Archive for the Thoroughbreds Category

Sunny Perfect Day at Keeneland

Posted in Equine Issues, Equine Rescue, Horse Racing, Thoroughbreds with tags , , , , , , on April 6, 2010 by martimu

Keeneland thoroughbred race course in Lexington, Kentucky is among the world’s more beautiful places on a fresh, sunny spring day. The horses are spirited, sleek and fit, and the people are at their colorful best. While there can be said to be much to be worked on to ensure a better long term life for a thoroughbred race horse – on a perfect spring day doing what they were born to do these horses might be, for this moment, at a pinnacle of their lives — winners and non-winners alike. After all, everyone gets to go back to the barn for sweet hay and molasses oats.

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Is Michael Blowen Crazy?

Posted in Equine Issues, Equine Rescue, Kentucky, Places, Thoroughbreds, Videos with tags , , , , on January 19, 2010 by martimu

Michael Blowen is an optimist. Here’s how I can tell — he started up a sanctuary for some of the most difficult of all horses to house: thoroughbred stallions. Seasoned thoroughbred stallions, if you know what I mean.

Here’s a fun fact, when he got going on this Old Friends project of his, he wouldn’t have called himself a horseman. And horsemen were calling him crazy. But here’s the thing, those details didn’t figure into his plan to re-home these tricky dudes.

I guess he reckoned there was a need. It wasn’t being directly addressed compassionately by anyone else so, being an optimist he weighed his odds and must have decided he had just as good a chance as anyone else to make it work. Help, he knew he could hire. Resources too — because I think a personal mantra for Michael may well be “Why not?”.

As a newspaperman (film critic for the Boston Globe) Michael and his wife Diane (also a gifted writer) were happy to exit their eastern urban life when an attractive retirement package floated their way. They hopped aboard and with a personal appreciation for just how unretired the recently retired can feel jumped — head first — into this dream to help these horses.

They moved to Kentucky. Horse country, Kentucky. Through his connections from within flat racing’s inner sanctum — did I forget to tell you Michael, the office-bound newsguy, developed a taste for the ponies? Yes, apparently sticking his neck out with periodic opinions on perceived public property (movies and the like) within notoriously crazy newspaper deadlines wasn’t a big enough rush for him. Well, he did. And like all good players be bought-in lock stock and two smoking barrels, eventually owning and running some of his own. I told you, optimist.

Unlike so many in the game, though, Michael started to really love his horses. Not just when they pranced into the winner’s circle — but even when they were gobbling up pricey hay and grain in their stalls he was footing the bills on under the stewardship of trainers and grooms his money helped support. Then he began wondering what their futures were like.

It’s usually somewhere around now in these love affairs that delusion gives way to reason. The sharp outlines of what is overwrite the glowing expansiveness of what could be. When he began making inquiries into where these horses went after they were played out on the track the answers started to weigh on him. When he learned that 1986 Kentucky Derby winner and 1987 Breeder’s Cup Classic winner Ferdinand ended up butchered in a slaughter house for meat, like so many other spent equine athletes – something inside him snapped.

Call it his sanity.

Then again, say it was just the sound of his cussidness hopping into the director’s chair. Go ahead, tell him he’s:

  • nuts
  • unqualified
  • underfunded
  • ignorant
  • doomed

and anything else that bubbles up from the depth of the naysaying pessimist. Because to a guy like Michael Blowen negativity apparently has a positive effect.

He and Diane started Old Friends in 2003 on a dream. Eight years and many life-in-the-balance, future jeopardizing, white knuckle financing moments later here they are:

Dream Chase Farm, Georgetown, Kentucky

On the gently rolling acres, where wooden fences partition the space into paddocks that each hold exactly one full functioning gorgeous old and even not so old thoroughbred stud. Some of thoroughbred racing’s fastest, famous and above all luckiest. The staff at Old Friends (volunteer “ambassadors” mostly) and Michael himself conduct tours of the farm 7 days a week. They host visiting dignitaries, horse crazy girls, some of the steeds’ former jockeys and the rest of us.

The place, the horses and their people garner national and international attention. Best of all owners who once shunned the effort are stepping up to help.

How come? Because Michael Blowen is starkers. Insane. He’s a retiree who’s off his rocker. I told you. He’s an optimist.

Old Friends, Inc.
1841 Paynes Depot Rd.
Georgetown, KY  40324
Phone: 502-863-1775

NYRA Adopts Tough Anti-Slaughter Policy

Posted in Equine Issues, Thoroughbreds with tags , on December 11, 2009 by martimu

Reposted from

By Jason Shandler
Updated: Thursday, December 10, 2009 1:51 PM
Posted: Thursday, December 10, 2009 10:54 AM

The New York Racing Association has announced an anti-slaughter policy that introduces harsh penalties to offending horsemen while encouraging them to support horse rescue and adoption initiatives.
The newly created policy, announced in a Dec. 10 release, is as follows:
Any owner or trainer stabled at a NYRA track found to have directly or indirectly sold a horse for slaughter will have his or her stalls permanently revoked from all NYRA tracks. NYRA requires its horsemen to conduct due diligence on those buying horses and encourages them to support rescue and adoption efforts and to find humane ways of dealing with horses unable to continue racing.
“We are fully committed to protecting our sport’s equine athletes,” said NYRA president and CEO Charles Hayward. “This policy sends the message that horse slaughter will not be tolerated and that those participating in this practice, either knowingly or for lack of due diligence, will not be welcome at Aqueduct, Belmont Park, or Saratoga.”
In addition to its stance against horse slaughter, NYRA also supports numerous equine retirement, anti-slaughter, and research organizations, and has made donations to the following organizations within the past year:
• Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation – Mission to save thoroughbred horses no longer able to compete on the racetrack from possible neglect, abuse and slaughter.
• Columbia Green Humane Society – Dedicated to the protection, humane treatment and well being of all animals.
• Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation – Committed to the advancement of research to enhance the health and soundness of horses of all breeds.
• Exceller Fund – Providing a future beyond the finish line, the Exceller Fund works to transition thoroughbred horses to a second career off the track.
Diana Pikulski, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, added this:
“This policy is important because it makes everybody involved with a horse aware that they need to plan for its retirement and educate themselves about the options.
“It is also significant that NYRA, NYTHA, the NY Riders and The Jockey Club have already donated $100,000 for retirement in NY and committed themselves to developing a long term plan for retirement funding. We have had several follow up meetings to develop that plan and all the parties have participated.”

The Disposable Horse

Posted in Equine Issues, Equine Rescue, Thoroughbreds with tags , on December 7, 2009 by martimu

In the high stakes game of “the sport of kings” gambling takes place at every level of the process. From finding the right nick between a mare and a sire’s bloodline, to lobbying on behalf of a Horse of the Year choice, odds for success are weighed and acted upon. The betting in horse racing is not limited to the windows at the tracks nor the online bookie experience.

One of the best ways to increase your chances of producing a stakes winner is to have as many entries as possible to leverage the odds in your favor. One of the best ways to do that is to create as many trainable foals as possible and point them towards the starting gate. While the triple crown races get the lion’s share of whatever press is available for horse racing the fact is most people involved in the sport make their money in the less visible races where their horses plug away at coming in ahead of the herd week after week month after month.

They start them early in order to not have to wait any longer than they have to to start realizing a profit from each ‘hay burner’. They begin training them young and running them hard before their bones have matured, before their joints have ‘closed’. Inevitably they set these horses up for mechanical failure from the first day they take to the track. Ultimately many race horses become semi to totally crippled, suffering from bone, joint and irreversible traumatic tissue damage at a young age. This sets them up to be almost worthless on the open market. That’s the physical. On the mental side of things not whole lot of compassion goes into mentally preparing individuals for the rigors of racing life. From being thrust onto a trailer (many for the first time in their lives) to be rushed into a stall during a sale surrounded by hundreds of similarly scared yearlings screaming and smearing runny poo all over their stall walls too – to being ‘started’ at the ripe young age of two (more like one and a half for most of them) their fragile sense of selves is slammed up against the harsh rigors of human expectation with nary a thought for how the horse is processing all of non-horse communication. Often they are an emotional mess when they are finally released from this system.

Phew. Not pretty. Now to be sure – there are EXCEPTIONS to this process. Not all owners and trainers are monstrous in their expectations (there is one sparkling soul who is a good friend of mine who is a most notable exception) – but pretty much all of them do get the horses started at that tender age of ‘two’. So in some ways this gentle abuse is system wide and creates broken in body and mind individuals who are unfit to race any more, and most having not enjoyed a whole lot of success are probably equally unfit to be bred anyway. Thus every year the United States churns out 70,000 new foals for whom this will be their fate. Say 10% of them become winners – that leaves 63,000 misspent ‘also-rans’. Emotionally fried, physically done in – these equine treasures, the containers of dashed dreams of their former human caretakers are now thrust upon the open market and left to fend for themselves as they vie for the attention of whatever monied young girl lucky enough to have the resources available for her owning her very own horse. Now the race is for their very lives, to be bought and shepherded against the able-bodied backyard bred quarter horses, half breeds, no-breeds and well bred others (Saddlebreds, Standardbreds, to name but two).

So what are we to do? Who is to blame? How many horses can equine rescuers absorb into their system? How many horses can we tolerate going to slaughter? Oh, you didn’t know about that? Yes, the horses that can’t be gainfully employed, the ones not lucky enough to live out the rest of their some-odd thirty years in one way or another (as ‘lawn ornaments’, show prospects or trail buddies) are sold at a per pound price at livestock auctions held in every continent and sold for their meat. And maybe that’s acceptable to most people, but the manner in which they are transported to their final comeuppance is not kind, it is not humane, and it is often worse than terrible. It is abuse to the nth degree and has caused those familiar with this process to blanch at associating with the concept of being of the same species as the humans who carry this process out.

So is it overbreeding that makes so many horses disposable? Is slaughter an acceptable option? Is it more acceptable if it is conducted humanely? Why aren’t more people angry about this? Why are rescuers so overburdened? Why aren’t rescuers demanding more accountability from those who are flooding the market with these broken horses? Where do we start fixing this? How do we encourage better stewardship for these gentle souls who have carried humankind towards higher levels of accomplishment? Don’t we owe them a better deal?

Thoroughbred Market Correction

Posted in Art, Kentucky, Thoroughbreds with tags , , on November 13, 2009 by martimu

Sales are way down at Keeneland so far this fall. The yearling sale was way off last year’s numbers and currently the breeding stock sale numbers are way down too. The Louisville Courier-Journal says:

“The $26.3 million in gross sales represented a fall of 45.2 percent from last year’s opening session….”

Is this a bad thing?

For some time now the thoroughbred market, almost exactly like the housing industry, has been enjoying –some would say– inflated sales figures with some of the top sales figures topping $10 million. For an unproven yearling! But the current economy has come calling and left hundreds if not thousands of unsold horses, many of their owners no longer able to recoup the money invested in just their breeding fee alone. In other words, recovering the stallion cover fee isn’t happening in the sales pavilion.

So what’s this ‘correction’ doing to the thoroughbred market? In some cases buyers are getting bargains as sellers seek to recoup at least some of their money. In other cases sellers will hang on to the ones with better pedigrees or potential and train them themselves. But this is all at the upper end of things. At the lower end, where breeders, sellers and farm operators barely hang on during the good times it’s not such a pretty picture for their horses. These are the horses that bring in the least amount at the sales. These are the horses we will see being abandoned in fields or given away to anyone who will take them, including those who use horses for inhumane purpose and there are plenty of those. This new population of unsold race horses will sooner rather than later enter the inhumane avenues of disposal that is the unfortunate fate of all unwanted horses. The lucky ones will go to slaughter.

As early as last February in the rural areas near and around metropolitan Chicago the Tribune reported instances of increased equine neglect as horse owners struggled to keep up with their financial obligations often choosing other payments over upkeep of their horses.

That’s in the short run. In the long run maybe fewer people will participate in the “sport of kings” and seek their fortune elsewhere. Perhaps this is a good thing. Let’s hope they’re not interested in dogs.

Chestnut Horse at Keeneland Sale

In happier times a day topper at Keeneland - for sale on Etsy - click to see

College Day Pageantry at Keeneland

Posted in Horse Racing, Thoroughbreds, Videos with tags , , , on October 20, 2009 by martimu

That we ride horses has more to do with their kindness than man’s accomplishments.
Merry Horses

A chestnut Foal heads to Keeneland (painting avail on Etsy - click!)

A chestnut Foal heads to Keeneland (painting avail on Etsy - click!)

Fall in Kentucky can be an achingly beautiful time. Pair that with observing horses prancing under colorful silk outfits and maybe heaven seems less other-worldly. Last week I had the pleasure to bring two young ladies to Keeneland for their first experience ever with horse racing in general and the gifts of Keeneland in particular.

It was “College Day” and this being the ‘northernmost southern city’ there were well groomed University of Kentucky students wandering everywhere. My pair fit right in. They were delighted with the pageantry of the paddock and the thrill out on the track. It was a joy to experience afresh the wonder of it all through their innocent eyes.

Being near horses always offers an opportunity for personal transformation just by proximity alone. That is part of the joy of horses, and part of the debt we owe those we employ for our entertainment. To see the grace of horses running is to glimpse the dance of the angels.

Secretariat’s Extras

Posted in Art, Horse Racing, Thoroughbreds, Videos with tags , , , , on September 29, 2009 by martimu
Not Big Red - but a dang nice looking thoroughbred nonetheless - painting avail on Etsy

Not Big Red - but a dang nice looking thoroughbred nonetheless - painting avail on Etsy

I’m not an actor. I don’t play one on tv. But as it turns out I am qualified to play an attendee of the 1973 Belmonth Stakes win by the great Secretariat because of two key factors:

  1. I showed up and
  2. I bothered to wear an outfit that could be construed as having been possible in the early 70’s.

Because I am daring and edgy, I also brought along my mini camera so I could record some of the fabulosity that is the Hollywood experience for you, my dear WegWag reader. I think you will agree with me in saying “Thank God polyester fabrics are enjoying their first half life decay in landfills across the globe; no longer causing such accidents as was described to me by a clearly knowledgeable gentlemen during one of the numerous rest periods we extras enjoyed during lulls between the rigors of cheering Secretariat’s win from at least seven different locations throughout the grandstand. He claims to have suffered a kitchen accident wherein he backed into a lit stove burner wearing a “leisure suit” of a material he recollects as being called “Dacron“, a detail that sticks with him to this day as insistently as the material itself stuck to his rear when it melted there.

Can YOU Spot the Errors?

Can YOU Spot the Errors?

Spoiler Alert: Big Red wins that race. He won it no less than 7 times yesterday. I can’t offer proof because the staff of The Mouse would have me swiss cheesed if I had even attempted to film when they were filming – I am putting my life on the line as it is offering this ultra-bootlegged non-commercial footage as it is. If this page goes dark in the near future, look for new howling sounds at the Pirates of the Caribbean ride – the place where The Mouse’s henchmen throw the hapless under-represented artsy fartsies who get in the way of their corporately-imagineered creative machinations.

Here goes:

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