John Shirreffs was just on TVG, talking about his amazing mare Zenyatta, who gave most of the viewing public around the world heart palpitations by choosing to wait until the last possible second to put her head in front of the hard-fighting St Trinians. He said something I found very thought-provoking: Zenyatta has to have routine. He finds a happy routine for her and keeps her in it, day in and day out. Racehorses lead regimented lives.
He’s right, of course, and it doesn’t take a master trainer to tell you that you’d never change a racehorse’s daily pattern once you found one that worked. If Mike Smith got up on Zenyatta and announced that he was going to ride her in a completely different fashion, everyone would riot. (A lot of us would appreciate it if he would ride her slightly differently, and possibly not let her get fifteen lengths behind the lead. But not completely.)
Basically, when you have the race on the line, and the business on the line, you go the extra mile to keep the horse as even as possible. You find a pattern that works, and you keep the horse in it. Logical.
I suppose if you’ve got upper level eventers, or grand prix show jumpers, you’d make the same decisions. If you have a barn full of grooms and employees hopping to it, why not? But for those of us that lead lives and also have horses… not a chance, kiddo.
So the racehorse, who’se been living the diva life, gets retired. And things change somewhat. Here are the ground rules I offer any racehorse when they are retired to the sporting life:
- You can clamor all you want, but I am not getting out of bed to feed you breakfast at five a.m., and I am not going to ride you at six a.m. I get up at eight. Or nine. Or ten if I was out late. And you will just have to learn to live with that.
- Equally, you will not be getting dinner at three o’clock. Dream on. I’m busy.
- By the way, sometimes I get home really late. I have a life outside of you.
- If I choose to ride you at eleven a.m. or five p.m., you are still expected to behave, think, and try.
- Sometimes it will be raining and you will be outside. You are a horse. Get wet. Learn to love it.
We’ve all seen tragic horses fresh off of the racetrack, haven’t we? “Oh, I’m wet. Oh, I’m hungry. Oh, I’m so tired.” It’s like a barn full of Oliver Twists, gazing up at you with empty bowls and haunted eyes. Child stars, forced to live in the real world. Until they learn to love it, it’s a very cruel place! Until they discover the excitement of chasing dogs, and biting each other, and jumping logs, and galloping sideways down forested paths, and carrots offered from adoring little girls.
And of course, some of them will live diva lives forever. Zenyatta will live in a routine to the end of her days. Only she’ll be worse: instead of being a demanding racemare, she’ll be a demanding broodmare. But we’ll still love her.