Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Things We Ask Of Our Horses - And Ourselves

There's some thoughts that have been bouncing around in my head for a few weeks, mostly since California Chrome lost the Belmont, and then a week later, two eventers were killed in competition on two separate continents. I've been thinking about what's fair to ask of our horses and ourselves, and how we define fair.

Note: I am drinking a kind of beer I've never had before. You have been warned.


Tradition. It's a word that I would like to greatly reduce the usage of. Of course, it has some benign contexts ("We have to get milkshakes! It's tradition!"), but often it becomes an excuse for pigheadness. We can't change the way we do things because that's the way we've done them, and we've always done them this way because no one's ever changed them. It's a cycle. So when ideas were floated about changing the Triple Crown, they were shot down. You can't change the Triple Crown, it'd diminish the accomplishment. Except the Triple Crown has changed, just as racing has. The track surfaces are different, the drug rules have changed, the tack has changed, veterinary medicine and farrier techniques have advanced in leaps and bounds, even the horses themselves have changed. So why would tweaking the schedule be that much more different? Some people raised the prospect of limiting the races to horses entered in all three with no fresh challengers, but I like the idea of stretching out the time between the races. Have the Derby on the first Saturday of May, the Preakness on the first Saturday in June, and the Belmont of the first Saturday in July. That way, fresh challengers become less of a problem, and three-year-olds don't have to go through the toughest five weeks in horse sport. Everybody wins.

It didn't diminish Secretariat's victory that he raced on a different track surface than Sir Barton. Does it matter that Affirmed was probably fed a very different diet than War Admiral? So, let's change it. Give the young'ins a rest. Winning 3 races back to back is already a remarkable feat, even if they are a month apart. I highly doubt the Triple Crown is ever going away, so let's help the horses out.

And let's help ourselves out. Eventing is also having a "come to Jesus" moment while trying desperately to pretend it's not. When two people die in different competitions on two continents, serious changes need to be made. But the powers that be will just keep twiddling their thumbs and create safety theater rules aimed at punishing the lower levels whilst ignoring that most of the serious accidents was taking place at the upper levels. A few rogues like Denny Emerson have made some suggestions that actually may be effective, like lowering the x-c speeds or limiting the amount of trappy combinations that can be on the courses, but that doesn't seem like it'll happen soon. Just convince people to buy more fancy helmets and vests designed to stop their necks from snapping when their horse falls on top of them.

We don't like looking at the system as a whole. We're so busy inspecting the veins on the leaves that we've neglected to notice that the forest is burning down around us. When people keep playing by the rules that were made when horses were expendable, horses pay the price. Royal is not my toy, he's my partner. And I'm not the exception. Horses are not living ATV's, they're dance partners, and the rules of our sports need to recognizes them as such. If a fence keeps causing problems, take it off the course. If people are throwing three-year-olds into an trial by fire that hoards victory like a starving man, change the rules. We don't have to be bound to tradition if it's not helping us.

Our horses deserve our best efforts.

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