Oftentimes, a lot of effort is put into finding a horse’s true calling. When you get a retired racehorse into your barn, you can’t help but immediately begin profiling him, storing away little tidbits of information, trying to build up a resume for him like a high school counselor advising a teenager on what they ought to consider as a college major.
“He’s very steady and large-boned, good in company, bet he’d make a nice field hunter.”
“He’s a bit hot and athletic, doesn’t know how to manage all that energy, I’d make a show jumper out of him.”
“This horse is the whole package – sound, good-tempered, athletic – can you say eventer?”
And so on.
It’s interesting how much time is invested in finding the perfect job for the horse, as opposed to how much time we tend not to spend in finding the perfect job for ourselves. Not necessarily the job that might come easiest – I mean, you might be really awesome at accounting, but you might despise it, and haven’t we all known a truly gifted jumper or dressage horse that hated his job with a passion, and ended up cheerfully running barrels or moving cattle or something else equally improbable?
And you might not necessarily hate your job. You might be thinking, hey – I’m pretty good at being an accountant, and the hours aren’t half-bad and the wage is okay and, quite frankly, my desk is nice and I have my own potted plant, so what’s the problem here? If you’ve got an event horse who is always winning the dressage and falling behind in the jumping, you might be thinking – maybe he ought to be a dressage horse.
And then there’s that nagging question that pops up – and I doubt horses get this question, as their primary concern is grass/grain/not being eaten by predators/avoiding the pit bull ghost in the corner. It’s a bit existential for horses, and I don’t give them nearly as much credit for psychic abilities as some. But, you know, that nagging question – should I be doing more?
Some people react by volunteering. Some react by going into local politics. Some join the Peace Corps and build schools in the Peruvian mountains. Everyone has their own cure.
I’m an okay trainer. Here’s the thing: I like my job. I’m good at it. I like the desk and the hours and the potted plant – that’s all great. But if I’m an okay trainer, I’m a better writer. I’m a decent eventer. I’m better at dressage. If I can help one horse at a time by reschooling, I can help dozens (or more, one hopes) by writing about everything that goes into it, from the racing industry to the reschooling, from the people and organizations on the front lines of OTTB rescue and adoption to the horses and their riders at the boarding stables and in the showrings, succeeding together.
And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
I’m giving up the farm life and moving back to New York City to write full-time. I hope you’ll come with me. There are horses there in spades – the urban horses that fill the thousands of stalls of New York’s racetracks – and the horse people that work with them every day. People say they want to know how to handle a retired racehorse – I want to show how racehorses live. There’s no surer way. If you want to know how to approach the future, learn about the past. That certainly goes for our OTTBs. It’s time to dispel stereotypes. Time for some backstretch reporting.
Ironically, I’m fairly certain at some point a high school counselor told me, “You don’t want to train horses for a living. You like horses, you like writing – why don’t you write about horses?”