Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Thanksgiving, horsey style

As we prepare to lock ourselves down at the Thanksgiving table tomorrow, and overindulge in home cooking and the warmth of friends and family, many of us are undoubtedly contemplating the many things that we've been thankful for in this past year. I am thankful that I have a good job, that I have a close group of friends, that I live in a city that affords me unparalleled opportunities, that my mother is happy and doing well, and that I am comfortable when I know that so many others are struggling this holiday season.

In my horselife, I am also thankful:

What elements of horsey living make you thankful for your equine companions?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Riding for The Cure

Apologies for this week's hiatus, I was home in bed nursing myself through a bad sore throat. And I wanted to spend a little time reflecting before I wrote this post, because its subject matter touches me at my most personal level. I hope in writing it I will achieve resonance with others who have shared a similar experience, and welcome your comments and your thoughts.

This year breast cancer descended into my mother's life and single handedly deconstructed all my family's expectations for indefinitely gliding through our days safely cocooned in health and happiness. The day of diagnosis is a traumatic and frightening one, where threats of the unknown and fears of mortality-come-too-quickly overwhelm everyone confronted with the news. I cried that whole day, undone with thoughts of "what if?" and "what now?" and "how do I survive without HER?"

But the day after diagnosis, the journey begins, and the diagnosed and her supporters step forward into the next phase, learning all that needs to be about tests and surgeries, treatments and chemos, and how to tie pretty silk scarves with just the right mix of gravity and panache. Months of treatment commence, with regular updates and check-ins, good days and not so, and a buoy of hope hopefully large enough to push back the fearful thoughts, that creep like wolves to wait with snapping teeth outside even the most optimistic of emotional thresholds.

And then suddenly, voila, for those successful with their treatment an end date finally appears. The last chemo is taken, the radiation is complete, and the person is ostensibly "cured." Having beaten back the disease and its attendant demons the survivor and her family and friends must now turn to "life after," and living it to its fullest without succumbing to doubt about whether remission will remain remissed. Interestingly, life after cancer can be in some ways as frightening as life right after it’s discovered – though the fear becomes diffuse instead of acute, and lingers as the subtext of "what if?" beneath every interaction.

But my mom is doing well, and her infallible optimism and determination to fulfill her future goals and live to the ripe old age she deserves, help us all to be particularly thankful during this holiday season that we've still got many holidays left to share with her. Anyone who's experienced breast cancer, or another cancer, personally or with a loved one, will no doubt also say a concerted thanks around the holiday table next Thursday. We want to appreciate the success of living with joy and hope once disease redefines how much life can mean.

To tie all this back into The Equine Reader, I wanted to highlight the work of an equestrian group called "Riding for a Cure," which raises money for the cause in the best way that I can think of. The group brings horse lovers together for a yearly trail ride during which it collects thousands of dollars in donations for cancer research. Please consider, during this holiday period, of donating to this or any one of the many available non-profits that are seeking a cure for breast cancer. It is a disease that strikes without justification, throwing lives into disarray, but it can be overcome, and we are only hoof beats away from doing so. To all those currently living with or fighting the disease, know that our hearts, and our horses, are behind you in the struggle.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A Week of New Equine Welfare Initiatives

A great week for equine health and welfare, as two notable collaborations of horsepeople made strides towards a better future for America's equine population.

In Massachusetts, four racehorses retired from Boston's Suffolk Downs were moved this week to the newly incepted Plymouth County Sherrif's Farm, where inmates of MA corrections facilities will train and care for them and future retired charges. This program, sponsored and initiated by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Suffolk Downs president Richard Fields, provides a dual benefit to the Plymouth County community. It's positive impact will extend to both the ex-racehorses lucky enough to take up residence there during their rehabilitation, and the program's inmate groom/trainers, who can use the program to gain certification in various backstretch vocations.

And in national news, a National Equine Welfare Code of Practice received endorsement from the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Quarter Horse Association, the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the U.S. Equestrian Federation, and the U.S. Trotting Association. The American Horse Council (AHC) drafted the Code to "outline in generic terms what it means for an organization to be committed to the responsible breeding, training, care, use, enjoyment, transport, and retirement of horses...and also provide a guide for equine organizations that are formalizing a welfare philosophy and policy for their respective organizations." Jerry Black, DVM, chair of the AHC's Animal Welfare Committee and ex-president of the AAEP, describes the initiative as a "'a standard for the horse industry and equine organizations to evaluate their individual welfare policies and initiatives...[which] clearly states the principles necessary to achieve a level of stewardship for the horse that always puts the welfare of the horse first."

Kudos to everyone involved with the development of these horse friendly initiatives for enacting positive change and development in the equine industry!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cross promotion as a boost to racing's fan base?

As we all know by now, Zenyatta made history this past weekend with her sterling win against the boys in Saturday's Breeder's Cup Classic (gr. 1). It was her 14th consecutive win, and with it Queen Zenyatta earned the honor of being the only female to have bested the males on the Classic stage. Her greatness and legend are now unparalleled, and the only horse with any potential to steal her thunder for 2009 Horse of the Year honors is Princess Rachel Alexandra.

Zenyatta will likely be retired after this year's Classic, but that hasn't stopped the horsey set in Miami from clamoring for a match up between the monstrous mare and her feminine filly counterpart. Ken Dunn, the president of Gulf Stream Park, has thrown down the gauntlet to challenge Zenyatta and Rachel to meet on that field February 6th in the Donn Handicap (gr. 1), held only one day before the Super Bowl goes off at the Dolphins' Landshark Stadium. This brings up an interesting query in light of the fact that this year's Breeder's Cup TV viewership failed to increase its numbers over last year. Should horse racing be cross promoted to reach a more sizeable audience?

For many sports fans, horse racing only enters the viewing consciousness during the Triple Crown, while most of the year's other races are populated by the "die hards." Several people I talked to after the Breeder's Cup had no knowledge of either Zenyatta's previous acclaim or the fact that she had done the impossible by beating a field of seasoned, champion males at the sport's highest level. Would horse racing's competitions be helped or hindered if they were timed to pair up with other notable sports events? Would their audience be diversified or poached by the partner sport with the double billing? From a marketing and sponsorship perspective, having the year's two greatest female Thoroughbreds go head to head on the same weekend as the year's two greatest football teams seems like a winning proposition. Which other of the year's notable races could have been cross promoted to improve fanship and awareness?

Friday, November 6, 2009

World Champions' Weekend

A Breeder's Cup weekend edition of the The Equine Reader today as the ponies gear up in Santa Anita for two days of World Championship competition. While Careless Jewel hopes to sew it up in today's Lady's Classic (gr. 1), Zenyatta will seek to outclass ten Grade 1 or Group 1 champion male horses in tomorrow's Breeder's Cup Classic (gr. 1), and add a heroic 14th feather into her winner's cap (winner's bridle?). Her competitors include Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Travers Winner Colonel John, Travers and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, and the Irish bred Rip Van Winkle, who is one of the horses currently predicted to give Zenyatta a real run for the money. The fillies will be lining up to the post in Santa Anita in just a few hours, so here's wishing a safe trip to all of this weekend's competitors!

And for any racing fans out there looking for a truly creative way to promote and support racehorse rehabilitation efforts, ReRun a 501 (c) (3) racehorse adoption organization, will be holding its annual E-Bay auction of horse created "Moneigh" paintings starting on November 29th. Several celebrity horse artistes have been featured as past Moneigh creators, including Smarty Jones and A.P. Indy. All proceeds from the purchase of these paint(ing) horse prints will benefit ReRun's adoption centers.

On a related note, I would be remiss as a stock horse stalwart if I didn't mention that the Thoroughbred folks are not the only equine contingent poised to crown new World Champions over the coming days. Today also kicks off the first day of competition at the American Quarter Horse Association's World Show in Oklahoma City. Good luck to all those competitors looking to ride, slide, jump and jog their way into QH history!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Horse People with Heart

With the news so regularly peppered by stories of humans and equines in conflict due to abuse, neglect or ethical shortcuts, it can be helpful to remember all those out there that are doing good for, or with, the equines in their life.

During this, the week leading up to the year's biggest showdown in horse racing, I'd like first to applaud the seven racing contingents that have pledged a portion of their earnings during the Breeder's Cup to assisting the New Vocations racehorse rehabilitation organization. Were every owner or breeder to donate just a small portion of yearly winnings in such a manner, organizations like New Vocations and the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, that ensure that racehorses continue to have productive lives off track, would be able to operate in much better stead.

On their Twitter feed today, linked to a story that deserves attention, about an organization that is using horses to do real good via their Equine Assisted Therapy program. By taking their horses into the community and introducing them to autistic children, adults with eating disorders, nursing home patients and now hospice patients, the folks at Reins of Change are sharing the magic of their horses with those who could most benefit from their inspiring and hopeful presence. I have witnessed first hand the joy, independence and dignity that these gentle, patient creatures can imbue in anyone struggling to overcome life's hurdles, and truly appreciate the gift that Reins of Change is providing. Sick or well, able-bodied or not, I'd assume that many of us horse lovers can relate to the need to have our horses as support during emotional and physical challenges.

Does anyone out there have more examples of humans doing good with their horses? Feel free to leave comments and share your stories!