Saturday, November 6, 2010

Zenyatta: Horse of the Year? Try Horse of a Lifetime.

I'm a FAN.

Somewhere along the line it happened; I only really knew it today, when I saw her near miss in the Classic by a long nose. I knew she didn't get there, but for a moment, I was in shear disbelief. Maybe I saw it wrong, maybe there would be a steward's inquiry, maybe...just maybe...

Mike Smith's tearful comments to the press broke my heart; Mike's a world class rider and Zenny, a world class mare, there is certainly no shame in their performance today. If anything, in defeat, Zenyata showed the world what a true champion looks like. On an unfamiliar track not to her liking, under lights, with a full field of the best horses in the country throwing dirt in her face, she rallied from too far off the pace, found a hole, came at least five wide on the outside, and kicked it into gear. She lost by a nose to a game and ready horse with home field advantage. I'd like to think in the end, she simply didn't know where the wire was. As Blame held on with his ears pinned to his poll, and his neck stretched to its fullest, Zenyatta's ears still flopped about, she still looked confident and in charge. Blame, at home, knew where the finish was, just as Zenny has always seemed to at Hollywood Park. Ahhh.. home field advantage.

The naysayers will cheer, and proclaim she is undeserving of HOY honor's now. I disagree. Look, had she been passed in the stretch, or been beaten soundly by a length, or finished out her career like Quality Road, with a dismal finish, then yes, she would be undeserving of the crown. Yet, here is a mare, who to this moment, was undefeated this year, traveled east to race on dirt (is it her fault that Rachel Alexandra would not face her?), and came out to a track she had never raced on to pull out all the stops on the biggest day of American racing. While it was easy to trivialize her win last year with complaints about the polytrack, and her home field advantage, if that is the case can we not do the same to her only competition for the Eclipse Award, Blame? Would it be wrong to say a true champion should be able to show they can handle both poly and dirt, and race successfully on both coasts? Can we say that perhaps Blame would not have done so well had the race been on a track he was unfamiliar with? The debate will continue until a Horse of the Year is crowned.

Let me break it down:

Blame: 5 races this year (4 G1's, 1G3) 4 wins, 1 second (in a G1) to Haynesfield (lost by 4 lengths). 4 different tracks all East Coast, all dirt

Zenyatta: 6 races this year (6 G1's) 5 wins, 1 second to Blame (lost by half a head). 5 different tracks, 3 West Coast and 2 East Coast, 2 dirt

I'm not going to look at distances, or the competition in those races; to be frank, a G1 is just that, and neither of these horses, or their connections, have any control over who shows up to face them. I also think it is sexist and unfair to play the gender card here. When it comes down to HOY honors, voters should not be devaluing a G1 race because its conditions are for fillies/mares. If that is going to be the case, then we need a HOY for each gender...separate but equal (sneer).. sound familiar?

So yes.. I'm a fan; the wins, the come from behind style, the ears, the dance, the connections.. in the end she won me over. So tonight, watching her walk back to the barn with dirt in her eyes, and Mario's hand on her neck, and not into the winner's circle, where I felt she belonged... I felt empty.

Zenyatta, thanks for the ride. What you have done for thoroughbred racing is immeasurable; how blessed are we to have seen you in action, and how much we will miss you. Thank you to the Mosses for sharing your mare with us, she has been a gift, and to Mike Smith and Mario Espinoza, who both obviously love Zenyatta, and believe, like many of us that she is perfection, even if she is 19-1.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Saying Goodbye...

If you know me at all you have probably heard that tomorrow I have to put down my "new" OTTB, Northern Blue. Blue came into my life this past December, and throughout the miserable winter I sat inside and planned for my spring with Blue. I'll admit it doesn't take much for me to fall in love with a horse, and Blue was no exception, but I couldn't help but really fall for him. Sweet, sane, handsome and unflappable... an all around great guy. If he was human, he would be the one you would bring home to your parents.

About 10 days ago I pulled off his blanket and was shocked by how much weight he lost practically overnight, and not just weight on his ribs, serious muscle loss. Then I started noticing other things, almost unnoticeable ventral edema, mild swelling in his sheath, and his chest and neck had developed lumps that I was sure were not just muscle I had overlooked. Later that night he had a fever, an hour later it had resolved on its own. I gave him Banimine anyway, but I had a bad feeling... our best diagnosis is Lymphoscaroma, most likely of the GI tract. I did not have the aspirate sent off to the lab. The diagnosis is inconsequential anyway, his downhill progression has been rapid and painful to watch. His laundry list of ailments continues to grow and his stall has slowly become an equine hospice with round the clock drugs and care.

10 days from when I pulled off his blanket, we are here, on our last evening together, the vet will be here tomorrow morning to put him down, to relieve him from his suffering. So this evening as he slowly found his way to the top part of the paddock to watch his last sunset, I found my way up there as well and stood with him. I told him how much I loved him and how sorry I was for this injustice. He stood very still and quiet, shifting from one back leg to the other. I took some photos of him as well, some nice head shots in the lingering sunshine, and some body shots, mostly to document his symptoms and the rapid progression of this disease. We stood together for an hour or so and then I made my way down the hill alone. He came in after the sun went down to have his dinner, be wrapped and medicated. We will be with him through the evening, and of course tomorrow morning, when he will need us the most...

Goodbye Northern Blue... travel well my friend, I wish our time together had been longer.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Breeding Labrador Retrievers...Some Thoughts

If you have seen my website lately you know my Chocolate Labrador, Harmony, had a litter of beautiful puppies at the end of December. Their birth was a culmination of years of hard work and dedication; following the "rules" of professional breeders and never settling for anything less than the best. While we are still a young kennel, I have been blessed with awesome teachers and mentors and had the ability to start with champion sired females; top notch girls, not someone else's leftovers.

If I had thought I had learned a lot in a foaling stall; I have learned even more standing over a whelping box for 13 hours at a time. I have watched tiny pups come to life in Deena's hands, learned how to quickly and efficiently tie off umbilical cords, dip stumps and take weights before handing over to mom. I have also encountered the puppies that never were. Pups that were born but all the stimulating in the world could not coax them into taking their first breath... what bittersweet moments... and after taking a literal second to ponder life's questions, get back into gear, hoping to make sure the next pup enters the world safely...

Recently, I have done more laundry than the local laundromat. I have spent my midnights with puppies. At first it was for those crucial supplemental feedings for my littlest pup, then it was their late night meal, now it is to take them for a walk to relieve themselves. I am ever so thankful for the mild weather March has brought us so far! I have purchased more Pro Plan Large Breed puppy kibble than I thought humanly possible and I am at our local Tractor Supply Company store a minimum of twice a week. Producing quality puppies takes more than money and time, it takes heart (and quite honestly, a very patient husband, who does not seriously mind finding puppy towels thrown in the dryer with his tee shirts).

I had my first real "a ha!" moment the day the pups from this litter went home... you know that moment when you stumble backwards in the realization of how life and time are so much bigger than all of us. As I put one of my pups into the arms of his new family, my heart sank a little and I worried for him. Would he be terribly frightened tonight, his first night without his siblings? Would his new owners always treat him with love and kindness, even when he made a mistake? Would he have a long and wonderful life? It was then I realized that while I had carefully orchestrated his arrival into this world, made sure he received the best food, care and socialization, I was just a brief moment, eight weeks of time in a life that could span over a decade, and in a week, he would never remember being here.

Then I thought about my own girls, who rode the 7 hours home on my lap, who I kissed and coddled through their puppyhood. Who I lavished with cookies and toys, and proudly displayed to all when I took them to the vet's office for the first time. I remember the compliments I received about them, and how I protected them from other dogs by swooping them up into my arms for safety. I remembered how much joy they have given me through these years with the squinting eyes and wagging tails, so happy to see me whenever I returned home; or their dedication as they followed me around the house. Content to sleep at my feet, wherever I was, even if it meant getting up repeatedly as I moved from place to place.

I realized as I put my puppy in this couple's arms that I was giving them all those happy moments and memories my breeder had given me. I was handing them a living hourglass, a yardstick that someday they would look back and measure a period of time in their life by. It is unfortunate that our dogs cannot live lives as long as ours, that we can only share specific chapters with them; but each dog, each life memorializes a set number of years for us- childhood, adolescence, our first apartment or home, our pregnancy or the birth of our child... for many of us, a dog has been there there through it all. Not the same dog, but they all seem to stand for the same things. Love, dedication, and the passage of time. They are gatekeepers. It was in this moment I saw my dogs for what they really were.

I have had some really amazing complements about my puppies so far. It is my goal to only produce one or two litters a year. Fabulous puppies I have a hard time letting go of. Puppies that people are happy to be on a waiting list for. The day I know I have truly succeeded as a breeder will be ten or fifteen years from now and one of my families call to tell me that their old Labrador, that puppy that had once nestled in my arms, has passed on; and how much he had meant to them, how much they loved him. How much like family he had become. That will be the greatest compliment of all and a success to judge all others by.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

A David Among Goliaths- FEH East Coast Championship

I will admit that somewhere around mile marker 250 of my 500 mile drive to Lexington, Virginia, I thought to myself, is it truly fair to drag my very patient husband, my sleeping 17 month old daughter and my petite two year old gelding, Carnivale King, down to the FEH Championships at the VA Horse Center? What did I really think I would accomplish other than another learning experience for Rex? What were his chances of a good showing anyway, especially after going through the USEA website and reviewing all the competitors' photographs and the scores from other classes held this year. Yikes, it was like bringing a knife to a gun fight! I felt seriously in over my head. Experience, I told myself, this is all for the experience.

The FEH series is still in its infancy, and while I have heard some grumblings about scoring and the "type" of horses that are being placed over others, the overall vision of the program as a showcase for eventing breeders as well as the early experiences it affords our future eventing stars cannot be beat. Another bonus, the fabulous, friendly camaraderie the Eventing community is known for! We really need more events like this in Area 1, and huge kudos to Stony Brook Farm in Peterborough NH for holding one this year and committing to one (plus YEH classes) next year! I felt it was important to make the trip to VA, to support the program, and to give Rex the opportunity I felt he deserved, even if the judges didn't feel the same way about him.

Now, the VA Horse Center is a serious facility, far bigger than anything Rex had seen before, but he handled it with ease; enjoying his jaunts through the barns, the indoors, checking out bleachers and vending machines, and the endless parade of trailers and horses. Everything piqued his interest, and the more he saw, the happier he was to explore. I was relieved, and impressed, everything I have thrown at him he responds with a can do, no fear attitude. As the FEH directive states, "shows inner confidence"; well that's Rex, the poster boy for inner confidence! At least one of us was confident!

I had decided to hire the professional handler, Christine Smith of Wild Expectations Farm, to handle him for the class. While I had handled Rex for the FEH class at Stony Brook, I was under no illusion that I had the experience to handle him at Championships. We had worked too long and hard to let it all ride on a rookie handler (me). So, all cleaned, braided and bridled, I handed Rex off to Christine in the warm up ring to work a little of her magic before presenting him to the judges in the big arena. I took one last look at my guy practicing his open stance with Christine and, with camera in hand, hustled my way to the bleachers.

I cannot tell you how awesome it was to hear his name over the PA system and watch him saunter into the arena, plant himself before the judges, prick his ears forward and strike a pose. This little horse, whose dam I evented around Area 1 while she was carrying him, who was born in my husband's arms, who I have lovingly ached over for 2 years, was standing here in Virginia, giving the judges every opportunity to love him like I did. The camera never came out of my pocket, I was too nervous and too overwhelmed, I wanted to see it all happen live, not through the lens of the camera. I wanted it burned in my memory. I watched him walk and trot the triangle without an issue and stand again for the final look over. In the blink of an eye we were back in the warm up arena, watching the other horses take their turns. The quality of these horses was top notch, they, without a doubt, had earned the right to be there. The competition was not only stiff, the horses were huge, making Rex a virtual David among Goliaths. I was crestfallen; Rex had been so good, but he was no match for these horses.

The five colts and geldings were called back into the arena for the results, and again I found myself on the bleachers. I thought, if we could at least place fourth, it would be a crowning achievement for my little horse. The pinning began and to my relief, Rex was not the fifth horse in the group, and then he was not the fourth either. When the horse I was sure was going to win placed third, I thought I was going to fall down. Rex was in the top two! I found myself no longer sitting but straining over the rail, listening for the results. It took a moment to register when the second place number was not ours either, and only when I heard the thunderous pat on Rex's neck from Christine did it hit me, he had won the class. I willed myself not to cry, but when I saw my husband and my daughter, I just broke down. My little paint horse had done us proud, Carnivale King was Champion Two Year Old Colt/Gelding.

Rex was not Grand or Reserve Grand Champion Two Year Old, I guess this gives us something to work towards in his three year old year. Still, I could not be happier with him. He handled a thousand mile round trip trailer ride, three days and nights in a new facility with no turn out, early morning braiding, and showing in front of the largest crowd he has seen to date. All of this with hardly a whinny. There is no doubt that the FEH experience has been a beneficial one so far, and can only continue to be the foundation from which to build upon.

Eventers with young horses need to take advantage of the Future Event Horse and Young Event Horse Programs; stallion owners need to use it to promote their stallion's offspring, breeders to help sell their youngstock, and owners to help give their babies a leg up on the competition in years to come, and to build that personal relationship with their horses that eventers are known for. I look forward to the 2010 season, and getting Rex out again. We'll also be taking our yearling Windfall filly with us too. Hope to see you ringside!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

FEH- what are we really looking for?

Rex (Carnivale King) and I competed in our first FEH class yesterday, and although we had a great time, and he placed second in the 2 yr old division, I walked away a little confused with the scoring, and in the end, what the judge (and in theory, the eventing world) was truly looking for.

I'm one of those people always searching to improve upon my last score, and in doing so spent the 4 hr ride home pondering on what I needed to fix in order to move up in the placings. I'd be lying if I didn't think Rex was pretty perfect already, but I bred and foaled him, so you have to be a little understanding of my pride. So it is easy to rationalize my disappointment when he wasn't placed first. As I read and re-read the score sheet, I made mental notes on what I needed to work on, (mostly improving his swing and reach in his walk and trot) and what comments I was really happy with ("nice sport horse type" for one). Then it hit me, the last directive idea on the page, right there under the "General Impressions" heading, "Shows inner confidence". That's it, three words and it all seemed a little bit clearer and at the same time greatly overlooked. Shows inner confidence.

In the end I think this is an underscored, and slightly under appreciated directive, in a discipline where the safety of the horse and rider may depend on it. Inner confidence says a lot about a horse, and we know it when we see it. Theodore O'Connor was the poster boy for inner confidence in event horses (and I use him specifically, as Rex will mature not much taller than Teddy, and there is no better role model to have). A confident horse, is careful, alert, and interested but not fearful. He continues to follow his rider or handlers instructions even in unfamiliar surroundings. He does not lose focus or become distracted, he does not act out by bucking or kicking, he does not take advantage. As Paul Simon would sing, "I am a rock, I am an island". Inner confidence is a horse who is fun to work around and a joy to ride.

For that alone I think Rex was "jipped" just a little- he was second by eight tenths of a point to a horse who bucked around his trot triangle, had to do it over, and had the luxury of calling the facility "home". Rex was the consummate professional, trailering 4 hours, arriving after dark, showing in a strange place with a less than knowledgeable handler (myself), and never putting a foot wrong. All this happening in a 24 hr period and only his third trip away from home.

So, I'm giving myself the weekend off, and then I'll put my running shoes back on and we'll practice some more. Perhaps even try our hand next month at the FEH Championships in Virginia. Who knows, maybe I'll have mastered the walk (and the trot) by then and give Rex a shot at the ribbon I think he deserves to wear. As for Rex, he'll just keep taking it all in stride. At least one of us is content in knowing that the color of the ribbon we win today has no lasting influence on our success tomorrow.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

30 days... the count down is on!

I watched Stoneleigh Girl as she cantered down the paddock line yesterday to meet up with her BFF Tiarza, and I couldn't help but wonder if her foal was unappreciative of the jostling... and then I started to worry about her impending due date, and her being out at night... looks like paddock rearrangements are about to take place...

I am excited as ever about this foal (by event stallion, Windfall), although disappointed that my favorite pony mare would not take to him last season and Stoneleigh Girl was substituted in her place. I am always nervous about the foaling process, it is just so powerful and quick, and Lord knows when there is a problem, its always a big one. The vets' always tell me that 95% of them go fine on their own, and since we had a difficult birth with another mare 2 yrs ago, I should have met my quota already, right? My main concern is that mother and baby make it through safely... and after that, well I have all the wishes in the world...

And I am still working on a name- I'm pretty picky when it comes to names, and I want something regal and powerful, something that looks great on a stall nameplate...filly and colt names welcome!!!

So Stoneleigh Girl will get a schedule change this week to go along with her ever so slightly filling udder... and the countdown begins, foal watch central here...lights, camera, action!