Friday, December 19, 2008

So, You Want To Buy A Horse?

People think horse ownership is glamorous. It's not. My day starts at 5:00 a.m. and ends at 11:00 p.m. Why do I do it? Because I'm passionate about equines. I've spent at least 55 years working with horses. It's in my blood. What most folks don't understand is the commitment of time, energy, and money that goes into the care of a horse.

Owning a horse is a big responsibility. Be prepared to spend time grooming, exercising, and caring for the animal or assume the responsibility to see that the basic care will be performed daily. Unless the horse is kept on the owner's property, travel time to and from the stable where the horse is boarded must be considered. The costs of owning a horse can add up quickly as the owner provides shelter, feed, bedding, medical care, shoeing, and riding equipment.

Before buying a horse I suggest you start taking riding lessons from a reputable local stable to assess your commitment to the daily chores of horse ownership. Some people start taking lessons once a week only to find out that even that much time ends up being more of a commitment than they realize, especially when the weather gets cold.

Before purchasing a horse, decide where to keep the animal and how much it will cost. The purchase price is minimal compared to all the other expenses you'll incur. If you live on property that can support a horse, both legally and physically, be sure you have adequate stabling. If you live in a cold climate consider boarding the animal, at least during the winter months, at a stable with an indoor arena. Riding in freezing weather is unpleasant and can be dangerous for both horse and rider.

The main point is to become knowledgeable before you purchase a horse. It angers me when I see horses fall into the hands of people who have no clue what they are doing. It's always the horse that suffers at the hands of uneducated handlers.

It is your responsibility to become a knowledgeable horse person. Your safety and well being, along with your equine, is of utmost importance. There is nothing more rewarding than a spiritual connection between horse and rider. That can only happen with years of experience or with someone who can teach you how to do it the right way.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Tribute to a Champion

When Barbaro was finally euthanized last year, most people were sympathetic to the stallion's fate.

However, there were a few ignorant cretins who actually said, "Who cares about a horse with a gimpy leg? It's only a horse." If that's your thought and you're within reach of me, you better run. I've worked with horses most of my life, and there is no nobler creature on earth than the thoroughbred.

Bobby" (Barbaro's stable name) epitomized what we, as humans, can only dream to achieve. He was strong, brave and honest; a champion of champions. He gave 150% of his very being, doing whatever was asked of him. All he asked for in return were regular feedings of hay and grain with a possible carrot or two at the end of the day.

Just a gimpy horse; I don't think so! What he gave to his owners, and trainer, was immeasurable; hope for a bright future in the horse racing industry, with earnings of $2,302,200, in a short but eventful career. He gave the rest of world a chance to believe in a hero.

Barbaro never lost a race, being first place in the six races he entered. The seventh race, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Park, was his final race. Due to a shattered right hind leg, he was unable to finish the 1 and 3/16 mile race.

I watched the tragedy unfold, my heart in my throat, and didn't think the big bay colt would make it from Maryland to New Bolton Veterinary Clinic. But he did. He put up a valiant fight for his life. Eight months later he was humanely euthanized on Monday, January 29, 2007. Barbaro fought to live until the end when his injuries overcame his body not his spirit.

Barbaro will be especially missed by those of us who love and work with equines. He was a hero with no agenda. His courage was something to hang on to in a world of political chaos, violence, corruption, and general malaise. The world needs a hero.

Mine is gone.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I'd Rather Be At the Barn

It's gray and damp this morning with a wet, soggy snow coming down. When 5:00 a.m. rolls around it's difficult for me to get out of bed this time of year. The only thing that motivates me is knowing I'll be greeted by soft nickers and warm velvet noses as soon as I get to the barn.

Picturing that scene in my mind, I crawl from under the warm covers, throw my barn clothes on, grab a bag of carrots, pail of hay cubes, and mug of hot coffee as I prepare for a short drive to the farm where my horses are boarded.

The cold, gray, fall sky gives way to equine sunshine as soon as I enter the barn. Those soft nickers and warm velvet noses get to me everytime. A chilly, damp, pre-dawn bond with my mares beats anything else I'll do today.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fio Rito Equine Hero

I have a picture of Fio Rito in my office. He was Finger Lakes Race Track horse of the year in 1979, 1980, and 1981. There was a moment today when I looked up from my writing and had a flashback to the '80s.

It was a time when thoroughbred racing was at its peak in upstate New York. I feel privileged to have been able to watch Fio Rito run. In 1996, at age 21, Fio Rito was euthanized. He's buried at the track infield.

Finger Lakes Race Track isn't the same anymore. A casino has been added. The quiet grace of the horse has been replaced by the deafening "ca-ching, ca-ching" of the slot machines. It makes me sad. There is one consolation. When I go to the track now, and look toward the infield, I know a great hero is buried there.