I am horse racing, because it was my life for so many years. It was my family. It was in my daily thoughts. How were our horses? When did I get to go see them? Horse Racing for me was and always will be about the horses.
Horse racing started for me by my grandfather’s side listening to him talk with his friends about our horses, and telling me stories about his horses from days gone by. I remember him teaching me how to feed a horse, so my thumb didn’t get sucked into the horse’s mouth. If I close my eyes, I can see him holding my hand encouraging me to keep my fingers together as the horse took the carrot. I can see him showing me how to hold my hand, so the horse could sniff me as he said, “It’s your way of introducing yourself.”
Horse racing started for me as a kid at the breeding end of it. My grandpa had a couple of mares that he bred, so I started out with watching them grow big tummies and delivering these beautiful foals. My grandpa gave me Big Ruckus, this beautiful chestnut that looked a lot like Secretariat. He had so much energy as a foal that my grandpa put in a tetherball, and I would play tetherball with him. I remember my mom had a sweater the color of alfalfa, and the foals were always trying to eat it off of her. I remember watching them run and play. I remember one night being told to go into the barn and stay. I climbed the hay bales and peered out between two slats of wood to see my grandpa and dad struggling to keep one of our mares up as she struggled with colic a week after giving birth to Inga. They fought so hard to save her in the middle of a storm. She didn’t make it, and we had to raise Inga on goat milk. Horses come first…always….that is what my experience in horse racing taught me.
Horse racing exposed me to different cultures, different beliefs, and different ways of looking at the world. Horse racing is filled with all sorts of amazing people and characters.
Horse racing showed me what real riding was all about. I learned a lot from all of the jockeys as they often gave me riding tips. I am forever grateful to all of them for bringing our horses home safely, and if you think a jockey just sits on a horse during a race, you are very wrong. Only people that don’t ride would think a jockey did nothing. They are the most balanced, strong riders out there.
Horse racing introduced me to my favorite people on the backstretch; the grooms. I watched them constantly. I learned from them on how to be patient, compassionate, yet determined when it came time to take care of a horse. I watched them communicate quietly with each horse, I watched them care for their legs after a race, I watched how they monitored every single thing about each horse they cared for, and I saw how much they loved each one.
Horse racing brought me closer to my grandpa in so many ways. I’d sit at his feet as we strolled through the memories in his horse albums, and then we’d move on to his Richard Stone Reeves books studying all the greats. He taught my brother and I how to do fractions out of the Racing Form, because all of the times are done in fractions. He taught me how to look at horses, what to look for, but more importantly to realize that sometimes the horses with the worst conformations, were the best horses because of their hearts; never judge a book by its cover. We claimed a couple of horses nobody would have touched because of their looks, yet they were the best we ever had. My grandpa had a way with horses that I wish I had. He could move so easily with them, he always seemed to know what to do, and his love for them was amazing. He was in absolute awe of them, and it was something he wanted me to know and understand
God, how I love watching them run. There is nothing like watching a thoroughbred in full stride gliding above the ground.
Horse racing allowed me to go down to the barn one night when my whole world came crashing down. My friends were murdered, my parents were struggling to stay together, and then my horse Scubber died at the Pomona Racetrack after a strange virus killed so many. We thought he was going to survive it when he suddenly died. I drove to the track, snuck into Vehicle’s stall and curled up at his hooves crying….sobbing my heart out. He stood over me not moving a muscle as I finally let it all out. He got it, and that beautiful horse of ours helped me not do anything drastic by being there for me.
Horse racing taught me to care on so many levels for all and how to respect those in my life.
With all of this said, with all of my love for this sport, American horse racing needs to change. I have no idea why 23 deaths have happened at Santa Anita. Maybe it is because of one cause, but I doubt it. I think many choices have led up to this moment. Lasix, Bute, Osphos, Cortisone, anabolic steroids, and any other drug they find out there to hide problems….all of these choices lead to tragic endings. People who own horses need to take charge of their horses instead of going along with what they are told is needed. Research, research and research your horse’s issues to decide the best course of action. Horses first.
We never raced on Lasix, and our horses never came back to the barn drowning in their own blood or collapsed on the track. If they are bleeders, they should be retired and rehomed my grandpa would say and I say. We need to adopt the International Standards and then ask what else we can do. Horses come first.
Yes, there are some bad apples out there working with horses on the track, and the International Standards will help eject more of them out of the sport. They have no business being on the track, and we need universal rules across the country for violations.
This whole drugging thing has to stop. Horse’s are addicted to drugs, because people are addicted to speed and money. Horses come first. I just got back from Kentucky. The last time I was there, I got to play with Affirmed and Alydar about eight months before Alydar died. There is a lot of controversy around his death, and it revealed one of the ugliest sides of the horse world in all horse sports. Horses come first. Last weekend we drove through rolling, green pastures filled with thoroughbreds. Everywhere I looked I was reminded of this wonderful history my grandpa taught me as a child. It’s an amazing place, and I wonder if it will exist in ten years.
I am now on the other side of horse racing. I take in OTTB’s, and I will champion them as long as I can breath. I love them with every ounce of my being. They deserve to have good homes and a good life after everything they give to us. My recent adoptee needs a lot of work to get to a healthy place, but he’s worth it. Chaco is worth it. They all are worth it, so this is my horse racing.