Someone called what happened to Barbaro on Saturday “the dark side of racing,” but it’s more than that — it’s the dark side of keeping horses. For all their strength and speed and beauty, horses are surprisingly delicate animals, prey to a whole host of physical complications that can cut them down justlikethat, most of which are the result of our insistence that they live the way we do.
In the wild (and understand, horses are not really wild animals, not after centuries of domestic breeding) a horse would graze around 20 hours a day, moving idly across grasslands, drinking when it’s thirsty and running only when pursued by predators. It would lie down only briefly, sleep standing up. Movement and grazing, though — that’s its nature. So what do we do? Lock them in barns, turn them out briefly, feed them concentrated grains to make up for 20 hours of grazing and try to channel all that strength into our own idea of competitive pursuits, even if they do seem to work in concert with a horse’s own instincts. Disaster is a byproduct.
Whenever a horse like Barbaro “breaks down,” the horseman’s euphemism for the frequently grisly fractures that end racing careers and, nearly as frequently, a horse’s life, people are puzzled and ask: Why can’t you just put the leg in a cast?
For lots of reasons. This Slate Explainer does a fine job laying them out in layman’s terms. Poor Barbaro. Fingers crossed.
Danny said on May 23, 2006 at 9:49 am
Yeah, fingers crossed or whatever. I mean, I was really miffed that this was the lead story in the San Diego Union Tribune yesterday. And somewhere, maybe online, maybe in another paper I saw at the store, they had a huge x-ray, about 3×8, on the front page. And just about every website had a report on how the horse was probably going to be ok and was feeling frisky and eating. Wonderful.
Man, I wish I was a elite race horse instead of just a horse’s ass.
Dorothy said on May 23, 2006 at 9:56 am
We were eating dinner in front of the telly on Saturday and saw this happen to Barbaro. Such a sad story. Do owners of thoroughbreds have insurance to cover such possible mishaps? One would think so – they have enough money tied up in them, insurance seems necessary.
brian stouder said on May 23, 2006 at 10:53 am
From SF Chronicle article linked above:
“Artificial insemination is not permitted when breeding thoroughbred race horses.”
Why? Or more to the point, how would anyone (a horse appraiser, say) KNOW if a particular race horse was the product of artificial insemination?
nancy said on May 23, 2006 at 11:09 am
The Jockey Club — the governing body of thoroughbred racing — has a procedure for overseeing breeding. The AI prohibition is, I think (and I’m not sure), to keep everyone honest. It’s a lot easier to play hanky-panky with frozen semen than it it with an eyewitnessed, live breeding.
Actually, if you care about such things, there’s a pretty good case to be made for allowing some fresh blood into thoroughbred pedigrees. A lot of people think the breed has topped out, genetically, which a look at the record books tends to confirm. Some frozen semen from other breeds might be just what the doctor ordered.
brian stouder said on May 23, 2006 at 11:48 am
Seems like with DNA confirmations, AI should be verifiable and traceable.
Too many dollars chasing too few genes, I suppose
J. Rae said on May 23, 2006 at 3:13 pm
Thanks for the link to the Slate article. I can’t claim that I stored all the details, but I’d had the “can’t they put a cast on it” question, so was glad to learn something about why that wouldn’t work.
joodyb said on May 23, 2006 at 6:11 pm
There is no artificial insemination also because of market control. You keep the pool smaller and thus more exclusive. Someone on the radio today compared it to DeBeers and the diamond trade.
joodyb said on May 23, 2006 at 6:46 pm
interesting take on how throroughbred racehorses come to be:
nancy said on May 23, 2006 at 6:47 pm
And now we’re talking semen. Is no topic too sticky for NN.C? I think not.
Another thing re: AI — one ejaculation is generally “extended” into many more when AI is employed, making it more efficient and, as Joody points out, potentially flooding the market with spermatazoa. It’s not uncommon for prize bulls to have thousands of live offspring and, over a lifetime, produce hundreds of thousands of “straws,” each one selling for a pretty price. (If you’ve ever been to a place like Select Sires it’ll blow your mind — the bulls live like kings, getting “collected” twice a day.) I imagine the already dysfunctional world of thoroughbred breeding probably doesn’t want to throw more of that in the mix.
brian stouder said on May 23, 2006 at 9:24 pm
Great article, joodyb!
It got a horse laugh or two out of – as for example this excerpt about a breeding farm operation –
“Josh Pons is a serious businessman. I remarked that the rules for breeding seem rather “low-tech” for this day and age. He looked as though he wasn’t sure if he liked the sound of that term. It’s difficult work, he said. It’s also risky. It takes four or five men to handle the horses as they breed. His top stallion is worth $1.5 million, and could be disabled by a swift kick from a mare. “If she were to hit the stallion in the penis, we’d be out of business,” Pons said.
As it happened, a jumpy mare named Canada Miss had come onto the farm to breed this very morning. She was 9 years old and a maiden. She’d never had a horse on her back. Her owner, Barbara Gardi, stood by nervously. “It’s like my baby. My big baby,” Gardi said. A farm employee warned her to be prepared for what was coming up: “It is a little …”–the employee paused–“violent.”
Everyone at the farm was wary of Canada Miss. She’d come there the day before, for schooling, and she had been balky. A veterinarian had reached inside and confirmed she was in heat, but after nine years of racing, she might not grasp the concept of being “covered,” as they say, by a 1,300-pound stallion.
First, the horsemen brought out a teaser horse. A teaser horse is the warm-up act, an important but ultimately expendable creature. This one’s name was Popeye, and he was a gelding. Popeye nuzzled and licked the maiden on her left flank. She urinated, a sign that she was ready. A horseman held a “twitch” that covered her mouth, while another man held her left front leg with a strap. Two more men stood at her flanks. Popeye reared up and plopped on her back and there was a sudden grunting and whinnying and with both hind legs Canada Miss bucked and threw Popeye off her back. “Poor little girl. This is all new for her,” said her owner.
and so on and so forth! A bizarre business
pete washington said on May 27, 2006 at 6:28 pm
i would like to know how they bred the thoroughbred do they ai or live cover. some said if they did ai that they are not real thoroughbred.
monique miller said on June 10, 2006 at 11:04 pm
Why isnt there any ai breeding in thoroughbreds? Ai breeding would seem safer because there is less risk of an injury and you could also test the stallions semen quality. Although I do understand the benefits of live covering because more semen gets directly into the mare without having to process the semen and losing the sperm that could be the one to get your mare in foal.
April Gaede said on September 26, 2007 at 2:22 pm
As many of the posters stated above there are several reasons why A. I. is not allowed with thoroughbred reproduction. One is that the market would be flooded with many foals from the same popular stallion ( for instance one that just won the Kentucky Derby) thus diversifying the field of horses eligible for certain races.
I think the main reason is because stallion owners are paid for “live foal guarentee” meaning they only get the full amount of the stud fee if the union produces a live foal ( one that stands and sucks). A stallion can only cover a limited number of mares per day and per week and per year. The stallions get tired and cannot perform just like a human. Thus the stallion owner is limited to making money by how many mares a stallion can ” cover”. If an unscrupulous ranch uses A.I. they are guarenteeing that they will make more money from payment of stud fees than a ranch that only uses live covers. Potentially they could breed 8-10 mares a day instead of 2-3.
Old English Rancho in Sanger California is at this moment breaking the Jockey club rules and they are ONLY doing A. I. breeding of the mares there. The stallions involved are Unusual Heat, Vronsky, Unbridled Native, Storm Pilot, Royal Cat, Poteen, Perfect Mandate, Lacey, Evitan and Cyclotron. There are several hundred mares involved. Any of the foals from these stallions in the last 4 years or so are probably illegally registered as they were not products of a live cover. I have witnesses to this and we are contacting the Jockey Club about it. All TB ranches should encourage the JC to investigate this since it is unfair to the rest of the people in the TB breeding industry.