In the Shadow of Horse

In the Shadow of Horse
In the Shadow of Horse

Monday, June 8, 2009

To the True Horsemen of the Racing Game

Here’s to the Jockeys

If only jockeys could speak their mind like trainers. Last year Big Brown’s trainer criticized his jockey for pulling the big horse up with a widely publicized hoof infirmity. This year Woolley, a Chip off the old trainer’s block if there ever was one, felt the need to blame Calvin Borel for misriding Mine That Bird, for moving too early in the third Leg of the Triple Crown.

It seems everyone accepts jockey criticism. The first words out of both of the trainers of the last two losing Belmont favorites, were words of criticism for their riders, yet both trainers failed to properly prepare their horses to partner with their jockeys. As human nature goes in horse racing, both trainers found it in their hearts to shift the blame from themselves to the riders. Sportswriters find little trouble going after jockeys as an easy target, as well. Desormeaux last year, Borel this. Nice.

These athletes who ride thoroughbreds are little, and they are humble. Jockeys know better than to find blame in their horses or their trainers, as they know there will be another day if only they make it alive through the race at hand. Jockeys are the true makers of this game — the jockeys and their mounts. In a jockey’s world, once the gate opens, everyone else is superfluous but their horse and the other horses and riders in the race. In a horse race decisions are made, yes, judgments upon which races can be won or lost.

Yet, with jockeys once the race is over, everything is superfluous. They are alive. They pinch themselves, yes, I made it. Jockeys leave the should-have-done-this, should-have-done-that for the next race. They adjust and learn from their mistakes to a highly efficient degree. Jockeys leave the riding commentary to the trainers and sportswriters. When jockeys comment negatively on the trainer’s ability, they often lose future mounts. When jockeys gripe about sportswriters, they get bad press. Jockeys are wise. Horses make one very wise, especially if one rides them in rough company for big money. Like horses, jockeys know when to keep their mouths shut.

You did not hear Kent Desormeaux criticize Big Brown’s trainer for failing to adequately prepare the horse to be in a partnering mood last year. But indeed, the trainer failed to prepare the horse to collaborate with Kent. Brown was rank and washy and unmanageable. See last year’s summary of the Belmont, Horsemanship and Horseracing.

This year Woolley failed to prepare Mine That Bird to rate well over the Belmont route of ground, and whom does he blame? Calvin Borel, the Derby-riding savant.

The angst Preakness runner-up Mine That Bird was weaving in his Belmont shedrow all day. Weaving is a stereotypy improperly managed racehorses take up with. Seems Woolley was busy elsewhere other than in the shedrow where he should have been enriching his horse’s life before the Belmont. As a result, the Kentucky Derby winner took to cantering in place on the way to the paddock. Generally, this is not a sign that the horse has been prepared to rate. Racy horses do not rate well nor easily. The trainer is responsible for the condition of his horse. The mental condition of Mine That Bird was not conducive to rating the mile and a half Belmont. The trainer failed both the horse and the jockey.

Let us take a moment and bow our heads to the jockeys. They take all the risks and talk about none of them. They take criticism close-lipped and quiet-like, the true horsefolk they are. All the risk is theirs, yes, but the blame for losing a race is not theirs, not in the last two Belmonts at any rate.

Like horses, jockeys are survivors. They have class. Jockeys emanate class. The organization that oversees thoroughbred horse racing is called The Jockey Club for a reason. Jockeys rule this game quietly. Each and every race they are riding to survive, and riding well.

From my rabbit hole in the infield, I say let us all take our hats off to the game’s true friend. Here’s to the jockeys! Spills and wrecks will break their bones, but words will never hurt them.

Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sportsmedicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.

Dr Gustafson provides consultations regarding the design and management of equine facilities and horse training methodologies to best accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses. He provides information and management assistance creating natural approaches to maintain equine health, prevent diseases, and resolve lameness.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Mine That Oxygen, a veterinary take on the Derby victory

Mine That Oxygen: a Vet’s Take on the Derby
Chalk that Derby win up to efficient use of oxygen. No mysticism or surprises in the equine physiology and podiatry camps, just good old dependable O2 at work, along with some nicely-nurtured hooves. Mine That Bird’s road trip from New Mexico brought the horse down into the oxygen the other runners in the Derby came up to, allowing a significant and readily apparent advantage as the race shaped up around the turn into the stretch run. Yes, the 135th running was a freight-train-passing-a-bum scenario if there ever was one, the bums being the other gaspers in the field groping for the oxygen that Mine That Bird sucked up down the stretch run ahead of them.

And some stretch run that was (and how did you like the call? The announcer seemed completely depleted of air.)

The outcome is not really all that surprising to the exercise physiologists and hoof bio-mechanicists laughing in the wings, not to mention the cowboys. Bird’s Rocky Mountain High conditioning stimulated the production of red blood cells by causing a release of endogenous erythropoietin naturally, and natural is the way to go these days as polo ponies attest.

High-altitude acclimation training is one of the oldest endurance strategies, and the affect appeared stunning. By the time Bird crossed the Ohio River into Kentucky his blood was attracting Louisville oxygen like Churchill Downs had attracted dreamers, sucking the stuff right of the air as we watched. If some of you are still wondering why you were feeling a bit lightheaded toward the end of the race, now you know why. I was sorry to hear a couple of ladies fainted, but such is the price to watch an oxygen harvester like Mine That Bird take a race.

Not only did Bird’s blood have the iron to carry the oxygen, his tremendous nares had the shape and flare to inhale the oxygen, much like his hooves had the shape and flare to handle the mud.

Did you notice the Bird had all four legs wrapped? Some consider leg wraps oxygen stockings, and after that performance more will become believers in the strategy. Lower leg pressure wraps can improve a runner’s max VO2 by increasing blood return from the legs to the heart. Additionally, Bird’s body shape and flying style made the perfect oxygen-assimilating piston, as did Calvin’s aerodynamic ride. With horses, each gallop is a breath you know, breathing being interconnected with running, a breath per stride. Did the mathematicians get Bird’s stride count? When they get it all added up, Bird outstrode the also-rans, outstriding equated to outbreathing the competition, enhancing his aerobic capacity further.

Note the oxygen miner’s nose and throat. The winner has the finest nostril flare of them all, pouring the essential horse racing juice into his lungs, to his big heart, to his gliding muscles, gliding muscles harboring a sweet reserve of oxygen to accelerate down the stretch run.

Like his black hooves handled Kentucky mud, his nostrils and blood kept him metabolically astride. The Miner held sway, I’d say, and would have most likely held sway against Rachel and Revenge had they chose also to follow him across the finish line.

With glide like his, Mine That Bird hydroplaned over the Kentucky mud. Yes, it appeared the horse did not break the surface tension like the other plodders along. Those water bugs that run across ponds, what are they called? Boatmen, yes, Mine That Bird’s hooves became his four boatmen, so oxygenated he was. Mudder hooves, yes. Mudder physique, yes. Mudder stride, yes.

What else made this the best Derby ever? Mudder lightness, as in the tapering trailer ride from the mountains. Tapering? you ask. The strategy of reducing intestinal volume to enhance mobility and flight is long practiced, and in this Derby metabolically perfected by New Mexican cowboys, whom it appeared also lost a few pounds on the trip to Louisville, and perhaps will lose a few more as the Triple Crown wears on. Tapering not only reduces a horse’s weight, but it also prepares them physiologically to run a route of ground. It appropriately alkalinizes them, naturally. With a Birdstone horse like That, why Woolley thought he ever needed to ride a motorcycle we will never know.

Gelding, the only gelding in the field wins. Gelding allowed man to domesticate horse like gelding allowed the Bird to win the Derby in gentlemanly fashion. Mine That Bird’s mare mining days ended some time back. On May 2 the Bird mined both oxygen and mud most efficiently. He did not have to bother himself with the hundred plus fillies in heat around the Churchill Downs backside that morning. No, Mine That Bird focused on running, and that lightened his load considerably, as well.

Before we end here, let us all express our gratitude to Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, and her professional team of regulatory veterinarians for effectively representing the health and safety of all the 20 horses entered in the Derby this year.

Sid Gustafson, D.V.M., is a novelist and equine veterinarian specializing in thoroughbred sportsmedicine and equine behavior. He currently practices regulatory veterinary medicine, representing the safety and welfare of thoroughbred racehorses.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Thoroughbred Culture

Society and racehorse culture continue to tryingly adjust to the new age of horseracing. Racing jurisdictions became overly permissive regarding medications through the past, the pro-medication argument being to protect the health and assure the comfort and well-being of the horse. The medication experiment went too far, and has failed, with widespread medicating resulting in the adaptability of the horse being exceeded (Eight Belles and too many others).
Racing jurisdictions and regulatory veterinarians are working diligently to improve racing safety and thoroughbred soundness. Previously accepted medication practices are being rescinded on a widespread basis in response to the untoward shift of racehorse medications to achieve competitive advantage. Across the board this year medication has been significantly reduced. Pre-race and post race examinations have been intensified. Soundness concerns (The Pamplemousse) and medication incidents will remain prevalent as we adjust the management of our relationship with the horse.
The blame lies with us all, and it is all of us who must contribute to make racing safer, and to improve the competitive ethic and our relationship with the horse.
In time horsemanship will once again replace medication, and the horse will be appropriately considered, and allowed to race with its senses fully intact. Blinkers take the sense of sight partially away from horses. Nose and mouth aids take the sense of smell and vomeronasal insight away from horses. There is a long tradition of masking these senses in horseracing.
Why do trainers take these senses away from horses? They do it so the horse focuses on the race and does not spook or become unmanageable, in many trainer's minds they do it for the safety and welfare of the horse. The industry is sorting through all this in the best interests of the horse. These practices are subject to change, and the change, while welcome and timely, will be painful at times.

Dr Gustafson provides consultations regarding the design and management of equine facilities to best accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses. He provides information and management assistance creating natural approaches to maintain equine health, prevent diseases, and resolve lameness.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Understanding Horses

Equine Behavior Statement
Revised and Expanded
March 23, 2009
Sid Gustafson DVM

In consideration of the horse’s nature and behavior horsewomen and horsemen are obligated to provide horses an appropriate environment, proper nutrition, sufficient sociobehavioral circumstances, as well as ethical training and horsemanship modalities. By nature the horse is a grazer of the plains, a social and herd animal, and flighty. Horsemanship and training are best accomplished through behavioral understanding of the horse and facilitation of the horse’s nature, rather than by force or coercion.
Horses are ideally trained in a relaxed, calm state. Training that puts the horse into the flight or sympathetic state generated by fear and contained by ropes or pens is discouraged, and not in accordance with acceptable standards of well being.
Horses graze and walk together 60-70% of the time under natural circumstances, eating and moving from spot to spot independently but within a few meters of the next horse. Stabling should make every effort to accommodate or recreate these long-evolved grazing in motion preferences for proper physiological function and mental health.
Horses require other horses for proper health and prosperity. Horses require the constant companionship of other horses. A horse should seldom be kept alone. Horses being mixed with other horses and expected to share resources should be properly acclimated socially, and be given the required space to adjust to new herds without injury or undue stress. Every effort should be made to provide horses with the social benefit of appropriate companion horses through times of stress and illness.
Horsewomen and men need to appreciate the sensual nature of the horse, and understand the physiological needs of the horse. Horses prefer the open view, and if they cannot be with other horses, they need to see and smell other horses for proper behavioral functioning and responsiveness.
Water is the most important nutrient, and must be provided in consideration of equine behavioral preferences.
Grazing is the preferred and predominant equine activity. Horses did not evolve to metabolize grains and non-structured carbohydrates, or to remain stationary for even short periods of time.
Play and sleep are naturally occurring preferences that require accommodation however horses are housed or stabled, as deprivation results in behavioral deterioration.
Horses are physiologically dependent on shared social grooming and sensual contact companionship. If stabling precludes these preferences from fulfillment, then every effort need be applied to replace or recreate these needs on a daily basis.
These behavioral considerations apply to horses in transport, and for those horses too, however unwanted, man is obligated to provide the proper environment, social functioning, nutrition, medical care, and exercise to sufficiently assure health and comfort.
As to performance, every care and precaution need be taken to avoid exceeding the adaptability of the horse. All of the horse's normal natural sensation should remain fully intact and functional without undue pharmaceutical influence. The horse's metabolic, physical, medical, and behavioral limitations must be monitored by equine veterinary professionals on an intense comprehensive basis.

Dr Gustafson provides consultations regarding the design and management of equine facilities to best accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses. He provides information and management assistance creating natural approaches to maintain equine health, prevent diseases, and resolve lameness.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Contemporary Horsemanship

Contemporary Horsemanship Pursuits

The centaur portrays something significant about our horsemanship desires. That primal mythological being displays our metaphoric ideal; head, arms, and torso of horseman or horsewoman blending gracefully into the body and legs of horse; Equus sapien. Those who ride horses understand this conceit clearly; to be the horse, to become the horse. Sophisticated Thessalonian Greek tribesman imagined and mythologized this manhorse creature, a cultural reflection of their emotional and physical blending with the species. The centaur expresses pastoral man’s exalted and cherished association with the horse. The symbol defines the willing partnership many contemporary horsemen seek. This book is intended to encourage people to refine their relationship with horses.
Centaur passion is expressed today as natural horsemanship, a renewed manifestation of our desire to connect with horse in a willing and conciliatory partnership. More than ever, or ever in recent memory, people seek unity with their horses, partnerships based on understanding and trust rather than relationships that are a result of dominance or coercion. Horsemen hope their horse engages in their wishes happily and readily⎯dependably, consistently, and reliably⎯wherever and whenever they ride together. A willing partnership based on time, trust ,and understanding is a high hope indeed, but a hope that has reached its true promise in many horse/man pairings through time.
The ideal connection facilitates empowerment from the horse, a controlled extension of our selves, a naturally manifested power that can make one delirious. After a century of widening disconnection, America’s horse culture is attempting to renew and refine the relationship that has bonded mankind to horses for millennia. Horsemen continue to seek a connectivity of their minds to the horse’s body as horsemen always have.
The horsemanship ideal reigns in America as it has reigned through time: that the rider’s thought becomes the horse’s action, the centaur effect, control of the horse’s feet, becoming one with the horse. Modern horsemen report that horse/man relationships approach this ideal with regularity. The nature of the horse, however, is such that the regularity remains uncertain. The horse retains the power to have the last word in this language of horsemanship we explore. The horseman’s goal remains to have a say in all the horse’s actions. A resurgence of conciliatory training methods has emerged offering horsemen/women a trusting and reliable relationship with their horse that is not forced or coerced, a relationship based on mutual respect and understanding.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Language of Natural Horsemanship

Be assured your first edition! Click the above title.
THE LANGUAGE OF NATURAL HORSEMANSHIP now available for preorder on amazon.
"Finally, horsemanship told in the present tense." Mr Ed

Dr Gustafson provides consultations regarding the design and management of equine facilities to best accommodate the inherent nature and behavior of horses to facilitate effective, willing training and performance. He provides examinations and management assistance creating natural approaches to maintain equine health, enhance performance, prevent diseases, and resolve lameness.

Dr Gustafson's novels, books, and stories