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Best of Horse Nation: Hitching the Six

Photo by Missy Dabolt.

Twenty years had passed since the last time a six-horse hitch had rumbled into the show ring at the Warren County Fairgrounds. Hundreds of horses and rolling wheels had kicked up plenty of dust over those two decades in various configurations — cart horses, farm hitches, unicorns, three- and four-abreast, the tricky single tandem or the four-horse hitch — but the last classic six-horse hitch had come and gone a long time ago, nothing more than a memory now.

It took a brave and confident driver with no small amount of skill to drive a six, and certainly it took six reliable horses who worked together well, plus a full company of ground support and extra equipment and the investment of time to put a six together. Very few of the teamsters brought any more than four horses to the fair any more; numbers had been gradually dwindling over the past few years. Draft horses themselves, of course, were an anachronism now: a symbol of a bygone era that would never come back again, a bit of history still lovingly preserved by a few horsemen keeping the old ways going.

And by us. The scene must have looked a bit like an anthill to a casual observer what seemed like two dozen people flitted about six horses standing on the parched and dusty grass on a hot August afternoon, the show ring eerily silent as the fairgoers waiting in the stands murmured quietly amongst themselves, their eyes across the ring to where we worked to put together the first six-horse hitch that the county fair would see in two decades.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

The six was a long-time dream and a combined effort of three farms: the Swanson family’s Silhouette Acres, the Spellings’ Brokenstraw Percherons and our Painted Forest Farm. The Swansons and Spellings worked together, owning horses in partnership and regularly combining their hitches for the unicorn or the four; in more recent years they had brought us into the fold in the fair barn, with all of us gathering at the end of a long day showing to relax and unwind and chat and pour another cup of coffee. It was likely over one of those friendly and familiar circles that the idea of hitching a six first emerged.

Independently, we had three strong teams: Silhouette Acres’ Percheron mares were always solid and would make up the wheel team, the only team with the ability through the hitch to actually stop the wagon. The Spellings’ geldings would be in the lead, the most reliable team to be that far away from the driver with only his voice and his lines to guide them. And in the swing, the linchpin holding this entire thing together, would be our geldings Chuck and Derek, a tough and reliable team that was getting better and better with each passing season.

The pieces came together slowly but steadily — bits of harness were added as each pair was hooked up and backed in to the hitch, lines passed up to Mr. Swanson on the bench, a header on each horse to hold him or her steady as handlers and assistants fluttered about to hook up additional tongues, eveners, rings and lines, at once foreign and familiar. The spectators in the stands, despite the heat of the day and the amount of time it took to put this hitch together, waited patiently, as though they knew they were in for a real treat.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Barry tightened the lines. Six heads lifted, twelve ears flicked back and then forward as he raised his voice. In unison, hesitantly for the first step and then with confidence, twenty-four hooves stepped forward, manes and mane rolls fluttering in the wind, the polished steel on the harnesses catching the light, the chains rattling as the six Percherons stepped forward to fill the traces.

The Swanson daughters and I clutched each other’s arms in joy as the wagon rattled forward and a whispering rustle flickered across the stands as the hitch rolled into view. Swanson and Spelling on the bench expertly turned the team into the in-gate, and the first six-horse hitch in twenty years rolled back into the fairgrounds with a quiet rumble like distant thunder.

They picked up a trot together, six horses moving like pistons, moving as though they had done this every day of their lives. The sum of them was greater than their individual parts, and as I glanced up and down the rail where we had spread ourselves, Spelling and Swanson and Bentley and assorted family and friends from all three farms as helpers, I knew what it was to be part of a team, working together to create something truly special. We were not individual farms or families on that afternoon — we were one team, working together, just as our six horses pulled together out in the ring.

Great hitch day at the Warren County Fair! Dave won both the cart and the pair hitch, plus the special award for best hitch pair. I placed fourth in lady’s cart and second in lady’s hitch. @chloe_pty in her show debut placed third in senior youth cart in an adorable moment of genuine surprise; Hunter won the senior youth cart and placed third in the senior youth team. A fabulous day for Painted Forest Farm! The crowning moment that really represents what the fair is all about was when we hooked up the six, the first time this hitch has been hooked here in several years. It was a combined effort with horses coming from the Swanson and Spelling families plus our Chuck and Derek as the swing team. It took a village to physically get this hitch hooked up and we were so excited to see it get to the ring for this exhibition. The fair is all about teamwork and cooperation even though there’s also plenty of friendly competition, and this moment seeing our horses coming together really encapsulated that spirit in a moving way. Until next year!

A post shared by Kristen Kovatch Bentley (@thehorsebackwriter) on

Our six horses moved proudly together as the spectators cheered and clapped, and many of us on the rail may have wiped a tear or two (the dust, I’m sure). The team reversed, halted on a dime, trotted another lap as our generous judge narrated from the announcer’s booth about what it had taken to put this team together.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

All too soon, the six was trotting back out of the ring, smooth as silk, the great metal gates slowly swinging shut to bring the draft horse show of the fair to a close for another year. In a few days we would all go our separate ways again, horses vanning off to various corners of the surrounding counties to go back to their own barns and stalls and paddocks, hooked back to their own working wagons, and we would all go with them, dreaming of the time when we were a piece of living history, pulling together as one.

Go driving.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

Best of HN: $5.85M Personal Equestrian Mountain in New Jersey

Yep, the entirety of the peak of Pohatcong Mountain could be all yours to enjoy with your horses. Outdoor arena with a view, anyone? Hill workouts for days and days? Price reduced!

Sometimes a girl doesn’t wanna have to choose. Sometimes I want a private mountain where I can ride or drive all of my horses in peace and stare off into space and think deep thoughts in peace and solitude, and sometimes I want to be close to a city center to get away from the farm for two minutes (these moments are fleeting, but they do happen).

If this description sounds like you too, then bam, have I got a deal for you. This little beauty of an estate in Asbury, New Jersey encompasses the entire peak of Pohatcong Mountain with gorgeous views of the Appalachian range… plus it’s only an hour’s drive from Philadelphia and New York. Win!

Let’s start with a little flyover.

The property boasts 51 acres in total, with additional acreage — up to 100 acres with two homes and multiple outbuildings — available for purchase in separate parcels if you really want to spread out. The farm already has everything you need, however, from the exquisite 10,000 square foot home (with three bedrooms and four and a half bathrooms) to the three barn structures including six stalls. And, of course, look at all of that gorgeous pasture.

Let’s start our tour in the home.

All photos courtesy of Devon LeCompte/Weidel Real Estate

Totally custom, this is a one-of-a-kind home that puts you right in the middle of your farm. From the look of the listing photos, you can glance out any window and see your ponies grazing away essentially right in the lawn, and if that’s not your childhood dream come to life then you’re reading the wrong website.

The house is also chock-full of unique features that have definitely starred in your wildest HGTV dreams, such as this sweeping staircase down which I can imagine myself swanning gracefully in riding attire (rather than the reality, in which I’d likely trip and fall wearing a dirty pair of jeans and a faded holey tee shirt).

My other favorite thing about this house is that you get a, you know, halfway decent view out of most of the windows. Like, say, the kitchen.

And the living room. Hey, what’s that out the window? How about a GORGEOUS VIEW.

And while you’re ruminating over your fabulous day in your gorgeous bathroom. What’s that I see outside the window?

VISTAS. VISTAS EVERYWHERE.

Okay, okay, we get it. If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a walk down to the equestrian facilities. This is, after all, Fantasy FARM Thursday.

How does this sexy thing suit you?

If you’re the kind of equestrian who loves amenities, you’ve got to check this place out. The aisle is done in rubber pavers that look like authentic old brick. Six palatial stalls will have your horses living like kings. The barn is outfitted with a wet fly suppressant system. I didn’t even know I needed that until right now.

The hot and cold wash stall is legitimately nicer than my actual shower… in my house.

There’s a backup generator for just the barn in case the power goes out; find an RV hookup outside for when your friends or family or out-of-town trainer come in for the weekend. Both the riders’ lounge and the cedar-lined tack room (CEDAR, people) are climate controlled. There’s a laundry room, kitchenette and bathroom… all in the barn.

And in case you forgot already from the flyover video earlier, there’s turnout to spare.

(And for your horses, there’s even… you guessed it, a great view.)

Just imagine, Horse Nation. This whole place could be yours for the relatively reasonable price of just $5.85 million.

Your castle on the hill is waiting. Check out this property listing by Devon LeCompte at Weidel Real Estate to learn more.

Best of HN: 6 Things Everyone Who Has Ever Worked at Horse Camp Has Done

Flickr/YMCA of Snohomish County/CC

A few weeks ago I waxed nostalgic about summer horse camp, that equestrian rite of passage for anyone who has ever rocked a pastel Troxel and packed an extra apple in their brown-bag lunch for their favorite camp pony. An equally important period of my life came after I was “too old” for my barn’s summer day camp program — I became not a camper, but instead a volunteer assistant counselor, trading my hours spent helping to keep all the wheels turning on the camp wagon for a sort of free-lease situation in which I spent many hours cantering around in the woods bareback. For a horse-crazy teenager, this was the life.

For anyone else who has ever worked at summer horse camp, this one’s for you. Though our camps may have been many and varied, our experiences were one — here are six things we all know we did.

1. Set up a horseless horse show, purely to wear out the campers.

Especially in those weeks where it seemed that EVERYONE was always wound up at all times, the horseless horse show was a godsend to the nation’s hardworking assistant counselors: my fellow assistants and I would stand in the middle or lean up against the arena wall and call out “trot” or “canter” or “counter-canter” if we were feeling particularly sassy, and watch the campers run ’round and ’round making horse noises and coming up with their own elaborate show names.

Sometimes this technique totally backfired and only got the campers more hyped up. We never really learned.

2. Devised a code language or list of nicknames so you could talk to your fellow assistants without the campers figuring out what you were gossiping about.

Okay, this one is a little mean, but I’ve never been one to shy away from the truth, and I’m sure the assistants older than me did the same thing when I was a camper: sometimes, this was the only way to have a conversation when you were surrounded by the campers all day long, especially if it was a rough week with a few individuals who drove us particularly crazy. I’m sure we also code-named the horses so we could feel cool talking horse talk without the campers being “in the know.”

3. Reorganized the tack room… again.

This was usually a rainy-day activity when the outdoor arena was closed and only one group at a time could ride in the indoor; half of the assistants would come up with some kind of indoor session, perhaps learning parts of the horse or parts of tack, and the rest of us would go through and try to fix the tornado that was a dozen and a half young riders all in a hurry to put their saddles and bridles away.

4. Made up a complicated ghost story or barn legend to enthrall the campers.

Especially while walking along with the traditional daily post-lesson trail ride, we used to come up with elaborate tales to pass the time and keep the campers in our thrall. My childhood barn had the added appeal of being an old Colonial structure with a legitimate mill house right across the street, and neighborhood legend stated that a group of patriots had hanged a Tory, or British sympathizer, during the American revolution, somewhere on the property.

We also had a stuffed animal scavenger hunt in the woods where we trail rode, and one particularly creepy-looking doll earned himself the ubiquitous nickname “Chuckie.” He starred in plenty of horrifying tales and no one ever really wanted to actually find him during said scavenger hunts thanks to our overactive teenage imaginations.

5. Put in legitimate miles around the arena running with first-time trotters.

If FitBits had been around when I was a camp assistant, I’d love to know my mileage in a given summer, trotting around the arena pulling a reluctant yet patient pony along in my wake while the instructor chanted “updownupdownupdown” and the wee tot bounced along trying to figure out how to post. The hours seemed endless, especially in those sticky southeastern Pennsylvania summers.

Consider the favor returned, whatever camp assistant had to run around with me when I was that wee tot.

6. Counted down to the end of camp… and then got sad when it was over.

I distinctly remember one of my best camp assistant friends letting a mean watch tan develop over the course of a summer, and then taking a pen to her arm in the last week and drawing in the hands pointing to 3:00. When we asked her what time 3:00 was, she responded “that’s 3:00 on Friday for the last day of camp!”

And then when that magical hour rolled around and the final bobble-helmeted camper had climbed in the car and departed, a strange sense of emptiness consumed us all: the campers were gone, camp was over for another year, and we had nothing more to look forward to than going back to school in a few weeks.

Go horse camp. And go riding!

Rolex Central Park Horse Show Canceled For 2018 Due to Competition Conflicts

Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Originally scheduled to take place September 26-30 in Wollman Rink in the world-famous Central Park of Manhattan, the 2018 Central Park Horse Show has been canceled due to competition conflicts in a very busy autumn for equestrians.

The World Equestrian Games wrap up in Tryon, North Carolina just the week prior to the scheduled CPHS; simultaneously, the American Gold Cup is running. One week after the planned CPHS date, the FEI Nations Cup takes place in Barcelona, Spain. With the goal of attracting the best riders in the world, the reality for the Central Park Horse Show and its managing entity International Equestrian Group is that it’s simply too tight of a turnaround for competitors and equine welfare.

The cancellation means we won’t see eventing in the Big Apple this year. The International Equestrian Group has not yet confirmed that the popular Arena Eventing Competition will return in 2019. The inaugural showcase was a sold-out affair last September with 24 riders participating. Aussies Ryan Wood and Dom Schramm sped to win the $50,000 class.  Click here to see EN’s coverage of the 2017 Central Park Horse Show.

The Central Park Horse Show was perhaps one of the most unique showing environments in the world — a pop-up show grounds took over Wollman Rink, a dazzle of lights in the dark hush of Central Park, introducing the world of competitive equestrianism to a whole new audience in the heart of New York City. Horse Nation has examined this concept of the urban horse show in past editorials, championing these interactions as opportunities to keep the horse world thriving and growing with new fans and riders.

Fortunately, the CPHS promises to be back bigger and better than ever in 2019, with the addition of a brand-new FEI CSI5* show jumping competition. This format will put the CPHS on an elite list of shows offering such a designation, which is bound to attract the world’s best to put on a great show under the iconic New York City skyline.

CPHS is well-known for its diverse offerings, including dressage, jumping, arena eventing, hunters, Arabians, arena polo, and Pony Club games. We’re eager to see what the International Equestrian Group has up their sleeves for the 2019 edition!

Go riding.

Shelby Allen contributed to this report. 

[2018 Rolex Central Park Horse Show Canceled, Will Return As A CSI***** Jumping Competition In 2019]

Best of HN: Remembering Randy

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

There’s a certain heaviness that settles on the heart when you can sense that something just isn’t right, and that sensation was growing heavier with every step I took across the long pasture on Monday, drawing slowly uphill. I couldn’t pick out the spot in the pasture when I stopped trying to convince myself that Randy was asleep, but by the time I reached him where he lay, his hitch partner Rocky standing sentinel another hundred feet up the hill as though he too was aware — and perhaps he was — I knew he was gone.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Randy was huge, in every sense of the word: a thick, cresty Belgian gelding with the ubiquitous dinner-plate hooves, a barrel-shaped horse built for moving mountains with a personality to match. This personality had blossomed in the last two years since Rocky and Randy had come home to the family farm; Randy might not always be the first to meet you at the gate but he certainly barged through the little herd until he was all you could see.

Like a good leader, he established himself in that position quietly: there was no great big show of teeth or hooves, no blowhard need to assert himself loudly, just his large, immovable bulk slowly muscling his way to the best bale in the feeder, the first spot by the barn door for grain, the run-in shed at the first hint of rain. He looked out for his own, with his first priority Rocky, his hitch partner of well over a decade, and then the rest of his herd on down the line — a leadership position I finally understood fully when I had tried to introduce my new horse Jobber into the herd in the fall only to have him run all over the paddock by King Randy, seeking to defend his people. (Randy had welcomed Jobber into the fold by February.)

Randy, leading up the herd. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

When I had left my teaching position at Alfred University, I was at peace with the concept of saying goodbye to the various horses in the school herd who had been my co-workers and co-teachers for four years. They would be in good hands with the next instructor to step into my position. But as I walked down the long lane to the shady paddock where Rocky and Randy lived, tears blinded my eyes and I walked by memory alone. I’ve struggled for years to do literary justice to the rare air one breathes around draft horses, their presence and indescribable sense of otherness — they are horses like any other in theory, yes, but somehow they are so much more. Saying goodbye to these two and leaving them behind — having taught an estimated hundred-plus students how to drive, plus many other adventures — was the hardest part of leaving that job.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

Surpassing all hope, we welcomed them back into our lives just two years later with the understanding that our farm would be their last home. The team was aging, but had plenty of life left in them: we drove all over our corner of the county, around the farmstand to take customers out to the pumpkin patch, down to the lakeshore to the summer cottages, around a great-aunt’s property and centuries-old barn to awaken the ghosts of years gone by, hauled to the gated community for a season of sleigh rides. It was the team that brought my now sister-in-law into my life while at Alfred, which in turn led to me meeting my now-husband. To give Rocky and Randy a safe, loving home seemed like a fairy-tale ending for all of us.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

I had simultaneously kept my expectations low about Rocky and Randy’s retirement and looked forward to enjoying my time with the team for years: “the boys” were still in great shape, though Rocky had deteriorated somewhat due to the nature of his shivers and Randy had a few more creaks and pops in his joints than he used to. I knew they were here to retire and eventually pass on, and had prepared myself right from the get-go to make sure they knew plenty of love while knowing that this was the final stop. They were estimated at this point to be in their early twenties.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Somehow, it felt fitting that Randy would go this way, the biggest horse in my herd, the biggest presence: there was no sign of any struggle; he appeared to have dropped where he had been standing. Just the previous day he had led the herd at a full charge down the hill to me as I approached with the evening feed; earlier that morning the farm staff reported he had been full of spunk and had taken himself on a jolly chase of some of the cows. A thunderstorm had rolled through, and I can only speculate that it was a bolt from above that took my great big horse away, probably with very little awareness, suffering or pain. He may have been aged, but he looked like he was still in his prime.

Photo by Erik Bentley.

Randy, therefore, would not diminish slowly into old age or infirmity. While I certainly had hoped for more time, there is some peace in this. Passing as he did right in the pasture, it seems as though the other horses were able to see him and be aware that he was gone, especially Rocky, his partner of so many years. In my experience with the passing of horses, there is such a thing as closure for the other members of the herd. It may not make the loss any easier for us as humans, but I believe that horses are graced with both the ability to mourn and the ability to understand and accept.

There are details that will continue to sink in over the next days and weeks and months: Randy’s harness hanging empty in the tackroom, the weeds growing up around the horse-drawn spreader. I did not just lose a horse but a team; Rocky drives single quite nicely, but the sum of a team is of course greater than its parts, and that’s a tough loss to comprehend. I mourn the loss of my beloved giant, but I choose to remember all of the great experiences I had with Randy, and just how lucky I was to get these extra years and to be able to give him a home where he knew he was loved.

Photo by Kaitlyn Bentley.

That evening, as I pulled out of the barn driveway, I turned my head to look out over the pasture where my little herd was grazing: already, the herd seemed somehow diminished without its biggest horse and biggest presence, and yet at the same time, it was as though they had closed the gap around Randy’s absence, adjusting to his passing. The horses grazed now in the last rays of the setting sun, the light setting the damp grass to sparkling.

I turned up the radio as the horses faded into my rearview. This was the first song to come on. It’s from the movie Pete’s Dragon, which I haven’t seen, but from my numerous comparisons of the “other” presence of draft horses to what I’d imagine it’s like to meet a mythical dragon, it seemed so fitting in every way. Like most songs by The Lumineers, it’s a little happy, a little sad.

Nobody knows how to say goodbye,
It seems so easy ’til you try,
Then the moment’s passed you by,
Nobody knows how to say goodbye.

Nobody knows how to get back home,
And we set out so long ago,
Searched the heavens and the earth below,
Nobody knows how to get back home.

Through the darkness to the dawn,
When I looked back you were gone,
Heard your voice leading me on
Through the darkness to the dawn.

Love is deep as the road is long,
It moves my feet to carry on,
Beats my heart when you are gone,
Love is deep as the road is long.

Nobody knows how the story ends,
Live the day, do what you can,
This is only where it began,
Nobody knows how the story ends,
Nobody knows how the story ends.

Days later, I still find Rocky looking, his head lifted, ears patiently forward, eyes scanning the horizon slowly, as though Randy will come walking around the corner of the hill and back into our lives. I still find myself looking for Randy too. I expect we’ll be looking for him for quite some time.

Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

Grab Your Tissues For Purina’s Latest Project

Remember when Purina made us all bawl around Christmas a few years ago with this emotional punch-in-the-gut of a commercial? Well, they’ve done it again. If you’re at work or in a public place, consider this your official warning. If you’re in the privacy of your home or barn or someplace where you don’t care if people are about to see you ugly cry, go forth.

Some bonds can never be broken.Reconnect with a horse from your past or help others find theirs at http://bit.ly/FindYourOldFriend.

Posted by Purina Horse Feed on Wednesday, May 30, 2018

WHY DOES IT ALWAYS HAVE TO BE A FREAKING CLYDESDALE. They should really just put in the official breed description “will star in commercials that will make adult horse girls weep like babies.” (True story: those darn Clydes figure prominently in my list of seven things that will make equestrians choke up, every time.)

Okay, Horse Nation, have you gathered yourself? Have you wiped away the tears and can read again? Okay, good. Thanks for coming back to us. Because the Find Your Old Friend service that this commercial is actually advertising from Purina is genuinely amazing, and we wanted you to get that cry out of your system before you kept reading.

The premise is beautifully simple in its execution, harnessing the power of social media to connect people to help horse lovers connect with horses from their past. It’s easy to get involved:

  • Join the Find Your Old Friend Facebook group
  • Upload some photos and information about the horse you’re trying to find
  • Purina will turn the photos into ads that will run in the horse’s last known location

The Facebook group currently has horses organized into albums by region to help horse owners get connected. Already, several hundred members are networking and sharing information about horses they’ve lost touch with, from owners along the way to original breeders wondering where their horses wound up.

For many individuals, a horse is a lifelong commitment — but the realities of life often mean that we cannot always keep a horse forever. This initiative by Purina is doing a great service to help network those connections and help reunite old friends.

Go Purina, and go crying. I mean, go riding.

Best of HN: ‘Oh Crap’ Moment of the Week

I used to love galloping bareback in the woods on my lease pony when I was teenager — back in those days in which I was young, fearless and had the ability to bounce and then get right back on. I credit those years spent goofing around on sun-dappled trails for teaching me a lot about how to use my seat and my legs and ride with feel.

That said, I think I had a fair amount of control the entire time, and had prepared for those bareback gallops with lots of practice time at slower gaits. Had someone suddenly whisked my saddle away while I was cantering around a course of jumps, I don’t think I would have been nearly as successful.

Which is why this video of an “oh crap” moment from Salon-de-Provence racecourse in France is all the more impressive: watch jockey Elaura Cieslik not only contend with a saddle that slips and nearly drops her on the track amidst the galloping field, but hang on to win the race too aboard First Wood:

Oh crap indeed. Fortunately, horse and rider both made it home unscathed despite saddle and stirrups flapping about beneath the horse’s belly. Kudos to Ms. Cieslik and her amazing stickability.

#ForTheHorse Social Media Campaign Spreads Word on ‘Soft Landings’ for Racehorses

Photo courtesy of Carleigh Fedorka

Every spring, we turn our attention to this year’s crop of outstanding three-year-olds, speculating endlessly about our favorites for the Kentucky Derby, then the Preakness, then the Belmont, hoping for the chance to history be made with another elusive Triple Crown victory.

As we celebrate the achievements of a particularly outstanding horse this year, Justify, the conversation inevitably turns darker. Justify may be a champion, but horse lovers are quick to use his moment to point fingers at the racing industry, citing it as a world full of people who see the horse simply as a tool to make money, with unsuccessful horses thrown out like garbage to end up at this nation’s “kill sales” to ship to slaughter.

As with most hot-button issues, none of this is entirely a lie. It’s also not the entire truth.

It’s true that some Thoroughbreds, when their racing days are over, wind up in bad straits. It’s also true for many registered Quarter horses and other stock breeds, various sporthorses, backyard horses and branded mustangs. There are bad apples in any discipline or breed world. As with any issue in the horse industry, there’s also a healthy majority of good owners and trainers who are in the sport for the love of the horse, and work hard to make sure that their horses end up in good hands, even if there was no return on the initial investment.

“Our current climate loves to focus on the scary stuff and the bad news,” describes Carleigh Fedorka, a lifelong Thoroughbred advocate and well-known blogger at A Yankee In Paris. “The good guys don’t get the attention they deserve, usually because they don’t demand it. But they’re out there. So many of them are out there.”

It’s this truth that prompted Carleigh to start #ForTheHorse — a way for OTTB owners and riders to tell the story of their horses and how the horses’ connections ensured that their animals found the soft landing that they deserved when their racing days were done.

Within just a few hours, stories started flooding social media — the stories that usually fly under the radar and go untold.

The details vary, but the theme is true: many owners and trainers are in the industry for the horse. These people work hard to make sure they do right by their animals, both on the track and after the races.

Telling these stories and celebrating these happy endings will help ensure that more owners and trainers seek the soft landings, working with the multitude of aftercare organizations that help transition horses from the track to second careers as sporthorses, recreational mounts or companions.

With Justify putting horse racing back in the limelight, the time is ripe to share your #ForTheHorse story. If you have a Thoroughbred in your life, share his or her story on social media with that hashtag, and let’s keep the conversation moving forward for aftercare.

Go OTTBs.

Originally published on EN’s sister site, Horse Nation. Check it out for more news, commentary and ridiculousness from around the horse world! 

Near Misses: 23 Triple Crown Bids That Didn’t Win the Belmont

California Chrome. Wikimedia Commons/Maryland GovPics/CC

History will be made on Saturday in the 150th running of the Belmont Stakes, but whether Justify will join the illustrious elite who have won the Triple Crown or earn his spot on this particular list remains to be seen.

As astute fans of horse racing know all too well, we crown annually new champions in football (the Super Bowl), baseball (the World Series), hockey (the Stanley Cup) and basically every other traditional ball sport — but it can be decades between Triple Crown champions. The most elusive prize in racing is taken only by the true champion, the greatest athlete of his generation.

Until 2015, I had never personally witnessed a Triple Crown champion until American Pharoah ended a 37-year drought — but I had seen my fair share of heartbreaking defeats over Belmont Park’s “Big Sandy.” The final race of the Triple Crown, the mile and a half Belmont Stakes run over the sprawling, sweeping track, denied year after year of hopefuls.

The Triple Crown first became recognized by sportswriters in 1930 when Gallant Fox captured the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes. Sir Barton had won all three races previously in 1919. Our countdown begins in 1932.

1932: Burgoo King

The circumstances around Burgoo King’s skipping of the Belmont Stakes are somewhat shrouded in mystery as to whether the colt had suffered an injury prior to the race or if his connections had failed to turn in the proper paperwork to enter him, but we know today as fact is that the colt definitely suffered some sort of injury in June of 1932 that would prevent him from returning to the track until 1934 to win two out of his five starts.

1936: Bold Venture

Bold Venture went off at long odds in the Kentucky Derby, suffered a terrible start after getting slammed by another horse just out of the gate, and still managed to win. He overcame another poor start to win the Preakness, but then suffered a bowed tendon and was retired to stud.

1944: Pensive

Pensive was the first horse to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown and contest but lose the Belmont Stakes since the Triple Crown was first recognized: he took the Kentucky Derby going away by four and a half lengths and then won the Preakness, then run just one week later. Bounding Home got the better of him in the long Belmont Stakes by half a length, and Pensive never won again.

1958: Tim Tam

For anyone who feels that the “new shooter” phenomenon, in which horses skip the first two legs and then run in the Belmont Stakes fresh, is a new development in racing, look back at Tim Tam’s failed bid in 1958: in the Belmont, the colt fractured a sesamoid and was beaten by Irish-bred Cavan, who had not contested the previous Triple Crown races. Whether Tim Tam would have beaten Cavan had he not suffered a career-ending injury is open for debate. Tim Tam went on to stand at stud.

1961: Carry Back

Carry Back’s career is still mind-boggling to think about: he raced 21 times as a juvenile and managed to win both the Florida Derby and the Wood Memorial as a three-year-old in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby. Traditionally a late closer, his impressive kick never quite kicked in for the Belmont Stakes. It was later revealed that the colt had been injured, but continued to rack up a grueling race schedule for the rest of his three-year-old year and subsequent seasons.

1964: Northern Dancer

Northern Dancer set a new record in the Kentucky Derby that would stand until Secretariat came along, then took the Preakness while tiring just slightly at the end. Whether the horse truly could not go a mile and a half or was simply tired from the Triple Crown campaign, Northern Dancer failed to fire in the Belmont and Quadrangle, who had opened up a rather commanding lead, took the final jewel.

1966: Kauai King

In a shockingly uncomplicated story, Kauai King took the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, but was beaten by Amberoid in the Belmont Stakes.

1968: Forward Pass

Forward Pass won the Kentucky Derby by disqualification of the winner Dancer’s Image; he then went on to win the Preakness over Dancer’s Image by six lengths. Amidst concern from sportsmen that Forward Pass would win the Belmont and be an “illegitimate champion,” he was beaten by a fresh horse named Stage Door Johnny, better bred for the mile and a half.

1969: Majestic Prince

Majestic Prince won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes in exciting fashion, dueling Arts and Letters in both. However, his trainer Johnny Longden reported a developing injury post-Preakness that had prompted him to skip the Belmont and rest the colt in California; pressure from both the media and Majestic Prince’s owner put the colt in the race anyway. He was beaten by Arts and Letters and never raced again.

1971: Cañonero II

Cañonero II hailed from Venezuela and while he had zero respect from bettors in the Kentucky Derby he surprised everyone by winning by nearly four lengths. The performance was deemed a fluke, but he went on to win the Preakness as well. Unfortunately, plagued by a foot infection, Cañonero II did not rise to the occasion in the Belmont Stakes and finished fourth.

1979: Spectacular Bid

Spectacular Bid’s Belmont defeat kicked off the 37-year drought of Triple Crown winners, and in controversial fashion: he reportedly had stepped on a pin on the morning of the Belmont Stakes, which likely didn’t help matters, but his loss is usually credited to unusually aggressive riding tactics by his jockey that put him on a fast lead before tiring.

1981: Pleasant Colony

Pleasant Colony placed third in the Belmont, with the win going to Summing, who had sat out the first two legs due to a blood infection.

1987: Alysheba

Alysheba defied expectations in the Derby and the Preakness, but failed to threaten in the Belmont Stakes where he finished fourth, losing to Triple Crown rival Bet Twice with other heavy hitters in the field.

1989: Sunday Silence

Sunday Silence and Easy Goer had one of the great racing rivalries of the decade: Sunday Silence held off Easy Goer in the first two legs, but Easy Goer turned the tables in the Belmont Stakes and won by eight lengths in the second-fastest Belmont to date.

1997: Silver Charm

Kicking off trainer Bob Baffert’s run of near-misses in the Triple Crown, Silver Charm won the first two legs in gritty style, pulling head just at the wire. Touch Gold, ridden by Chris McCarron, used this factor to their advantage, waiting until the last minute to essentially “sneak up” on Silver Charm and make his move, who never backed down from a fight as long as he looked his opponent in the eye.

1998: Real Quiet

Real Quiet lost the Belmont Stakes in heartbreaking fashion by just a nose to Victory Gallop. This made the 1998 Triple Crown literally the closest any horse had come since Affirmed in 1978. Victory Gallop had finished second to Real Quiet in both the Derby and the Preakness.

1999: Charismatic

Charismatic appeared to be en route to Triple Crown victory when he took the lead in the memorable 1999 Belmont Stakes, only to abruptly be slowed and then stopped after the finish with jockey Chris Antley leaping off and holding the colt’s left foreleg up off the track. Suffering career-ending multiple fractures, Charismatic was vanned off the track but his life was saved, with credit going to Antley for preventing more catastrophic injuries.

2002: War Emblem

War Emblem was known for being a temperamental horse, but was able to both lead the Kentucky Derby and then settle just behind the leaders before taking the lead in the far turn of the Preakness. In the Belmont Stakes, however, he nearly fell to his knees out of the gate and then bumped another horse, losing lots of ground. While he took the lead briefly after fighting jockey Victor Espinoza, he faded to finish eighth; 70-1 Sarava took the win.

2003: Funny Cide

Funny Cide, one of the few geldings in history to win the Kentucky Derby, became a fan favorite quickly with a gritty Derby win and a wire-to-wire sweep in the Preakness by almost ten lengths. After fighting his jockey with too-fast early fractions in the Belmont, Funny Cide tired and was beaten by Empire maker.

2004: Smarty Jones

This one still stings a little: connections with a heartbreaking story, a gritty colt with an underdog beginning and the makings of one of racing’s fairytales. Smarty Jones continued an undefeated streak in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, but was upset by 36-1 Birdstone in the Belmont Stakes and never raced again.

2008: Big Brown

With his Kentucky Derby victory already shadowed by the breakdown of filly Eight Belles, Big Brown nonetheless was impressive in victory, blowing away the field in the Preakness Stakes. However, his failure to finish in the Belmont Stakes still remains a mystery, with all sorts of factors including patched-together quarter cracks, a loose hind shoe, running rank early in the race and the heat of the day blamed for Kent Desormeaux easing him up.

2012: I’ll Have Another

I’ll Have Another ran down Bodemeister in both the Derby and the Preakness, but scratched just days before the 2012 Belmont Stakes with a tendon injury that ran the risk of become a bowed tendon should he have raced. With a long recovery time required to see if the horse would race again, I’ll Have Another’s connections made the decision to instead retired him to stud.

2014: California Chrome

With the underdog hopes of an entire nation riding on his shoulders, California Chrome suffered a disappointing dead heat for fourth finish in the Belmont Stakes after getting stepped on by another horse at the start and therefore running with scrapes on his legs. This loss triggered his then-co-owner’s infamous rant about fresh horses being allowed to race the Belmont (clearly, he had never heard of Tim Tam — see above). California Chrome’s heartbreaking defeat, however, set the stage emotionally for American Pharoah to “finally be the one” the following year.

2018 Belmont Stakes Field Preview & Poll

The potential 13th Triple Crown in history is on the line with Justify the heavy favorite, poised to make history. Take a look at the entire field, and vote in our poll for who you think will win! Originally published on EN sister site Horse Nation

The Secretariat statue at Belmont Park, honoring the horse who achieved probably the most memorable Belmont victory in history. Photo via public domain.

The historic 150th running of the Belmont Stakes takes place this Saturday in Elmont, New York and it’s a biggie: undefeated Justify could make history as the 13th Triple Crown winner if he can conquer the Test of the Champion over a mile and a half on Belmont Park’s notably wide, sweeping track. Nine other entries are prepared to foil that attempt, well-rested and trained to perfection — take a closer look at the field and vote for your favorite below!

Post Position 1: Justify (4-5)
Chestnut colt by Scat Daddy
Owned by China Horse Club International Ltd., Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm
Trained by Bob Baffert
Ridden by Mike Smith
Claims to fame: winner in the Santa Anita Derby, the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes

What is left to say about Justify? Critics were doubtful that a relatively untested, green colt could hack it in the Kentucky Derby but Justify went out and won rompingly. The critics raised their voices again when the colt appeared to suffer a stone bruise after his Derby victory; again, Justify silenced them in a particularly tough Preakness Stakes. Again, critics raise doubts about the colt’s ability to go a mile and a half, or else point at the late closers that nearly caught the colt at Pimlico, but the colt is honed, tested, fitter than ever and appears to be at the peak of his game. On Saturday, we’ll know one way or another if the colt truly deserves to be a champion.

Post Position 2: Free Drop Billy (30-1)
Chestnut colt by Union Rags
Owned by Albaugh Family Stables
Trained by Dale Romans
Ridden by Robby Albarado
Claims to fame: winner in the Claiborne Breeders Futurity, second in the Sanford Stakes, Hopeful Stakes and the Holy Bull, third in the Gotham and the Blue Grass, sixteenth in the Kentucky Derby

Free Drop Billy has shown improvement as his races stretched in length, but got caught in the cavalry charge of the Kentucky Derby. Sitting out for the Preakness, Free Drop Billy should presumably be well-rested and ready to play; whether he’ll continue to improve as the race length stretches to the mile and a half may be a tall order.

Post Position 3: Bravazo (8-1)
Dark bay colt by Awesome Again
Owned by Calumet Farm
Trained by D. Wayne Lukas
Ridden by Luis Saez
Claims to fame: winner in the Risen Star Stakes, second in the Claiborne Breeders Futurity and the Preakness Stakes, sixth in the Kentucky Derby

Amidst a field of fresh shooters, Bravazo, like Justify, will have run in all three Triple Crown races, and his hard-closing second place finish in the Preakness certainly turned a lot of heads at Pimlico. Wayne Lukas is a living legend as far as trainers go, so it can be expected that Bravazo will be in peak fitness to face his unfinished business from the Preakness.

Post Position 4: Hofburg (9-2)
Chestnut colt by Tapit
Owned by Juddmonte Farms
Trained by Bill Mott
Ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr
Claims to fame: second in the Florida Derby, seventh in the Kentucky Derby

Hofburg is a lightly-raced colt, with just one juvenile start and one allowance win this year, but he ran a strong second in the Florida Derby and held his own in the tough Kentucky Derby. Without much racing history to go on, he nevertheless has a cadre of fans who likely look to the success that other Tapit sons have had in the Belmont in recent years.

Post Position 5: Restoring Hope (30-1)
Dark bay colt by Giant’s Causeway
Owned by Gary & Mary West Stable
Trained by Bob Baffert
Ridden by Florent Geroux
Claims to fame: third in the Wood Memorial

Restoring Hope may be just living on hope in order to keep up in the Belmont Stakes, with a light career so far and a disappointing 12th-place finish in his most recent graded stakes start. He’s from the same stable and trainer as last year’s breakout late-summer star West Coast, but has big shoes to fill.

Post Position 6: Gronkowski (12-1)
Bay colt by Lonhro
Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbreds
Trained by Chad Brown
Ridden by Jose Ortiz
Claims to fame: winner in the 32Red Burradon Stakes (GB)

Only recently transferred to Chad Brown’s stable, Gronkowski will be making his first start in North America after a disappointing scratch in the Kentucky Derby due to mild illness. It’s an interesting combination of factors that make Gronkowski a bit of a dark horse, and it will be fascinating to see if the stars align in the colt’s favor on Saturday.

Post Position 7: Tenfold (12-1)
Dark bay colt by Curlin
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds
Trained by Steve Asmussen
Ridden by Ricardo Santana
Claims to fame: third in the Preakness Stakes

Another hard closer on Justify’s heels in the Preakness Stakes, Tenfold sat out the Kentucky Derby but certainly proved himself worth the consideration in the classics. Well bred to tackle the mile and a half distance, Tenfold could again prove to be a late threat to the favorite.

Post Position 8: Vino Rosso (8-1)
Chestnut colt by Curlin
Owned by Repole Stable and St Elias Stable
Trained by Todd Pletcher
Ridden by John Velazquez
Claims to fame: winner in the Wood Memorial; third in the Sam F. Davis, ninth in the Kentucky Derby

This Pletcher trainee sat out to the Preakness in order to be better prepared for the Belmont, and with a pedigree to go the distance, he’s got a lot of factors working in his favor.

Post Position 9: Noble Indy (30-1)
Bay colt by Take Charge Indy
Owned by WinStar Farm and Repole Stable
Trained by Todd Pletcher
Ridden by Javier Castellano
Claims to fame: winner in the Louisiana Derby, third in the Risen Star, 17th in the Kentucky Derby

Critics were curious if Noble Indy could go the mile and a quarter in the Kentucky Derby despite his (shorter) Louisiana Derby win, and with a dismal 17th-place finish it’s worth noting that perhaps the mile and a half may equally be a tall task.

Post Position 10: Blended Citizen (15-1)
Bay colt by Proud Citizen
Owned by Sayjay Racing
Trained by Doug O’Neill
Ridden by Kyle Frey
Claims to fame: winner in the Jeff Ruby Steaks and the Peter Pan

As a brand-new shooter, Blended Citizen certainly needs to step it up to contend with the likes of Justify … but longer shots have won before.

Best of HN: Why Don’t They Make Riding Helmets Like These?

Riding helmets have come a long way in recent years — and that’s a good thing. According to Riders 4 Helmets, referencing NEISS data from 2007, 78,279 people visited the emergency room that year due to horseback riding-related injuries, with about 15% of those injuries to the head. Fortunately, wearing a certified helmet can greatly reduce your risk of traumatic brain injury due to a fall or other horse-related accident, and as further research and advancements teach us more, we can look forward to even safer, more protective helmets in the future.

Long gone are the days in which a rider’s options were limited to a few styles of black velvet hunt cap that did little to actually protect you: riding helmets, designed specifically for the kind of impact and height of fall that riders are most likely to experience on (or off) the back of a horse, come in a myriad of styles and shapes, discipline-specific and comfortable for every shape of noggin out there. As a western rider in particular, I’m particularly excited to see a variety of “westerny” helmets increasingly available on the market, from rugged, rustic trail or ranch styles to edgy racing stripe decals for the speed event set.

I remember accepting my standard riding helmet as part of my gear for the barn when I first started lessons at the age of eight and pulling on one of those iconic bubble-head white plastic riding school varieties — you know the one, you look like a big ol’ ping-pong ball bouncing around up there. I think our options at the time were white and black, and maybe blue. Similarly, my bicycle helmet that I wore around the neighborhood while pretending my bike was a pony (in between actual riding lessons) was a monochromatic purple. I don’t recall being particularly upset about this.

I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon… but kids these days have options that my generation never imagined. For one, you can get unicorn-print anything. Whether this is actually to satisfy the children or to satisfy my child-bearing generation’s weird obsession with unicorns I’m still not entirely sure, but it’s possible to get almost anything done up in unicorn from leggings to teapots to frappuccinos.

And also, apparently, bicycle helmets.

Photos by Jamie Massey Jennings

Jamie Massey Jennings, good friend of Horse Nation and beloved co-host of the Horse Radio Network’s Horses in the Morning daily podcast, recently found this little number on a recent shopping excursion. Her lament: “Clearly the bicycle community has one-upped the equestrian community in helmet design.”

I can hear readers now: “The equestrian helmet is traditional and stylish just the way it is!” “What would George Morris say?” “Can’t we just be happy with the helmets we have?”

Certainly, yes — again, the riding helmet has come a long way. But while I don’t recall ever pitching much resistance to wearing a helmet any time I was aboard a horse, there’s always an argument to be made that a little extra self-expression could be helpful in reminding kids that safety is cool.

Like, okay, I would definitely be okay with wearing this.

JAMIE YOU LOOK SO COOL.

Also, maybe this.

Just imagine how [email protected]$$ I would look driving my draft horses around the neighborhood like a centurion.

Okay, I guess it IS possible to take things too far. Spiderman doesn’t really need to be here.

And this one is… unsettling.

(I do like the pink hair though.)

And this one… this one is just plain terrifying. I don’t imagine a lot of horses would like it either.

Okay, maybe the equestrian community doesn’t need to get too much more inspired. I take it back. Classy and traditional? That sounds pretty good to me.

DISCLAIMER: Helmets are designed for specific impacts. As much fun as these bicycle helmets might be for the young rider in your family, bicycle helmets are designed specifically for falls from a bicycle — much different physics are at work when a rider falls from a horse. Please only use an ASTM/SEI certified equestrian helmet for horse-related activities.

Eventing on Wheels! USEF to Host Free Combined Driving Navigator Course in Pennsylvania

Experienced World Championship navigator Kenny Cox is a co-instructor of the course. Photo courtesy of US Equestrian.

Combined driving is one of the wildest equestrian disciplines in existence: it’s essentially eventing on wheels, meaning that all of the nutty things that eventers do while sitting on their horses is done by drivers who are sitting on a carriage, relying on their voice, lines and whip to get the same messages across.

During the marathon phase, or the “cross country” of combined driving, drivers rely heavily on the navigator to both help pick out the route in the hazards and also to help balance the four-wheeled marathon cart. This navigator for Jada Neubauer at the 2011 Live Oak International combined driving event brings us along for the ride:

Go, pony, go! GS Thunderboy Henry, competing in the FEI Single Pony Division, was the fastest pony in the marathon phase of the entire show. This guy is clearly a master at his job and remarkably agile; he stops on a dime and rolls back with the cart to make some of the tight turns in the hazards.

Look like fun? Here’s your chance to give it a go!

In a few weeks, the USEF will be hosting a Navigator course in Pennsylvania for beginners/novices who are interested in learning about the job of a combined driving Navigator. It’s a very involved role and a lot of fun for people who like to go fast on a cross country course. The course is free to attend and only requires a helmet and vest for those who want to practice riding on the carriage after the classroom session.

Consider this your official invite!

What: U.S. Equestrian Navigator Course, taught by USEF Elite Athlete Jacob Arnold and experienced World Championship navigator Kenny Cox

Learn about the role of a Combined Driving Navigator and how to successfully navigate a marathon course. No experience necessary!

  • Learn the basics
  • How to choose routes
  • Marathon preparation
  • Tips while on course
  • Understand the rules
  • Video studies
  • Practical hands-on experience!

When:  Saturday, June 16, 2018, 2 – 5 p.m.

Where:  The Stroud Water Research Center in Avondale, Pennsylvania

How much: Free! To register, contact Danielle Aamodt at [email protected]

Learn more about combined driving at the US Equestrian website here.

Snowcapped Peaks at Skyline: Take a Spin Around This Scenic Training Course

It’s not everywhere that you can gallop cross-country with legitimate snowcapped mountains off on the horizon — but that’s reality for Area IX eventers who frequent Skyline Eventing Park in Mt. Pleasant, Utah. Area IX includes Colorado, Utah, Wyoming and South Dakota, and while it may be many miles from the cradle of eventing on the East Coast, there’s no denying this region’s unique western charms.

Looking as though you’re equally likely to see a cowboy loping off to gather some cattle, the scenery is certainly dramatic. Let’s flashback to the The Event at Skyline earlier this month and navigate the Training course from astride this plucky gray:

A job well done to Rosie Smith and Seamus, who posted two double-clear rounds to finish second in the Training division! See complete final results here.

Skyline Eventing Park’s 60-acre cross country course was designed by James Atkinson and only opened its doors a few years ago, providing a great venue for Utah’s eventing riders to hone their skills. For more information about Skyline Eventing Park, please visit the website.

Best of HN: 2018 Kentucky Derby Need-to-Know Guide + Field Preview

California Chrome wins the 2014 Kentucky Derby. Flickr/Bill Brine/CC Photo.

2018 Derby Links:

Where: Churchill Downs, Louisville, Kentucky

When: Saturday, May 5

Post time: 6:34 PM

Purse: $2 million

Distance: One mile and a quarter over dirt

How to watch: NBC will have televised broadcast from 2:30 PM EST until 7:30 PM EST on race day. Live stream is available via NBC Sports Live Extra, but a cable subscription is required. Twinspires.com will stream the race; an account is required.

Stats: For details about each horse, including racing history, pedigree, post position and photos, check out KentuckyDerby.com. For the quick and dirty guide, check out our field preview (and vote in our poll!)

Picks worth pondering: ForbesBleacher ReportWashington PostNew York Times

Online betting: If you’re looking to up the ante, a variety of online betting sites are at your service. We recommend Twinspires.com for ease of use – it has all the bells and whistles for experienced bettors, but it’s simple enough for novices to use as well. Brisnet.com is another useful resource. Gamble responsibly.

The Field:

Headed to a Derby party? Want to fill up on trivia about the 20 horses entered in this year’s race? We’ve got the quick and dirty crib sheet that will give you the rundown on the field — because as the resident horse person, we know you’ll get grilled at your Derby party for the inside scoop.

Post Position 1: Firenze Fire (50-1)
Bay Florida-bred colt by Poseidon’s Warrior
Owned by Mr. Amore Stable
Trained by Jason Servis
Ridden by Paco Lopez
Claims to fame: winner in the 2017 Champagne Stakes (G1), second in the Withers Stakes (G3)

Firenze Fire has run in four Kentucky Derby preps to mixed results, with his most recent race a fourth place in the Wood Memorial. His pedigree (Poseidon’s Warrior was a winning sprinter) casts a few doubts about the colt’s ability to run the classic distance of a mile and a quarter.

Post Position 2: Free Drop Billy (30-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Union Rags
Owned by Albaugh Family Stables LLC
Trained by Dale Romans
Ridden by Robby Albarado
Claims to fame: winner in the 2017 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1), second in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2), third in the Gotham Stakes (G3) and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2)

As Free Drop Billy’s races stretched out in distance, he improved. He hasn’t been out of the top three in 2018, though he has yet to win a race since the Breeders’ Futurity in October of last year.

Post Position 3: Promises Fulfilled (30-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Shackleford
Owned by Robert J. Baron
Trained by Dale Romans
Ridden by Corey Lanerie
Claims to fame: winner in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2), third in the 2017 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2)

Promises Fulfilled indeed looked promising in the Fountain of Youth, but he’s had three jockeys in three races, which shows a lack of faith in the colt’s ability to be a serious contender. He led the G1 Florida Derby before fading back to finish last — there are doubts as to whether he can go the full distance.

Post Position 4: Flameaway (30-1)
Chestnut Ontario-bred colt by Scat Daddy
Owned by John Oxley
Trained by Mark Casse
Ridden by Jose Lezcano
Claims to fame: winner in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3), second in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2)

Flameaway’s career has taken a curious route so far — his “claims to fame” don’t show that the colt ran two races on turf, including a win in the Kitten’s Joy at Gulfstream. He’s raced now on dirt, turf and synthetic and appears only to be getting stronger. The question is whether he peaks on Saturday enough to win it all.

Post Position 5: Audible (8-1)
Bay New York-bred colt by Into Mischief
Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club International and SF Racing LLC
Trained by Todd Pletcher
Ridden by Javier Castellano
Claims to fame: winner in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) and Florida Derby (G1)

While some critics have expressed doubt in Audible’s ability to go a mile and a quarter, his domineering performance in the Florida Derby has put him among the favorites for the Kentucky Derby. All indicators point to another strong performance on Saturday; 2017 winner Always Dreaming, also trained by Pletcher, took the same Florida Derby route.

Post Position 6: Good Magic (12-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Curlin
Owned by E Five Racing Thoroughbreds and Stonestreet Stables
Trained by Chad Brown
Ridden by Jose Ortiz
Claims to fame: winner in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (G2), second in the 2017 Champagne Stakes (G1), third in the Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2)

Good Magic led the Kentucky Derby leaderboard in points accrued for prep races, and it’s hard not to like the Juvenile Champion. With a pedigree that suggests class and staying power, Good Magic checks plenty of boxes going into the weekend.

Post Position 7: Justify (3-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Scat Daddy
Owned by China Horse Club, Head of Plains Partners LLC, Starlight Racing and WinStar Farm
Trained by Bob Baffert
Ridden by Mike Smith
Claims to fame: winner in the Santa Anita Derby (G1)

Justify will attempt to be the first horse to overcome the so-called “curse of Apollo,” who was the last horse to win the Derby while unraced as a two-year-old in 1882. According to jockey Mike Smith, Justify is only just starting to blossom, which for fans who loved his dominating performance in the Santa Anita Derby is good news for the run for the roses. Can Justify handle the intense pressure of the 20-horse Derby field?

Post Position 8: Lone Sailor (50-1)
Bay Kentucky-bred colt by Majestic Warrior
Owned by Tom Benson
Trained by Thomas Amoss
Ridden by James Graham
Claims to fame: second in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby Stakes (G2), third in the 2017 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1)

Lone Sailor is likely far outclassed in the Kentucky Derby. His only win is a maiden special weight at Saratoga as a juvenile. He did show a strong rally for his third place finish in the Breeders’ Futurity, but it will take more than that to win at Churchill Downs.

Post Position 9: Hofburg (20-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Tapit
Owned by Juddmonte Farms
Trained by William Mott
Ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Claims to fame: second in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1)

Even trainer Bill Mott has stated that Hofburg lacks seasoning. He just squeaked into the field with the necessary qualifying points thanks to the Florida Derby. That said, if the horse peaks at the right time, anything is possible.

Post Position 10: My Boy Jack (30-1)
Dark bay Kentucky-bred colt by Creative Cause
Owned by Don’t Tell My Wife Stables and Monomoy Stables
Trained by Keith Desormeaux
Ridden by Kent Desormeaux
Claims to fame: winner in the Southwest Stakes (G3) and Stonestreet Lexington Stakes (g3), third in the Sham Stakes (G3) and the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby Stakes (G2)

My Boy Jack has already raced 10 times, making him one of the more experienced contenders for the Kentucky Derby. Having witnessed this horse win in an exciting duel to the wire in the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes, I’m less likely now to count him out.

Post Position 11: Bolt d’Oro (8-1)
Bay Kentucky-bred colt by Medaglia d’Oro
Owned by Ruis Racing
Trained by Mick Ruis
Ridden by Victor Espinoza
Claims to fame: winner in the 2017 FrontRunner Stakes (G1) and the San Felipe Stakes (G1), second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1) and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1)

Bolt d’Oro has demonstrated he’s a gritty fighter in some tough races, including a wide trip in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and a thrilling stretch battle with Mckinzie in the San Felipe, which he won by disqualification. If this horse can beat the cavalry charge of the 20-horse start, he should be a serious contender.

Post Position 12: Enticed (30-1)
Dark bay Kentucky-bred colt by Medaglia d’Oro
Owned by Godolphin Racing
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin
Ridden by Junior Alvarado
Claims to fame: winner in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) and the Gotham Stakes (G3), second in the Wood Memorial (G2), third in the 2017 Champagne Stakes (G1)

Enticed may be a sleeper in the Kentucky Derby, having made great strides in his prep races and a pedigree to suggest a possible winner yet overlooked by handicappers. He could become Godolphin’s first Derby winner.

Post Position 13: Bravazo (50-1)
Dark bay Kentucky-bred colt by Awesome Again
Owned by Calumet Farm
Trained by D. Wayne Lukas
Ridden by Luis Contreras
Claims to fame: winner in the Risen Star Stakes (G2), second in the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity (G1)

Bravazo was the longshot for his victory in the Risen Star and will continue to be a longshot in the Derby. He’s likely far outclassed in this deep field.

Post Position 14: Mendelssohn (5-1)
Bay Kentucky-bred colt by Scat Daddy
Owned by Derrick Smith, Mrs John Magnier & Michael Tabor
Trained by Aidan O’Brien
Ridden by Ryan Moore
Claims to fame: winner in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) and the UAE Derby (G2)

The first serious contender to come from the European Road to the Kentucky Derby, it’s actually a homecoming for Kentucky-bred Mendelssohn. With a dominating performance in the UAE Derby, following wins in Europe as well as California for the Breeders’ Cup, Mendelssohn has demonstrated staying power and the ability to travel well. He’s a half-brother to Beholder.

Post Position 15: Instilled Regard (50-1)
Dark bay Kentucky-bred colt by Arch
Owned by OXO Equine LLC
Trained by Jerry Hollendorfer
Ridden by Drayden Van Dyke
Claims to fame: winner of the LeComte Stakes (G3), second in the Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1)

While a long shot, Instilled Regard demonstrated heart when he battled both Mckinzie and Solomini to the wire in the Los Alamitos Futurity. A stewards inquiry moved Mckinzie to the win and Instilled Regard to second. Since then, Instilled Regard earned a Grade 3 win but was a distant fourth in the Santa Anita Derby.

Post Position 16: Magnum Moon (6-1)
Bay Kentucky-bred colt by Malibu Moon
Owned by Lawana and Robert Low
Trained by Todd Pletcher
Ridden by Luis Saez
Claims to fame: winner in the Rebel Stakes (G2) and the Arkansas Derby (G1)

Magnum Moon is yet another horse who did not race as a juvenile, but certainly has made his mark as a three-year-old with a dominant Arkansas Derby. He’ll be among the favorites on Saturday, and we’d be fascinated to see him go up against Justify, the other unraced-as-a-two-year-old entry.

Post Position 17: Solomini (30-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Curlin
Owned by Zayat Stables
Trained by Bob Baffert
Ridden by Flavien Prat
Claims to fame: second in the FrontRunner Stakes (G1), Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and Rebel Stakes (G2), third in the 2017 Los Alamitos Cash Call Futurity (G1) and the Arkansas Derby (G1)

Solomini has been a perpetual second fiddle in his Derby preps, other than the drop to third in the Los Alamitos Futurity due to interference. In a “normal” Derby year he might be among the top contenders, but in such a deep field he’ll have to step up to threaten.

Post Position 18: Vino Rosso (12-1)
Chestnut Kentucky-bred colt by Curlin
Owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable
Trained by Todd Pletcher
Ridden by John Velazquez
Claims to fame: winner in the Wood Memorial (G2), third in the Sam F. Davis Stakes (G3)

Vino Rosso hasn’t grabbed as much recent attention as some of the heavy-hitter favorites, and the Wood Memorial hasn’t seen too many winners go on to take the Derby in recent years — but Vino Rosso should be able to go the distance and seems to be peaking at the right time. Depending on the odds, he could be an interesting bet.

Post Position 19: Noble Indy (30-1)
Bay Kentucky-bred colt by Take Charge Indy
Owned by WinStar Farm LLC and Repole Stable
Trained by Todd Pletcher
Ridden by Florent Geroux
Claims to fame: winner in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby Stakes (G2), third in the Risen Star Stakes (G2)

Noble Indy is another potential sleeper who hasn’t gotten his share of the spotlight, but ran a tough race in the Louisiana Derby in which he was passed and fought back for the win. He has respectable speed, but critics wonder if he will be able to go the distance of a mile and a quarter. We’ll find out on Saturday.

Post Position 20: Combatant (50-1)
Bay Kentucky-bred colt by Scat Daddy
Owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC and Willis Horton Racing LLC
Trained by Steve Asmussen
Ridden by Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Claims to fame: second in the Southwest Stakes (G3), third in the Rebel Stakes (G2)

The Winchell Thoroughbreds/Asmussen combo produced Gun Runner in recent years, but Combatant has big shoes to fill. While not a flashy pick, Combatant has finished in the top three in his entire career save for a fourth place in the Arkansas Derby. He’ll have to be at his peak to factor in the Kentucky Derby.

ELD Enforcement Delayed Until Sept. 30, 2018

Are you up to date on all the latest changes regarding the ELD mandate that would require commercial motor vehicles to carry an electronic logging device and comply with time restrictions? Here are all the developments from the past month.

Photo by Leslie Threlkeld.

Amidst other equine industry-related headlines coming out of the giant $1.3 trillion omnibus bill approved early in April — namely, continued protections for wild horses and the continued defunding of horse slaughter facility inspectors — new developments in the ongoing ELD mandate saga slipped under the radar.

In short, Congress passed a temporary enforcement exemption for the livestock industry from the ELD mandate. Enforcement has been defunded until September 30, 2018 for livestock haulers, which allows industry leaders, including equine organizations as well as wider agricultural organizations, to educate all haulers on the scope of the mandate and who specifically is affected. This exemption also provides more time for industry leaders to potentially work out more livestock-friendly rules and regulations.

This exemption came just weeks after the Department of Transportation issued a 90-day exemption of enforcement for livestock haulers, of which commercial horse haulers are considered, on March 13, 2018. Through this 90-day period, haulers were required to carry a notice of exemption. As of the exemption passed in the omnibus bill, it’s unclear whether haulers still need to carry the waiver document; it may not be a bad idea to have a copy on hand.

For readers new to this story, the “ELD mandate” refers to the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century,” or MAP-21 bill, which transitioned the commercial motor vehicle industry from paper log books to electronic logging devices (ELD). The ELD automatically records driving time and alerts a driver when he or she is over a legally-set hour limit: 11 hours on the road in a 14-hour stretch, with a mandatory 10-hour rest period. Infractions can be viewed on the ELD during a traffic stop or truck inspection and drivers can be fined.

While the intention of this law is to increase safety by limiting the hours that drivers can be behind the wheel, it also poses obvious negative implications for all livestock haulers, including equine — imagine being forced to pull over at a rest stop for a mandatory 10-hour break with your horses still in the trailer due to unforeseen delays.

The ELD mandate also created confusion with just who exactly was considered a commercial hauler. Recreational horse haulers under a certain combined weight were exempt, but the guidelines for determining commercial status based on the size of one’s rig were vague and poorly defined.

The ELD mandate does not change these classifications nor change the laws for what has been required all along, but it does make it easier for law enforcement to see if a driver is in violation.

Whether this law ultimately ends up being changed to be more friendly to livestock haulers or commercial motor vehicles do need to comply by September 30, 2018, anyone who hauls their horses should familiarize themselves with this issue:

Best of HN: 5 Things Every Eventer Does in Every Tack Shop

Photo by Flickr/Rose of Academe/CC.

Living in a rural area means that truthfully, a lot of my tack shopping is performed over the internet, with packages arriving on a regular schedule from various supplement and supply companies. (I do wonder sometimes what my UPS delivery guy thinks about my shopping habits.)

But nothing beats the experience of going to a real live tack shop in person. My “local” haunt is Stagecoach West. I also made a pilgrimage to the famous Mary’s Tack & Feed of Del Mar, California back in November. From coast to coast, with two different parties shopping alongside, I noticed several facts to be true.

1. We move methodically through the store, aisle by aisle and section by section.

When my mother, who also rides, and I recently rolled up to Stagecoach, we went in the door and without speaking a word both automatically turned right and worked out way along the wall. Mom had never been to Stagecoach before, and yet some unwritten code seemed to guide our movements, perhaps some barely perceptible social cue like how an entire flock of birds seems to know exactly when to take off all at the same time. That’s all we are. A flock of tack-addicted birds.

It doesn’t matter what you came in for — you will check out every aisle. Just in case.

2. We check out everything, regardless of personal choice of discipline.

That includes touching every saddle, idly flipping through every rack of clothing and looking at the latest in show ring fashions for all arenas.

3. We pick up every. single. bit.

It’s not like I don’t understand how a snaffle works by now, but seriously, try walking past the siren song of a wall of bits and NOT pick them all up and flex them back and forth. Because, you know, maybe they changed something this time.

This also applies to rolling every copper roller you can find. It has to be done.

4. We smell things.

Take a step back for a moment and appreciate how REALLY FREAKING WEIRD THIS IS. The only other store where this is remotely acceptable is perhaps a grocery store to assess the ripeness of the fruit. No one walks into JC Penney’s and starts sniffing the sweaters, but equestrians in the tack shop will smell pretty much everything from the leather (OK, I understand why) to the supplements to the shampoo. I get it … I think. It’s still a little weird, but I’m not going to stop.

5. We never come out with only what we came in for.

If you can regularly achieve this feat, you have much stronger willpower than I do. I will go to the oldest defense in the book and say that all the stuff I ended up purchasing on my last tack shop trip was genuinely stuff I did need, but it wasn’t stuff I necessarily remembered that I needed until I saw it hanging on the rack or sitting on the shelf.

Again, refer back to #1 above to explain this phenomenon.

Let’s just embrace it.

Best of HN: An Open Letter to the Rider With the ‘Made’ Horse

Flickr/Five Furlongs Photography/CC

Dear rider with the “made” horse,

Everybody knows who you are at the horse show, the horse trial, the rodeo, the barrel race. And everybody knows your horse, whether he’s been in your family for years and years or he’s a recent addition to your barn. You know there are eyes on you and your horse every time you set foot in the ring.

They might know your name and your horse’s name; there might be plenty of whispered rumors about how much you paid for him and who trained him. There’s plenty of muttering from the other riders and the horse show moms when you win that coveted blue ribbon. You hear them when they don’t think you’re listening, or when they pretend they don’t know you can hear them.

“That’s a made horse.” “The judges always pin her because they know who trained that horse.” “Of course it’s easy to win when you buy your way to the top.” “I bet she can’t really ride a real horse where you have to work for it.”

They might know your names, but they don’t really know you. They don’t know how many hours of practice you put in at home, making sure you get it right, that your horse gets it right. They don’t see how much work it takes to make a well-broke horse that nice, and how hard it is to keep a horse nice. They don’t realize just how hard it is to ride a well-broke horse, to make it look effortless in the ring.

There’s some kind of assumption that a “made” horse is easy to ride, a machine that will take you to the top and win you all the ribbons and points and championships. We champion the scrappy do-it-yourself riders who tame those wild green horses, who find the diamond in the rough and through months or years of hard work polish that rough diamond into a gem–and we should always celebrate those riders and their horses.

But that championship should not come at the expense of those riders putting in the same kinds of hours, those late nights and early mornings, the sacrifices and struggles to achieve their dreams on a well-bred or well-broke animal. The made horse is not always an easy ride, and it takes years of honed skill in the saddle to make him look effortless.

I’ve learned this the hard way: I’ve ridden a mare blessed with raw talent and athleticism that I didn’t know how to channel and shape; I’ve taken the made pleasure horse into a class we were shoe-ins to win and made a mistake that took us out of the pinnings.

I practiced for hours on the scrappy, difficult to ride, difficult to love, textbook “tough horses” and learned how to put them together, to polish them as a rider and make them look like a five-figure superstar… and then drawn a made show horse at the national championships and had no idea how to put it together. I could take Paddy the one-leaded rope horse and make him look like a million bucks at home, but the knowledge it took to ride that polished show horse I should have been lucky to draw was beyond me at the time. I was an honorable mention.

As they say, before you criticize someone, walk a hundred miles in their shoes. Until you’ve ridden every horse in the arena, you’ll never know how easy or how tough a rider might have it. We’re all in this horse world together–let’s show each other our support, rather than bring each other down.

Go riding!

Best of HN: How to Train Your Horse For the Farrier – A Horse Nation Guide

The Internet can be a fabulous resource to have some of your horsey questions answered: by browsing reputable websites with trusted sources, I can learn books’ worth of information about horse heath, horse behavior or horse training.

For every reputable source out there, however, there are plenty of places that you should maybe stay away from. Polling random strangers in your favorite Facebook group, for example, is not going to return credible, fact-based information, though you’ll be up to your ears in contradictory anecdotal experiences. (We could all do to remember that “the plural of anecdote is not data.”)

General reference sites can usually be filed under the “not a credible source of training information” category. So imagine our joy when this WikiHow article started making the rounds of the horsey internet, helping hapless readers train their horses to stand nicely for the farrier. It’s not necessarily the text of the article that makes us cringe — there’s some good information in here, such as the understanding that horses are flight animals, it’s best to train in multiple short sessions and why you want to work in safe, enclosed spaces.

No, it’s the illustrations that baffle us. We’re not really sure what happened here, but, well… they tried. In an effort to make sure we laugh rather than cry, we rewrote this guide, based entirely on the illustrations.

(Disclaimer: the following guide is purely for entertainment’s sake and is not meant to serve in any capacity as a legitimate training guide for working with horses. If you are training a horse to stand for the farrier, please consult a reputable, researched source or work with a trusted trainer in person.)

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step One: Identify that what you are looking at is indeed a horse. Horses have four legs, hair coats, manes and tails, arching necks and hooves. If what you are looking at has two legs, feathers, a wattle and comb, a short neck and clawed feet, it may be a chicken.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Two: When admiring the horse, begin at the front end, where his eyes are. (Like many animals, the horse’s eyes are in his head.) You are less likely to be kicked in the face if you greet the horse from the front end first.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Three: When greeting the horse, always have multiple exit strategies. Horses can smell fear on a human, so if you are nervous, it’s important to be able to vault the fence in multiple places before the horse senses your emotions.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Four: Contrary to instinct, the halter should not be worn by the horse like a face guard. The halter needs to buckle behind the ears in order to function. While the halter does look way cooler when the connecting strap runs up the center of the face, it is much less effective.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Five: After you have greeted your horse, marked all available exits, established that you are not fearful and applied the halter correctly and then taken it off again, sink your fingertips into his shoulder and lean backwards. Really let the horse hold you up. This establishes your working partnership and lets the horse know that you will always be there for him when he needs a shoulder rub.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Six: As established in Step Two, horses prefer to be approached from the front, so when you work your way to the back end, it’s important to first fondle the hock with a fake hand on a stick. Horses appreciate being tickled in sensitive places by inanimate objects that LOOK like the real thing, especially when the human handler is trying to stay as far away as possible.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Seven: After you have successfully tickled your horse’s hock with a fake hand, it’s safe to apply your own hands. Make sure you are kneeling directly behind the hock when you do so — this will make your horse more likely to come into direct and forceful contact with you when he lifts his hoof.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Eight: Give your horse a leg-up. Again, this is a trust exercise to teach your horse that you’ll always be there for him when he needs to be launched onto a higher surface. Make sure you kneel directly in front of the horse’s leg and place your sneakered foot where his hoof will land should he pull his leg away from you.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Nine: The shepherd’s crook is a valuable tool for catching horses, so it’s important to practice this skill for speed and accuracy. Traditionally, horse catching with a shepherd’s crook is done from a kneeling position where the handler is most likely to be run over.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Ten: If your horse’s hind leg bends like this, this is 100% normal.

WikiHow/Creative Commons

Step Eleven: If your horse’s leg bends the other way, it has suffered an injury and should be bandaged. When applying a bandage, always kneel beneath your horse and directly in front of the injured leg. This will help keep the horse still so you can apply your dressings.

If you’ve successfully completed steps one through eleven, call up your farrier — you’re ready to go. And then call your vet. And maybe a doctor.

Go riding!

Proposed Changes to Model Veterinary Practice Act Could Impact Farrier Industry

Flickr/BVA/CC

Proposed revisions to the Model Veterinary Practice Act (MVPA), published by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), would eliminate exemptions regarding farriers and the hoof care profession.

Current language in the MVPA defines “practice of veterinary medicine” as follows from Section 2, in part:

“To diagnose, prognose, treat, correct, change, alleviate, or prevent animal disease, illness, pain, deformity, defect, injury, or other physical, dental, or mental conditions by any method or mode; including the:

i. performance of any medical or surgical procedure, or
ii. prescription, dispensing, administration, or application of any drug, medicine, biologic, apparatus, anesthetic, or other therapeutic or diagnostic substance, or
iii. use of any complementary, alternative, and integrative therapies, or
iv. use of any procedure for reproductive management, including but not limited to the diagnosis or treatment of pregnancy, fertility, sterility, or infertility, or
v. determination of the health, fitness, or soundness of an animal, or
vi. rendering of advice or recommendation by any means including telephonic and other electronic communications with regard to any of the above.”

The current language in the MVPA exempts “any person lawfully engaged in the art or profession of farriery” from the definition of veterinary medicine. Additionally, the MVPA currently includes the provision allowing farriers, due to the exemption, “to use any title, words, abbreviation, or letters in a manner or under circumstances that induce the belief that the person using them is qualified to do any act” as described above.

The proposed changes strike farriers from the list of those exempt. Many of the proposed changes in the MVPA include commentary to explain why such a change was made, but the elimination of language about farriers does not include any commentary at all. This absence is creating confusion as to the AVMA’s intentions.

The AVMA clarified to the American Farriers Journal that it in no way seeks to “exert control” over the hoof-care industry, but in eliminating the exemption acknowledges that hoof care is “well outside the definition of veterinary medicine” and does need to be included in the MVPA; the AVMA suggests that farriery should instead be under the purview of government, state by state.

While some concerned horse owners have interpreted this elimination of language to suggest that farriers would need a veterinary license to continue to practice, be required to be directly overseen by a veterinarian, or that a veterinarian would need to be performing a farrier’s job, that’s not necessarily the immediate case. However, these proposed changes do open the door for such requirements to become law according to individual states or based on interpretation of existing laws.

Both the American Farrier’s Association and the American Association of Professional Farriers have publicly stated their opposition to the proposed farrier exemption elimination.

The AVMA is accepting comments regarding the MVPA until March 25: please click here to open the comment form and lend your voice to the conversation.

Best of HN: Tales From the Farm — The Undead Pigeon

Photo by Kristen Kovatch

I’ve seen some pretty weird things on the various farms and ranches on which I’ve worked over the years, but this incident might just the cake.

Other than a week of false-hope-inducing warm temperatures in February which gave us the first glimpse of the grass that we’ve had since December, the fields and pastures here in western New York have been covered in snow. We’ve gotten over 210 inches total in my particular neck of the woods, though mercifully it’s all gone through some cycles of compression and partial thaw or we’d literally be digging tunnels from place to place.

As various layers of snow melt off, refreeze and get covered again by the latest front coming through, secrets are revealed — branches and other dangerous snags lurking beneath the snow (which make me cautious to move out at speed in unknown corners of the farm), various bits of equipment and supplies we forget existed, and occasionally some truly random objects.

On our amble back to the barn this weekend from a session of hill work in the deep snow — our time spent at the walk in ever-changing winter conditions has certainly been good for my OTTB Jobber’s fitness — I glanced down in the barnyard to see the tail and feet of a pigeon sticking straight up out of the snow. We had a resident flock of the flying pests around the farm, pecking at loose corn around the cow barn and pooping on our gates. The snow around this pigeony posterior was pristine and untouched; somehow this fallen denizen of the sky had evaded consumption by our pirate crew of semi-feral barn cats.

It was unclear to me if, somehow struck perhaps by a heart attack or other medical emergency, this pigeon had plummeted like a stone out of the sky to spear himself into the snow head-first in a tragic yet beautiful high-dive, or perhaps he had been deposited there earlier in the winter, left to sit upside-down in this bank like a refrigerated shrink-wrapped chicken and forgotten until the afternoon sun had melted away the snow around him. Either way, his tail and little clawed feet pointing up to the sky in which he had once fluttered were at once tragic and ridiculous.

As these various thoughts and musings whirled ’round my head, Jobber, who likes to naturally carry his head low like a western pleasure horse, swung his muzzle around to investigate this winged lawn dart. I’m not usually in the habit of letting my horses mouth up dead birds, so I began to shorten my reins to guide his face away.

Jobber exhaled on the pigeon’s tail, and the bird, rather unlike a dead pigeon, burst backwards up out of the snow like a flushed partridge, an explosion of wings and nervous clucking and snow scattered all about. This is how I die, I had time to think to myself as I scrambled to gather up my reins. Killed by a horse spooking at an undead pigeon.

The pigeon, likely suffering not only from a literal brainfreeze but some seriously confused telemetry, managed to flutter headlong into the wire fence along which we had been riding, slingshotting himself back into Jobber’s face for a moment and setting all the wires humming like a recently-strummed guitar, before wobbling up into the air and disappearing over the rolling hills across the road, leaving as mysteriously as he had arrived. Jobber gave two great leaping strides and came to a whirling halt of his own accord, ears pricked on the wobbly dot rapidly disappearing over the horizon.

Reins still akimbo, I patted Jobber’s shoulder as I swore out loud. What on earth this bird was doing bottoms-up in the snow with his feet sticking straight up in the air, looking for all the world like a very dead pigeon, I will probably never know.

What I do know are two things: don’t let your horse poke dead pigeons; two, I have the most tolerant horse on the planet.

Go riding!

Best of HN: 11 Random Things My Horses Have Spooked At

I got a text from my mother a few nights ago: “A friend’s very savvy trail horse spooked at a group of shirtless men jogging on the public trail today. Perhaps he startled at their paleness.”

And herein was launched the first-ever written-down collection of really random stuff my horses have spooked at in their lives. Add your own in the comments section!

1. The world’s dumbest barn cat attempting to leap into the saddle via clawing her way up his leg/shoulder (Jobber)

2. A newborn calf (Winston)

3. A field harrow that had been parked in the same place all winter without incident, but had recently run over a black trash bag, giving it the appearance of having phalanges floating lightly on the breeze (Winston again)

Photo taken several minutes AFTER Winston had backed halfway down the road with my sister-in-law before gradually being coaxed to at least keep it in the driveway. Photo by Kristen Kovatch

4. A flashing road sign warning of uneven pavement ahead (Randy)

5. The same flashing road sign on the opposite side of the road on the way back, which he had to physically turn his head all the way over his shoulder to intentionally look at over his blinder, so that he could spook a second time (Randy again)

6. Tibetan prayer flags (Tyrone)

7. A cow circling the cabin, behind which he had just pushed said cow (Skip)

8. Goats (Red)

9. After getting over the goats, the door leading into the barn housing the goats (Red again)

10. A hot air balloon lurking over the valley, several miles away (Red… again)

Yes, that wee tiny speck way off in the distance. Photo by Kristen Kovatch.

11. My husband wearing camouflage (Winston… again)

Add your own to the comments section! And go riding.

Nursemares of the Northeast: Saving Lives, One Foal at a Time

Laura Phoenix and So Sultry, one of Nursemares of the Northeast’s original mares. All photos courtesy Laura Phoenix/Nursemares of the Northeast.

Breeding a mare and raising the foal can be one of the most rewarding processes in the horse world — but unfortunately, it doesn’t always go according to plan. Mares can suffer complications, fail to produce milk or reject their foal, leaving their spindly-legged youngster effectively or literally orphaned. For these tragic situations, a nurse mare can be a blessing, able to step in and save the young foal by producing the much-needed milk and adopting the foal as her own. But the nurse mare industry has a darker side as well — in order for a mare to produce milk, she needs to have a foal of her own, and that foal usually became a by-product when its mother’s services were needed.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be that way — with the development of hormonal milk induction, a mare can now be induced into producing milk and taking on an orphaned foal, without having been pregnant or nursing a foal of her own first. It’s this process that Laura Phoenix of Nursemares of the Northeast follows, with a high success rate of acceptance among her mares year after year. We spoke with Phoenix to learn more about the process.

Hormonal milk induction

“My experience started when I was young,” Phoenix details. “It was the days before milk induction, so there were lots of orphaned foals left behind, which broke my heart. I always appreciated the fact that we were helping other foals, but then you came home to screaming babies. I took a lot of pride in my work — I became a professional at the bonding process and had a knack for getting mares to accept their new foals, but I had to leave the job because that pride was overshadowed by the babies left behind.”

But when Phoenix heard about hormonal milk induction, she knew she had to get back into the field.

The process uses hormones to “trick” the mare’s body into thinking she is pregnant; when a mare’s services are needed, a different administration of hormones creates mild labor pains and triggers milk production. The entire protocol of hormones takes place over 21 days, and Phoenix has learned a lot over the four years she’s been in operation about how to customize the protocol for quality milk production. (Learn more about the hormonal induction process here.)

The nurse mare is never actually pregnant during the hormone protocol and there is no foal produced as a “by-product” for the mare’s nursing services. Thanks to Phoenix’s skills in bonding her mares with “their” new foals, combined with the protocol itself, the hormonal milk induction process means that most of the mares seem to truly believe the orphan foal is their own.

Miss Gazon working her magic with a new foal in need of a mother.

“We always have a mare in full milk after January 15th; sometimes I’ll have more than one ready as the foaling season opens since we never know when our services will be needed,” Phoenix states. “There’s always a three to five day period where the mare and foal are adjusting to each other and her milk production will fluctuate as she balances out; I always bring a supply of milk along with from hand-milking the mares to supplement. Usually everyone adjusts and the mares produce plenty of milk on their own. So far our first two mares of 2018 haven’t needed any supplementation at all, which is wonderful.”

Nursemares of the Northeast

Phoenix considers her business an emergency service, so during foaling season her phone is always on. “Call me at 2 AM!” she states. “Some people think they have to wait until a respectable hour, but not when it comes to this. We want to prepare as soon as possible so we can get your foal and our mare together as soon as possible. I haul the mares myself so I can accompany them for the introductory process; that’s such a critical step. I can help it be a fifteen minute or half hour process versus a couple of days.”

Nursmares of the Northeast typically serves the northeast United States, and in the past year Phoenix has hauled mares as far south as North Carolina and as far north as Maine. In 2017, she had 21 out of 22 mares accept their new foals; for 2018, she’s increased her herd to 28 mares. Phoenix’s mares have helped everyone from racehorse and sporthorse breeders to backyard breeders, as well as major equine clinics throughout the northeast.

Tejas Gold at Rood & Riddle. This mare couldn’t wait to meet her new baby.

“My mares need to have had their own foal in the past so that I know they have a good mothering instinct,” Phoenix describes. “Most of the mares are adopted Thoroughbreds who aren’t producing what they need to for a breeder, so it’s a win-win for everyone. I always keep my farms updated and send photos of them with their new adopted babies, and they love it!” Phoenix keeps a variety of sizes in her herd, and even sent her smallest mare to nurse a pony orphan last year — it was another great match. “We believe in giving our mares everything they require, and then some — we want quality, healthy horses as well as great milk production.”

Phoenix herself is a critical part of the introduction process — through the skills she’s honed in the years of working in this industry, she can tell immediately if a mare and foal are going to bond or if intervention is necessary. “Sometimes we’ll have a mare that likes the baby, but isn’t quite sure that it’s actually hers. We have to be on top of that quickly, and sometimes pull out all the stops — sometimes that means taking the baby away and restarting part of the process. And then we have other mares that we call our ‘five stars’ — they go crazy as soon as they see the foal and can’t wait to lick and smell and love them like their own!”

Hormonal milk induction vs. other methods

The milk induction process is time consuming, and the timing is critical so that a mare is producing when she needs to be. “We’ve been called in to replace other hormonally-induced mares that never came to the farm with the proper support, so they stopped lactacting,” Phoenix shares. “It’s definitely a science that needs to be done correctly.”

While it may seem easier from a purely factual basis to stick to the “old method” and naturally foal out a mare and then put the orphan foal on for milk, especially with the prevalence of rescues willing to buy nurse mare foals, Phoenix believes that hormonal milk induction is the clear ethical choice. “I believe that the nursemare business has the opportunity to be completely ethical and I love it that way.”

Millpower, aka “Millie,” taking a nap with her new baby.

When hormonal milk induction is done correctly, Phoenix is also a firm believer based on her own experience that the mare will believe that the foal is her very own, and there’s a smaller risk of the nurse mare rejecting the foal. She’s also seen plenty of evidence in her own mares that correct hormonal induction creates a mare just as “milky” as a natural foaling mare.

“Having a hormonal milk induction nurse mare is more expensive at the onset than bottle or bucket-raising a baby,” Phoenix describes. “But the long-term benefits from having a foal raised by a mare outweigh the initial cost — the foal will learn socialization and manners from his new mother, and won’t need to have an additional buddy brought in or around-the-clock feeding from humans.”

“It’s my mission to change people’s minds about hormonal milk induction and to show that the nurse mare business can be ethical.”

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