May you be peaceful, Eight Belles, nibble the pasture of the Heavens and run only when you want.
Monday, May 05, 2008
I find myself unexpectedly saddened by the death of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby. It is one of those incidents that bring a cascade of thoughts and memories, a reminder of the difficulties of maintaining harmony and balance in this modern world. I imagine horse racing to have in roots in the celebration of the horse; what an amazing and supernatural event this riding of a horse must have seemed to the first equestrians. Let's see who can go the fastest and not fall off. No doubt it was learned early on that it was not just the horse or just the rider that made the winner but a combination; 1+1= >2 . A symbiosis ensured between human and horse, the latter was fed and protected (when possible) from predators, and the former was provided with swift transportation. The domestication of the horse allowed any number historical events in the human realm to take place, notably the invasion of Europe (and China, too) by Ghengis Kahn (his hordes "introducing" sauerkraut to the populace, so it certainly wasn't all bad) and the Spanish conquest of the Americas, which left some horses, runaways or abandoned, who became the noble Mustangs, now tragically endangered. On the home front horses, and oxen too, made farming possible on a larger scale creating surplus that could be sold or bartered; economic structures ensued. As the centuries passed humans created specialized niches for their equine companions. Some were fast, some could jump, some were fast and could jump too, some were strong. Always there were those who loved the animals and those who wanted to use them for their own self interests, and doubtless those had were a mixture of both motives. As a teenager I was lucky enough to have the oppurtunity to ride. In retrospect I think my mother agreed to this dangerous occupation both from her own unrequited love of horses and it seemed safer that the sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll teens of my generation were getting into. My horse was a sort of rescued race track thorobred, he had become entangled in a barbedwire fence, the time it took for him to heal put him, age wise, out of the running. I enjoyed most just caring for this enormous shining creature. I groomed him to an immaculate state on a daily basis and when show time came created perfect braids up and down his long neck. What I didn't enjoy was the, what I felt was excessive, use of force to get the horses to do what was considered to be the right thing, like jump over four foot fences. In the big picture the various sorts of bits, martingales, studded nose bands and nubby spurs were not too bad. But I refused to use them. Probably resulting in my not always getting all the way around the jump course. Flat classes were more my forte`, both Pleasure and Equitation. Before my teen years were out my horse began to come up lame. He had a genetic condition of the Nervicular bone (a small bone in the foot that becomes inflamed). Although we thought we had him vetted for this, in fact because the previous owner had paid for the vet, the full report had gone only to them. At any rate I wouldn't have missed a moment with Nicodemus, not one second. He lived out the rest of his days in hilly pasture with an occasional trail ride from his owner who bought him from us for $1. Back to Eight Belles. Breeding for racehorses is inbreeding. Resulting, for one, in weaker legs. It has been conjectured, not by myself, but by Those Who Know, that horses have gotten as fast as they are going to get. And yet they are pushed, and pushed and on weaker and weaker legs and they give everything they can. They have great hearts. But remember they are prey. The instinct racing cashes in on is fear, and love. Horses love to run and they do it for fun, and yet fun and fear can be intertwined. Humans know that, think of bungey jumping. Would a horse run as fast without the use of whips and spurs? probably not. What would races be like if these implements were outlawed? Slower, but no less interesting. There would be no loss of revenue at the tracks, betting would continue, horses would be bought and sold, trainers and jockeys paid. Breeding and training would have to have a different set of values............but it could be done.