Sssh.. Don’t Tell Anyone, But We Love Our Horses

We were talking today about the Goldikova groom video. You haven’t seen it? Oh look, here it is!

The Goldikova groom video is unique and hilarious and touching all at once, and it shows a side of racing that somehow gets missed, time and time again, by every level and division of media. Because it isn’t that uncommon, what Goldi’s groom did. It happens. My friend told me she got into such a bad habit of celebrating her horse’s wins on the main track that she was given a specific pole to stand by and told “Do not leave this spot.” Because, of course, no matter how happy you are that your baby won a race, it’s not safe to run onto the racetrack while horses are still galloping at forty miles an hour down it. Not that they’ll notice you… but still.

And that’s when we realized something: no one ever tells the public just how much these horses mean to us.

You can argue back and forth about a hundred different flaws in this sport, but here is the one that sticks out to me:

These horses are loved.

These horses are somebody to someone.

And as long as there is a perception in the horse world that racehorses are things, objects, non-personas, then racing’s image amongst what could be its staunchest supporters will continue to suffer.

How many of your horsey friends don’t like racing, think racing is cruel, think Thoroughbreds are the victims of a sentimentless vacuum where they are treated like machines? Go on, think about it. I know you know at least one person who thinks like that. Chances are, you know a boarding stable’s worth of people like that.

And who can blame them? For the outsider looking in, what do you ever hear about a horse’s personality – unless it’s the millionaire star of the barn?

It would be easy to assume that no one loves the $7,500 claimer, that he lives each day in a 12 by 12 box having hay thrown at him, having tack thrown on him, having dirt thrown in his face on the racetrack.

How would you ever know otherwise, unless you were there in person and talked to his hotwalker, to his groom, to his rider, who know him intimately, can tell you about his propensity to stretch his forelegs like a cat before he leaves his stall each morning, his utter refusal to eat anything resembling a nutritious fruit or vegetable but his voracious appetite for bagels with cream cheese, the exact rhythm of his footfalls as he walks around the shedrow?

Who run to kiss him when he crosses under the wire?

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18 Comments

Filed under Media Coverage, racetrack life, Racing, Stereotypes, Uncategorized

18 responses to “Sssh.. Don’t Tell Anyone, But We Love Our Horses

  1. Jessica

    Yes! What’s sad to me, when I have conversations about racing and how horses are treated with people who don’t have much experience with racehorses, is that they struggle to understand exactly what you’ve written about above. Horses can be pets or things, but they can’t be work animals with jobs to do and still loved, celebrated, cried over by their people. It’s like, culturally, we’ve lost the ability to conceive of the complex, intimate, symbiotic animal-human relationship that can be observed every day on the backstretch.

    • Nicholas

      Interesting observation Jessica, I think you’re probably right.

    • To me, even back when I was doing show horses, horses are just like people.

      And by that, I mean, they have to earn a living the same as we do.

      They’re too big and expensive and land-hungry to be pets, in my book.

      I suppose that makes me cruel and heartless to some. But I adore them just the same. There’s no other reason to do what we do. There are easier ways to make money. I could get a proper job and work indoors in a climate-controlled space that doesn’t kill my complexion and gives weekends off. And make more money. But when you love horses – this is what you do. Yes, whether you think they are nicest when they jump high or when they do canter pirouettes or when they are first around the racetrack – you do it because you love them.

  2. Love this post. I have to go put it on facebook…

  3. laurie

    yes..I love this. One of my many status updates that day was about this groom!

  4. Love it, too- and I own one of the lower level OTTBs…while I don’t know his history, I believe someone loved him along his journey through the tracks…

  5. Portia Winters

    Great Natalie and so true. I am constantly defending the good people in racing to other horse people. Somehow we need to change how people perceive racing and racehorses. I took my 14 yr old OTTB on a big trail ride last weekend and he was the best behaved horse out there so everyone asked what breed he was and they said oh he must not have raced look how quiet he is. I thouht that was pretty funny as he raced for 10 years and won ar 200,000 on the track! He is wonderful and full of personality and smart and loyal and loves people. What more could you ask for.

    • While I lounged against the stall wall, occasionally checking Twitter on my BlackBerry, holding the lead shank of a dozing racehorse who was being body-clipped without the aid of sedatives, I began mapping out my Thoroughbred book.

      We start here.

  6. mpb

    i started grooming this summer
    and i literally think of those three fillies every day.
    they were low level claimers, but i still brag about how they broke their maiden while i took care of them. one went 5 for 5 in the meet, but the most important thing was how we got to know each other. One of the fillies kicked and tried to bite for the first couple of weeks and she came around to enjoy being groomed by the end of the meet. I still know their scritchy spots and favorite snacks. I’m planning on visiting them over holiday break … horse racing is like nothing else. i connected so deeply to how Goldikova’s groom felt when I watched that, I couldn’t help but grin for the rest of the day. passion, gotta love it.

    • Love this.

      Knowing their scritchy spots is key. It can turn the most sour horse into your best friend.

      Grooms know things about their horses that only they know… riders know things about those same horses that only they, the rider, know… We all speak in our own languages to our horses.

      Your tumblr is simply amazing.

  7. Goldikova’s groom running along the rail like that was one of my favourite parts of the Breeders … I love seeing grooms go wild when their horses win, they’re the ones who sweat it out with them day in an day out and know the horse like no other

  8. Natalie, my very own daughter–now a convert as you know–had that view until not that long ago. Even knowing the folks we got Bar from, she was very negative about the industry. “I don’t want to hear about horse racing, Mom. There are other great horses in other disciplines, so I don’t see what is so special about Zenyatta.” (Or something along those lines.)

    A racehorse named Forrest came along to show Katie the heart of a Thoroughbred and suddenly my nearly-20 year-old is as horse-crazy as she was at 12. Now she wants to know more about racing as she works through how to retrain this horse, and the more she learns, the more she accepts and appreciates the Sport of Kings.

    It’s addicting, I tell you.

  9. No doubt, grooms and hotwalkers love their horses. Unfortunately, many owners look at horses as a widget and they pay the bills. If owners and trainers were like the grooms, this sport and harness racing would have no problems.

  10. Good Post!
    I used to do this when my horses ran, though I was always on the apron of the track. I used to tell myself…calm down, no running, no screaming… but then you get caught up and just can’t help yourself.
    I got so excited once, I tripped and fell…it was pretty funny… but my horse won, so I didn’t care a bit!

  11. Zoe

    Once again, what a lovely post. I agree with pacingguy about how owners consider their horses a way of making money, and it’s not just limited to racing. There are so many hunter/jumper riders and eventers and Western Pleasure riders and riders of any other discipline that you can think of that treat their horses simply as a means to win competitions or to make money. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that – but I fail to see the perceived difference in how racing is more soulless than any other horse sport.

    And my absolute favourite boy at my old work ran his first 2200m race a couple of weekends ago and won by three lengths – I was absolutely ecstatic. I rode him from the beginning of his breaking-in to his first trials, and he was just such a honey…always amiable and plucky and willing to please – except if you tried to bridle him without a bucket to stand on, he was a bit of a smartass and knew how tall he was! And to be honest, I miss him just as much as my own horses. I have dibs on him when he retires from racing and I hope with all my heart that I’m in a position to be able to keep him then.

  12. Mu

    I am a groom at the heart, and this video brought tears in my eyes. But I wonder who thinks they can make money with horses. Who ever has? Honestly.

    Nowadays there is a wave of antropomorphism for horses. It is good that there is a bigger awareness for horse welfare. But there is too much white-tail-rabbit-cuddling group for horses. IMO, They do not understand the horse-world and his key players: first of all the horse, then trainers, professional riders/jockey and carers (groom, vet, farrier). All trainers and pro riders have all once cried at night because of a horse. I believe they love them in their own way, even if some of them abuse horses.

    It is really a tough and harsh profession to work with horses, horses break your heart and people corrupt your soul. But I guess horse-lovers cannot live without horses.

    • Thanks for such a great, insightful comment. I really appreciate it. Anthropomorphism has been bad for everyone in the horse business at some point or another. Horse people live for their horses – we can’t help it, we can try not to, but there it is – there’s nothing else for us.

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