Today was eye-opening for me.
Coming up in Europe, horse keeping was very different. Now add to that the fact that horse racing is, to this day, also done very differently, you invariably end up comparing different methods at one point or another, side by side.
Now I don't practice European style horse keeping. Most horses over there (or let me be more specific- in Germany, where I spent the majority of my growing up time) live in stalls 24/7. Most riding stables back when I was young had no pasture land or fields. Many of the stables were old, centuries old, barns built from rocks, bricks, or not THAT old but made from Beton (German for concrete). I remember when I started earning my first lessons in exchange for caring for a school horse, those old school masters were kept in "parking spot" stalls. Spaces about 6 feet wide, 10 feet long. The horse is parked head first and that's where it lives.
Not knowing any better at the fresh age of 6, I never gave it another thought.
The horse I cared for was a HUGE liver chestnut Hanovarian mare named Elfe (German for Elf).
Elfe was a bit of a biter and didn't like everyone. But she loved me and it was mutual.
She was an easy 17 hands tall and her hooves, if I remember correctly, were at least a race shoe size 8 or 9, easily.
As barbaric as the horse keeping practices at this establishment sound, it was actually a very reputable and regionally recognized riding school, specializing in dressage.
Here is where I have to put another explanation in, which is going to veer way off the subject, but it's a must:
Germany and her teaching methods, in any discipline, whether academic or as in this case, equestrian, is very from the bottom up and all encompassing.
When you are a student in a German school and you go to PE, you don't just play Dodgeball in Gym. You actually learn: Basketball, Handball, Soccer, Tennis, Gymnastics (not just basic stuff, either. I vividly remember the parallel bars and vaulting. I remember coming off the rings with a flip through the air and landing on my feet!), Swimming (competitively), Track, you name it.
Come to think of it, the competition aspect also bled over into general academia, i.e. math. Competitions in early Geometry and Algebra as young as 4th grade were NOT unusual, and by competition I mean in class competition- teacher lines up the whole class and poses a problem on the board. First student in line has to answer it. Correct answer gets points. Incorrect answer gets you to stand in back of the line to start all over again.
So, when I started learning the skills of classical horsemanship, it was also required that I learn to jump. Basically, all riders had to come from a level skill base in order to continue and excel and start showing. Once you learned all sorts of different disciplines, you could then choose the specialty in which you wanted to continue and come up in.
This barn was a mere kilometer from our home. Another kilometer down the main road from the barn was a racetrack. An honest-to-goodness, real life racetrack.
I used to pedal past this track on my way to school every morning, on my bike during the open race meet. I would glance over the HUGE hedge and hope to get a glimpse of horses, jockeys, something, anything!
After a few years of obsessing over the big mystery contained behind that giant green wall of China, at the age of 12, I decided I had had enough wonderment and I was going to find out.
I snuck in through the ship-in gate into the barn area.
Over in Europe, horses don't stable at the track. Trainers train from either private or public training farms and ship in for races.
The particular Saturday I chose was a live racing day and I went about exploring the "backside" as best as I could without being noticed by security personnel.
I must have been having delusions to think that a 12 year old girl on her own would not get noticed - I was petting heads peeking out awaiting their races when someone hollered and within the blink of an eye, I was cornered by two security guards (who at that time in my short life seemed REALLY HUGE). I was informed that I would be escorted back to the gate, where the local police would then collect me and take me home (oh joy, this whup-ass I REALLY did not look forward to!) when an older gentleman walked up and asked where the hell I had been and not to wander off on my own or I wouldn't be accompanying him in the future.
This man, who freed me from the clutches of the evil security nazis, was a trainer who took me under his wing and got me started in racing.
Thoroughbreds with German Citizenship
Did you know that in Germany, race training takes place come hell or high water? Rain? What are you, made of sugar? As much as it rains over there, if training stopped for rain, well, no races would be won. You throw on your rain gear, you get a leg up and off you go to the gallops.
Heck, I've never met a horse that didn't enjoy working in the rain!
Surprisingly, those German Thoroughbreds are apparently of a very hardy sub species of the breed. I say that because....
Today it was raining. Steph came out and trimmed two of my crew and off to the track we went. When the rain started to pour down, Cowboy came into the barn and asked me if I was ready to call it a day.
The puzzled expression on my face must have been worth a million because he explained:
"Well, we can keep going out if you want them to get sick!"
By now my face is scrunched doubly, trying to follow this train of thought and figure out just what the hell he is talking about?!?
"Sick, what do you mean?"
"Well, it's raining!"
"No shit, Sherlock, what's your point?"
"Well, you send the rest out in this rain, they're going to get wet and then they're going to get sick!"
I have a really hard time equating wet with sick in the same thought process.
I'm guessing this is attributable to the fact that in my brain, the ability to get sick has a prerequisite of a bug of some sort to invade FIRST. Or a weak immune system.
But never once in my life have I ever heard of a perfectly healthy being get sick from simply being out in the rain. (Although my grandmother tried plenty of times to pull this wool over my eyes, as I'm sure yours has, too!)
Instead of explaining all this to Cowboy, who I suspect was more or less referring to himself moreso than the horses with his statement, I simply informed him that to my knowledge a healthy Thoroughbred wouldn't just get sick from training in the rain.
As I walked off, I turned around and said:
"Waitaminute...... I get it! These are American Thoroughbreds! They must have special lowered immune function! THAT's why they'd get sick in the rain, right?"
Trying not to laugh at the pissy look on his face, I mumbled, walking off to the tack room to retrieve the next set of tack:
"Dang! I knew I shoulda brought soma dem there German racehorses over here with me! Shit, what am I gonna do now for the rest of the winter!??????!!!!!! The vet bills are going to be outrageous!!!!!!!!!"
The humor in the situation is self-evident, of course. But what lingered with me was the thought that for some reason, horse people, especially racing people, in this wonderful country come up with the most asinine concepts I have EVER heard of!
I suspect Cowboy really just wanted to go home early because he was already soaked to the bone. Thing about that is- why not just come out and say it?
Instead I am forever going to look at him and wonder what exactly he has learned in 30 years of being around the racetrack.
Or maybe, Thoroughbreds with American Citizenship do have inferior immunity?
Then again, these are the same Thoroughbreds who couldn't possibly run a race without shoes.
Some days I feel like I have stepped into the twilight zone.
I'm going to have to see if I can get an application for Canadian Citizenship for Doodle.
At least then I can flash his passport next time someone tells me it's raining and proclaim:
"HA! Doesn't faze us! See this here? My horse is a Canadian Citizen! He can train in the rain and NOT get sick!"
The love of my life, Raggedy [RIP(Three Rags Rappin)] - in the snow. How in the world he didn't get sick, I don't know, after all, he was an American Thoroughbred Citizen.......*snicker*