January 1st marks a new year for Thoroughbreds. It’s on this day that all Thoroughbreds age a year regardless of their actual birth date. Debating whether or not this is fair when it comes to racing the fillies and the colts born anytime during the foaling season, some as much as months apart which would be the equivalent to preteens racing against advanced teenagers, draws a little interest among horsemen but not enough to warrant a change in policy. If you polled a hundred horsemen, chances are they would all shrug and say, “It’s always been done this way.” It’s why the breeding sheds are so busy in January and February. Early, earlier, earliest.
Mares out in the wild don’t even exhibit signs of estrus until early spring. But then again, they don’t have heated barns and artificial sunlight to spur them on in the otherwise colder time of year.
They don’t have medications either. But imagine if they did, which is not so far-fetched when you consider the fact that many medications are plant based and animals have instincts we cannot even fathom when it comes to what they need to eat. Imagine for whatever reason, that horse finding the perfect grass, the ideal shrub for whatever ails them. Imagine them then for no good reason deciding on the days when they would need it the most, to just not help themselves to the medicinal herb. One would think they would never have even ambled in the plant’s direction let alone find it useful and then not ingest in preparation for a hard-run stampede or after a strenuous swim across the pond.
Imagine running for running’s sake. Thoroughbreds are purportedly bred and raised to run, right? They’re bred to run fast, faster, fastest. Then why do we need to whip them to get them to run fast, faster, fastest. And what’s all that screaming and shouting about? Did someone do a study years ago supporting the notion that if you yell and scream at a racehorse, they run harder, fast, faster, fastest.
Is there integrity and forgiveness in the dirt surface of the racetrack, rubber, or synthetic? Or is grass turf kinder to the racehorse’s fragile legs. “It’s always been mostly dirt. No, didn’t it start out on grass?” Why do we have both? For what purpose? Is it to benefit the horse’s ease of performance? Or is it to afford them to run exceedingly fast, faster, the fastest ever. The last time I checked, the payoff is still the same, no matter how fast the race is won, a winner is a winner.
I believe the year of 2013 can be one that makes history for all the right reasons in the Thoroughbred Industry. It can and should be the year that humane equine business practices take precedent. I imagine it the year when soft whips are mandated at all the racetracks in this country. I imagine it a year where sensible medication rules and regulations address the horses’ needs and are consistent. I picture a winner’s circle where horse, owner, jockey, groom and trainer walk together as one with honesty and integrity. I imagine this Sport of Kings becoming better known as the Sport of Champions for the horses. I imagine fairness. I imagine humane treatment. I imagine a sport that once again thrives. I imagine new-found and old-time fans filling the stands. I imagine pride.