with UPS drivers, the fire department, The Jockey Club and most of my neighbors.  At least the ones that chose shelter-in- place over the witness protection system.

However, if you sell yearlings in the marketplace, conformation is a very, very big deal.  Deal-breaker actually.  And horse people being either special or perhaps not enamored by detail, have invented their own unique anatomical identification system:

"One of the biggest causes for consternation at a yearling sale is centered around a young horse's knees.  They invoke the most poking and prying, for like the ball-joints in your aging car or Joe Namath's hairy landing gear, they are the first part of the anatomy to falter.  Why?  Well, they carry about 60% of the horse's weight.  The hind legs work like a propeller on a ship.  Additionally, anatomy tends to cross-dress between species.  Knees aren't knees -- they are actually wrists.  Hooves are fingernails, everything below the knee is actually a digit -- or, a finger really.  The real knees are actually stifles, the hocks are ankles and racing pounds these misguided joints at about 2000psi or more.  I know it is confusing, but if you stand up a horse on its hind legs and connect the dots, it will probably make sense.  Or maybe it won't."

"Buyers approach the knees like madcap melon buyers.  They thump and maul the joint mercilessly.  Others get back at a distance and ponder the shape and contour of the joint, stopping occasionally to scratch their heads or write a comment in their sales catalog.  Normally, something like, "This horse sucks."  The astute buyers pretend to be looking at a gaskin, while stealing a quick glance at a knee.  Others put their money on the ankles (which are really hands), or the eye (which really is an eye), or that certain look, though I'm still working out the connection between a horse and a bald-headed bird that cavorts with vultures and hyenas.  But that is our dilemma.  We parade our yearlings, corrupt the truth as best we can and hope that three drunken optimists try to prove a point when out horse is in the ring."

Next:  Spy versus Spy 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shoeing on the dark-side of the moon...

Hmm...Too Formal?

Scenes from Chapter 13:

'A Pretty Fair Farrier'

 We all have those days, those clients, those collections of improbable events that can only come from exploring the the dark-side of the moon without a flashlight.

One of my favorites is the horse that doesn't quite make it through the appointment.  And naturally, the owner is at work.  And guess where she works?  Grisly-Lugnut & Ballsqueezer, LLC.  Attorneys-at-Law.  Never mind that Bucky was 31-years old, almost toothless and lived on nitro-glycerin tablets.  Or that he fell over dead on your new $90 fiberglass shoeing box.  The box where your iPad was to your prescription Ray-Bans.  Just one thing matters:  Bucky died on your watch.

Then there is the case of way too much information.  That happens because of the nature of the job.  Horse owners are always conversing with your butt while your mouth is normally full of nails.  It's amazing the things people will tell a horseshoer's butt:  "Judy, I think we should do Sparky every six-weeks instead of eight.  His feet grow pretty fast."  She tells your butt, "You know, I haven't had an orgasm in fifteen years."  You change the schedule back to eight-weeks.


A trainer holds a horse for you.  A trainer who never holds a horse for anybody.  He starts to tell your butt a story:  "Ya know, we didn't win at Tucson last week."  (The horse he's holding is Double-Lucky Moon Shot -- a halter horse.)  "Judge kept lookin' at Moonie's front thar was somethin' wrong."  Of course, the butt doesn't immediately answer.  Case of pucker or something.  Then, more information is forthcoming:  "You know, I think we need to lower those outsides a little more.  Yeah, that's it I think...we should do that."  Then your butt hears the horse being snapped into the cross-ties and boots -- scraping the asphalt pretty quickly until they finally fade away.  Once you finish, you simply hose the blood off your rasp and head for the next appointment.


The trainer is at a show.  A note on the shoeing board says to check Buddy.  You scratch your butt and think, "Buddy who?"  You finally find a groom in one of the stalls talking to a horse.  She says, "Oh hi!"  You ask, "What's wrong with Buddy?"  She says, "Oh, he's lame."  You seek clarification: "Who's Buddy?"  The groom:  "Oh. I thought you knew.  I don't."  You say:  "You don't?"  She says: "No, but I knew a horse in Florida with the same name.  What a coincidence!"  You go back to the shoeing board and check the list.  Under a horse named Benjamin, is a note that says, "Vet wants you to...."  The rest has been smeared off and replaced with...'Pizza Hut -- Tues./4:00.'   You gaze down the aisle way in the direction of where you last saw the groom talking to the horse.  For a second or two, you actually consider asking her about...instead you change the shoeing board and write:  Buddy and Benjamin meet vet at Pizza Hut -- Tues/4:00.  Smiling, you head for your truck.   

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The trouble with 'smart' horses -- conclusion.

Trygve [image: ajuell]
Fastest horse in the world one Saturday

Part III

Somehow I escaped the sale's grounds, though I believe I was chased for some miles by at least two bloodstock agents from California.  I finally lost them on the Bellevue connector where the new Highway 520 abruptly ends -- seems they ran out of money part way to Redmond.  You can always tell when things are going badly when they build a three-lane bridge on a four-lane freeway.  But the bigger problem still remained:  The Mrs..  See, she had already been shopping for the new Cadillac El Dorado -- her ransom for agreeing to live on a farm -- the only decision remaining being the color.  Trygve's sale was intended to cushion that annual blow to the finances -- 1 Cadillac = one less unaffordable stud fee.  Farm finances and divorce court are all about one compromise or another.

The owner and I agreed to just lie.  The horse didn't seem to care -- he was just happy to be home again.  We said that Trygve fell down and wrecked his knee.  Actually, I fell down and wrecked my knee running from that pack of angry bloodstock agents, but of course I didn't matter in somebody else's lie.  I then painted the colt's knee with all kinds of disgusting stuff in case the Mrs. hired a private detective to unravel our story.  The Mr. was forced to finance the El Dorado since our cash-flow had taken a turn for the worse. No, we never got caught but since all the conspirators are still alive, there's still a possibility of doing a stint in purgatory with the Cadillac dealer.

So Trygve went on that fall to get broke with the rest of the tribe.  Pretty sure he fractured a couple of rider's collarbones in the process since he still suffered from chronic boredom.  He didn't like just galloping in one direction every morning so every once in a while he'd just reverse the field so to speak. That normally made things pretty exciting for everybody -- including the stewards, who suggested on a few occasions that the horse might enjoy racing in Europe.  And sadly, that assessment was pretty close to the truth.  The colt's world had become a mundane, repetitive on a carousel, and he had begun to shut it out... to quietly sulk. 

He didn't race at two, though he attracted a lot of attention just the same.  He was fast; damn fast, but erratic.  He seemed physically mature, but like a lot of 2-year olds that perception could be a deceptive conclusion, and with his kind of speed it was decided to hold him back.  And Longacres had a reputation for producing some pretty fast fractions on its own, which is not always conducive to keeping a horse sound...or alive.  But over the following winter, a couple things happened.  One day at the feed store I spotted a pick-up truck loaded to the roof, pulling a horse trailer equally stuffed with junk and one old pony horse.  It had Maryland plates on it.  Inside, I ran into the owner's of this Dust Bowl era menagerie and introduced myself.  The two refugees turned out to be Larry and Sharon Ross, a pair that would write their own story in northwest racing over the ensuing decade.  But for now, they were new in town, broke and ambitious for a new start.  They wanted to train on a different coast and perhaps most importantly, they wanted to train their way.  We got them set up with work on one of the breeding farms in the area while Larry began the arduous task of attracting clients, horses and perhaps the most difficult for new trainers, convincing a skeptical racing secretary that they deserved stalls at the track.  Stall assignment was a make or break proposition for a trainer.       

Trygve went back to the track his 3-year old year.  In the interim I had spent a lot of time with Larry and Sharon -- we had become good friends.  They had gotten a couple of stalls at the track and attracted a few clients.  They trained very differently, constantly altering routines with their horses and rotating them on and off the track.  They looked at each horse as an individual and adjusted their routine to fit that horse, unlike most trainers who took the cookie-cutter approach and made the horse conform to the 'system.'  Gallop 4, walk 1, gallop 2, breeze on the naseum.  And gee, to every body's amazement (resentment perhaps), the pair had immediate success.  And in the background was this farm manager, who knew this really talented horse who really needed...well, you get it.

Loyalty is an admirable trait.  Sometimes a little too admirable.  I lobbied hard for a change in trainers.  I honestly believe in the notion of different strokes for...and perhaps the idea that you are either part of the solution or part of the problem.  That happens in all facets of life and as unpleasant or perhaps as wounding it might appear to the ego, stepping aside for the bigger picture is not an admission of failure, but rather a salutation to the greater possibilities for the game.  But I suppose that can be a hard decision when you are the closest to the flame.  I had a little distance, a lot less at stake and perhaps that was the difference between blind admiration and the kind of clarity needed to make that kind of a call.  It didn't happen.

Sometime that spring Trygve was also adopted by a stray puppy who had decided to live in his stall.  It was a good match, as the colt trained exceptionally well for a couple of months, winning two allowance races and gaining the reputation as one two 'speed' horses on the track.  The two would meet a month later, the same year that Mt. St. Helens blew its top.  It was one of those races where two horses hook up about a 1/4 mile out of the gate and the rest of the field might as well go home.  When it was over, Trygve had won the duel -- the timer's clock showed 107.2, though there was some debate that he had equaled the world mark of 107.1.  Either way, it was about the fastest six panels anybody had witnessed in quite some time.

The next week, Trygve's puppy was killed in a hot-walker accident.  It was decided that he didn't need a dog.  He returned to his erratic ways on the track and those long periods of simply staring out into space.  The decision was made to geld him, assuming that might reduce his sulking.  It didn't.  Finally he began running for a price and was eventually claimed, fracturing a knee somewhere in California.  He was given to his groom, an older black man who had a small ranch of his own.  He used his savings to have the colt's knee fixed as best it could be repaired, and from what I heard would ride him  around in the evenings and introduce him to the neighbors.  Normally around dinner time.