Thursday, October 29, 2009

Super Stud

Before we jump into today's post, let's all take a minute and admire one of racing's handsomest celebrities: Medaglia d'Oro.

That gorgeous face is responsible for Rachel's stunning looks, and some of this year's top prices in the yearling market. It's no surprise that the king among sires is now standing at Darley stud along with a host of other recent shedrow legends, including Bernardini, Street Cry, Street Sense, Discreet Cat and Hard Spun. That Darley America has raised Medaglia d'Oro's 2010 fee to a "reasonable" $100,000, thereby, in Darley's own words, ensuring "exceptional value" to potential breeders, is testament to the stallion's capacity for throwing gorgeous babies that also happen to be blazing fast. Considering the values some of those babies have already captured at auction, $100,000 for a Medaglia foal seems almost a bargain.

And the Blood Horse reported today, that, just as I mentioned yesterday, a big race to watch in this year's Breeder's Cup will be the BC Dirt Mile. The field is ripe with heavy contenders from Godolphin Stables, and several entries have the year's most prestigious competitions already under their girths. Several of the Dirt Mile contenders are cross entered with a first preference in the Classic itself, which highlights the strong potential that almost every one of these horses has to wind up in the winner's circle. It will be a great race to watch, and the first place finisher is anybody's guess at this point.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Breeder's Cup Pre-Entries Announced

Big news in Thoroughbred racing today as the pre-entries have been announced for the Breeder's Cup races next weekend in Santa Anita. A wide smattering of horses are cross-entered in two races, including Zenyatta, the famous track swallowing mare whose contingent has yet to definitively decide whether she will be a Classic race contender or a Ladies Classic contender. The buzz seems to suggest that she will vie for the Classic itself, and there's no doubt she'd be a formidable presence there. Another potentially challenging race will be the Breeder's Cup Dirt Mile, which has several past Triple Crown contenders in it's field of pre-entries, including Chocolate Candy, Cowboy Cal, Pyro, and Quality Road. It will be interesting to see how the races shape up by next weekend.

And in case you were looking to enter into a racing partnership in the upcoming future, John Smith's bitters ale in England has come up with a unique way to let laypeople in on the action. All one has to do is purchase a pint of John Smith's to register for one of 250,000 shares being sold through the promotion for "Smithy, The People's Racehorse." The promotion is part of John Smith's renewed sponsorship of the Grand National steeplechase. That could become one crowded winner's circle, should Smithy's career prove successful!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Thoroughbred Breeding Updates

Thoroughbred breeding updates for today’s horse bites, featuring recently released Jockey Club numbers, and a horse of a different color...

  • The Jockey Club’s Oct. 22nd “Report of Mares Bred” reflects the general contraction underway in the breeding industry, as total numbers of Thoroughbred mares bred nationwide fell 13.5%, to 45,317 coverings in 2009. Pennsylvania was the only state that showed an uptick in breeding rates, and a significant one, with 1,603 mares bred, and an increase of 29.6% over 2008 numbers. As the Blood Horse magazine reports, this is “directly related to the growth in purses at the state’s racetracks, which generate revenues for racing from their popular racetrack casino operations.” Kentucky’s numbers were down 10.6% from 2008 levels, but the state still accounted for 42.2% of all mares covered during 2009, maintaining its historic leadership as the industry’s breeding nexus.
  • And, just for fun, a rare “painted” Thoroughbred filly named Painted Angel was recently sold at the Tattersalls auction in England. The chestnut and white pinto is out of the parti-colored Thoroughbred stallion I Was Framed, an American bred horse now standing at Rectory Farm in England. The beautiful filly would certainly make a unique addition to the solid colored racing scene, but her new owners have as of yet, not decided what her career ambitions will entail.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thou Shalt Fly Without Wings

"...a horse is a thing of such beauty...none will tire of looking at him as long as he displays himself in his splendor." -- Xenophon

"The essential joy of being with horses is that it brings us in contact with the rare elements of grace, beauty, spirit, and fire." -- Sharon Ralls Lemon

"A horse gallops with his lungs, preserveres with his heart, and wins with his character." -- Tesio

"Horse thou are truly a creature without equal, for thou fliest without wings and conquerest without sword." -- The Koran

For thousands of years humans have existed in awe of our equine counterparts, filling our poetry and prose with laudations for the heart, grace and spirit that flows so freely from them. Horses are both wild at heart and gentled in hand, and anyone who has wiled away hours aboard an equine companion, trekked with them through the countryside and enjoyed the synergy they provide us with the natural world, or watched them gallop unfettered across a springtime pasture, has likely shared the recognition that these creatures provide us glimpses into what it means to be truly free.

It is hard to encapsulate this feeling into words, what it means to thrill and wonder at the complexity and spirit of the horse, and yet I have run across an article that just might have done it. It is written by Klaus Ferdinand von Hempling, a widely known practicioner of balanced and synchronistic horse training (his book Dancing With Horses explains natural horsemanship at its most elemental level). The article asks what exactly differentiates our bond with the horse from that we share with all manner of other animals that humans have domesticated into their service. His answers are concise and lyrical at the same time.

He explains that it is the horse's inherent wildness, existing within it regardless of its level of domestication, that keeps us in awe and in respect. Unlike elephants, or camels, or other beasts of burden that we have taught to carry us humans around, with horses " we have wildness under us, with us, beside us, forever untameable...Being with a horse means that you are 100% with nature, 100% wildness, timeless wildness beside you . And then you have the chance to cope with these ever-wild animals: this is the fascination of the horse. It is fascinating to train this kind of animal because you are with these timeless, ancient principles. Sitting on top of the animal, you are absolutely depending, like a storm on the ocean, like it's minus 40ยบ in Greenland or Antarctica. So this means I have to cope with 100% wildness, 100% nature."

"Wildness under us, with us, beside us, forever untameable." Our horses allow our spirits to return to freedom and disinhibition, and for this we remain forever in their stead.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Stallions will be stallions

With modern horse training's widespread commitment to the natural horsemanship movement, horse owners have gotten the benefit of learning to understand how to utilize their horses' natural instincts and psychology when training and handling them. But how do you apply that methodology when the horse is a stallion? These lusty creatures are often assumed to be aggressive, pushy and domineering, requiring a strong hand and lots of discipline. Their testosterone laden behaviors would seem to require "horse shouting" as opposed to "horse whispering" to keep in check, and I have certainly seen them handled that way, with varying results.

It was, therefore, with great interest that I read a recent article in America's Horse Daily on natural horse keeping techniques that keep stallions happy and manageable. The article's suggestions are thoughtful and empathic, providing good solutions that keep the horse's mental and physical health in mind. Some of them are fairly common sense, including making sure that your stallion has enough work to do to keep him out of trouble (use cow work as a way to get him to focus his natural aggressive tendencies, for instance), and being clear to firmly and patiently assert your personal space when feeding or leading the horse.

Other suggestions might be less readily practiced in the equine industry, but depending on the circumstances, still quite viable. The article's authors, for instance, recommended keeping ones stallion in the mix with other horses as much as possible, because isolation and separation are more agitating for stallions than for mares or geldings due to their deeply ingrained herd instincts. Though the tendency might be to keep stallions separate and out of harm's way, this article's authors argue that the opposite strategy actually proves more effective. This extends to the way stallions are stalled, as bigger is always better when planning housing for stallions. They need room to move, and ideally, the capacity to see out of their space and survey their horizons, much as nature intended them to do. Letting stallions be stallions, therefore (within limits acceptable to their human counterparts), appears to be the key.

Do any of you readers have other tips and tricks for stallion keeping?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Are there benefits to being able to select your foal's gender?

The 21st Century has seen the advent of a wide variety of reproductive technologies for the human population, and veterinary technology is not lagging too far behind. Artificial insemination and embryonic surrogacy have been widely available to horse breeders for the last decade, and the cloning of several carefully chosen equines, including the legendary jumper Gem Twist, have proved successful. As a society we continue to push the boundaries of what can be accomplished by tweaking or manipulating fertility and reproduction, and as we continue to renegotiate our normal assumptions about how and when horses can be bred, unique ethical queries will undoubtedly arise.

Case in point, the AQHA Journal's recent article detailing the sexual selection efforts underway at Moondrift Farm in Ft. Collins, CO. Here horses are being bred selectively for gender, through a technique that allows X-and-Y-bearing sperm to be separated and utilized on demand. The operation estimates that it can guarantee gender in its program's foals with a %93 percent degree of accuracy, making this technology seem a relatively sure bet in terms of veterinary efficacy.

What are the ramifications of breeding for one gender or another? I can see this question coming into play acutely in industries where show horses are the main focal point, as winning stallions can go on to have more lucrative breeding careers than mares. Should that mentality result in an overselection for male foals, the consequent flooding of the market with stallions of the same bloodline could lead to those same stallions becoming devalued. Along those lines comes the risk, also addressed by the article, of overconcentrating one breed's genetic pool, and perpetuating genetic weaknesses. There is also the potential, as the article points out, of furthering the transmission of genetic diseases that are passed down via an X or Y chromosome. Perhaps this risk could be negated through standardized genetic testing, but that testing assumes that we know which diseases to test for.

What other pros and cons might exist for a breeder who opts to select their numbers of fillies and colts? How might this change breeding strategy, and the dynamics of the breeding industries at large?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Introducing "The Equine Reader" !

As my visitors may have noticed, Jumping Back In has been rebranded!

It has been a long while since my first post about “jumping back in” to the equestrian community after my move to NYC, so I wanted this site’s title to reflect its commitment to delivering current news stories and contemplations on the state of modern horse life. The Equine Reader is the end result. Enjoy!

As for today’s contemplation, it centers on NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop’s
recent announcement concerning the potential for developing a governing committee for the entire Thoroughbred industry, thereby changing its structure to reflect a “league” strategy akin to the NFL. While Waldrop supports the idea in theory, his main argument concerns the impossibility of collaborating the divergent arms of the industry under one main umbrella, and gaining acceptance for centralization of an industry in which individual decisions and profit motive drive most current business operations. The NTRA believes that participants in horse racing prefer to continue improving standards for safety and integrity (via the NTRA Alliance) than to turn operations decisions over to one commissioner or approval board.

I do agree that the task of centralizing something as variegated as the Thoroughbred industry might be a mightier challenge than would ever prove logistically possible. Deliberations about how and why to institute a top down structure would be likely be continuously stymied by conflicting interests. On the other hand, it’s worked for the FEI, even though that group controls a wider range of interests from across the globe, and represents
multiple breeds and disciplines. Every substantial move made by horses competing through the FEI is logged and tracked, and while competitive decisions are left in the hands of owners and trainers, they have the support of FEI regulation. It occurs to me that having centralized control somewhere in the Thoroughbred industry could help to unify its messaging to horse racing fans, and also cut down on the red tape required to construct reform legislation.

How about you faithful readers? What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Girls for the Ages

This past weekend was a momentous one for the leading fillies in Thoroughbred racing, with Rachel Alexandra's cohort announcing that her 2009 campaign had officially come to a close, and Zenyatta powering past the field of Santa Anita's Lady's Stakes (gr. 1) to secure her 13th straight win, and match the record previously set by filly Personal Ensign. Her contingent has yet to choose whether Zenyatta will take on female competitors in the Breeder's Cup Ladies Classic (gr. 1) on Nov 6th, or attempt to beat the boys in the Breeder's Cup Classic (gr. 1) on November 7th. It would not be in the least surprising if she did race on the 7th and flew past Mine That Bird and the BC's other contenders to attain an unprecendented place among horse racing's greatest.

While I didn't spend this past weekend happily munching hay at Churchill Downs, or blasting by legions of competitors to clench my place in athletic history, I did get to spend a highly enjoyable Friday night watching the QH Congress's Freestyle Reining competition, and thrilling to the spectacle of brightly costumed Quarterhorses (several of whom put on stellar bridleless performances) vie concurrently for the Open Pro and Open Non-Pro titles. In the Pro Division, Pete Kyle of Whitesboro, TX rode Whizs Bronze Star to a 230.0 point score to win the title, and in non-pro, Kimberly Crupper rode Quick Enterprise (whose uniquely crafted Angel/Devil/wings costume made him look capable of taking off) to a 224.0 point score for the win.

Unfortunately, aside from the reining, there was no other competition taking place on Friday, so I had to satisfy myself with some hearty shopping instead. Oh the sacrifices we make for our horses! :)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Peaceful Thinking on the Thoroughbreds

With the announcement of our President's win of the Nobel Peace prize for diplomacy and global vision during the first year of his presidency, the pundits have already begun to question the efficacy of awarding the prize when much of Obama's enactment of global change is still in the formative process. He has set the stage for sweeping diplomatic revisions, but has yet to bring many of them to fruition, both because of the relative recency of his move to the White House and because of the depth and complexity of the problems that threaten global peace. It's not surprising that there would be criticism of awarding such a tremendous prize for a lot peaceful thinking, instead of a lot of peaceful doing.

Though these concerns are playing out on the political stage, it leads me to question how much has changed since the inception of the reforms instituted by the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and those supporting their efforts within the Thoroughbred industry. The NTRA has put many changes forward since the years of Eight Belles and Barbaro; they have instituted revisions in whips, and toe clips, steroids and racing surfaces, but the fact remains that horses are still breaking down from their participation in Thoroughbred racing. Many of their injuries are sustained during normal training and racing activities, and don't result in the reverberations to the industry seen during the Eight Belles trauma, but they keep happening nonetheless. Calder Racetrack was just accredited by the NTRA, in part because it has the most highly detailed system of any track for logging and reporting racehorse injuries and fatalities. But is it enough to implement standards for peaceful thinking, if those standards aren't necessarily changing the fundamental problem? I am by no means suggesting that these new standards aren't heralds of change for the industry, long overdue but tangible steps forward in the attempt to improve racehorse welfare and safety. Can we, however, challenge Obama's win on the global stage, when many of our domestic policies (for racehorses and otherwise) haven't yet brought about the sweeping reforms that they set out to accomplish?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

A "good, bad, and downright ugly" edition of Jumping Back In for readers today, to highlight the highs and lows of this week's equine industry news.

  • I'll start off with some good news. reported yesterday that the Humane Society of the United States has awarded natural horseman Pat Parelli "Humane Horseman of the Year" for his work in retraining rescued horses to enhance their adoptability and ensure that they get second chances after recovering from abusive or neglectful circumstances. Parelli is well known across the globe for his work teaching owners how to communicate better with their equine friends and overcome behavioral issues with natural horsemanship techniques. Bravo to him for extending his skills to the service of rescued horses.
  • As for the bad news, at least it has a happy ending. Horse & Hound magazine reported that a Fat Face advertising campaign featuring a macho male model forcibly reining his horse in some misguided attempt to express his brand's marketing dominance has been withdrawn from circulation, after equestrian community outcry over the campaign. That an advertising campaign showcasing such blatant disrespect for horse well-being would get past that company's editing room is surprising in itself, but at least they had the decency to pull the campaign.
  • The ugly news, and it really is downright ugly, comes to us from England, where a man pulling a trailer on the back of his vehicle purposefully sideswiped a woman riding a Westphalen gelding. The horse suffered severe lacerations down the entire length of his body and unknown amounts of psychological trauma. I am not entirely surprised, knowing the other types of abusive situations that have plagued the equine industry this year, but it is almost unfathomable to me as to what type of person could inflict that type of harm and trauma to both horse and rider.
  • And to wrap up, we'll go back to the good news and wish Zenyatta a very, very lucky #13! The super mare is vying to win her 13th straight victory when she competes at Santa Anita in this Saturday's $300,000 Lady's Secret Stakes (gr. 1). This year has seen the ladies of Thoroughbred racing reach unparalleled success in terms of speed and endurance, and I salute their efforts. Ladies first!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Pony Pilates!

New Yorkers are religious about their workout habits. It's a very fitness conscious atmosphere up here, and many of our urban residents are committed to some type of regimen to ensure they stay svelte and healthy. Yoga and Pilates are favorites of the workout minded in the area, with private studios available in every neighborhood, and classes offered at every major gym. I myself am a fan of modified Pilates workouts, as I tender a strong core section to be a major requirement for maintaining strength, good posture, and endurance both on the ground and in the saddle. Building one's ab and back muscles provides support for your spine and lends strength to the other muscle systems of the body.

It was not, however, without skepticism that I read a recent article touting the benefits of Pilates for horses. I mean, just how does one get a horse to strengthen its core independent of the rest of its body? The good news is, the article makes a compelling argument for a Pilates inspired practice with horses, providing a series of exercises, done from the ground, that require a horse to stretch and flex the muscles surrounding his midsection. The concept was developed by equine physiologist Hilary Clayton, DVM, from Michigan State University (and her colleague Narelle Stubbs) who competes with her Pilates strengthened Arabians in dressage.

Pilates based exercises for horses are organized into three categories, that increase with difficulty as you cycle through them. The first set is the "mobilization exercises flex," which is targeted to improve flexibility through the spine and midsection. The next group of exercises are "core strengthening," and both improve the horse's posture and help stabilize the major muscle groups that hold his rib carriage and hips in proper alignment. As Dr. Clayton points out, these exercises "'are particularly good for horses with a sagging top line or hollow belly.'" The final set of exercises are "balancing exercises" that "improve balance and stability for athletic performance by teaching the horse to control manually induced shifts of his weight." Because some of these movements require the horse to be positioned on only three legs, they are contraindicated for horses with nervous system or other similar disorders.

To learn about the unique exercises involved with the process, read more here.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Down to the Wire

It's Thursday and the weekend will be upon us before we know it. No horses in sight for me this weekend, but next Thursday I hit out for the Midwest to attend the All American Quarter Horse Congress. I can't wait to escape to its indulgent atmosphere of county fair food, jingling spurs, and horses, horses, horses! Until then, I can tide myself over with a couple of notable horsebites:

  • A follow-up audit report was issued this week by the NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, to detail whether recommendations set forth after a state-sponsored 2007 investigation into the health, safety and welfare of the city's 203 working carriage horses had been implemented. The report found that of the 11 recommendations laid out by the 2007 audit, 7 had been implemented, 1 had been partially implemented, 2 had not been implemented, and 1 was no longer relevant. In the release, the comptroller pushed for further action to be taken to ensure the enactment of the outstanding recommendations, and further protect the safety and health of NYC's working horses. The carriage horse industry here in NYC has long found itself at the center of ethical debates because many argue (myself included) that mixing horses with one of this country's busiest, most traffic laden urban environments is a recipe for disaster. While the ASPCA has firm guidelines in place concerning the working conditions for carriage horses, one can always find horses in varying degrees of fitness and health working the streets.
  • The year's September Keeneland thoroughbred yearling sale met with a some of the most precipitous declines in sales and prices in recent history, and an increase in buyback rates from 2008. Confidence in the strength of the thoroughbred breeding industry was buoyed by the positive trends in August at the Saratoga Select Yearling Sale, but Keeneland's 42% drop in gross income from 2008 provided serious temper to that optimism. Only six horses at the sale garnered seven digit figures, including the second priciest horse at the sale, a $1.3M half sister to the famous Rachel Alexandra, out of Medaglia d'Oro, purchased by Charlotte Weber of Live Oak Plantation.