Since earlier this spring, I have followed the exploits of one “California Chrome” and his march toward the Triple Crown title of Thoroughbred racing: the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and, finally, the Belmont Stakes. By the time you read this, “Chrome” will have either won or lost his battle to reach equine greatness – one that has only been achieved by 11 other horses. My hope, of course, is that he has won the Belmont and become the worldwide, polarizing individual that “Secretariat” once was (and still is, to a lesser extent, today).
We had a brutal winter that has carried over into a chill spring. It won’t last. As much as we all said we would never complain about it being hot again, I bet we do. Because in Texas, it will be bake-oven hot by July, if not before. Trainers start getting up at 3 a.m. to get horses worked. That 15 or 20-degree difference means maybe five more quality minutes in a work. Which, by the way, is how the great trainers beat you – quality, not quantity.
Jumping off topic, here are a few summer customer and trainer tips. Customers, ask your trainer when they are stepping on the first horse of a day and adjust your timing to them. Be reasonable, do it their way. Quit bringing the dang donuts, start bringing cold fruit. There is no need to mention the heat. Everyone is aware, I promise you.
Elwood P. Suggins, a character played by the late comedian Jonathan Winters, claimed to be a “Detroit Dynamo.” He knew what it meant to “crash, burn, roll over, have a flat tire and things of that nature.” I guess I’m a little like Elwood P. Suggins, at least with my experience in the horse business. Anyone who’s spent much time in this industry knows exactly what I mean. We’ve all been down that road, and right now it’s about time to wake Leroy up from the back seat so he can witness the crash that’s fixin’ to happen!
Many equine-based organizations (like most not-for-profit institutions nowadays) are experiencing revenue shortfalls. There is less breeding and registering, slower buying and selling (transfer fees), lower entry counts and new memberships. Less, slower and lower add up to fewer dollars, all the way around. Why has this happened? Most recently we point to the “Great Recession of 2008.” But even before that, numbers were trending down because of factors that are still gnawing at our industry today: aging membership demographics, decline of youth members who evolve into adult members, decrease in youth participation numbers, and lessening of the average family’s discretionary income. All these elements, coupled with a dwindling middle-aged membership base, can be a recipe for disaster.
Cutting is 90 percent mental, the rest is in your head. Even if someone could program what needs remembering into a ’puter, it wouldn’t be fast enough. Besides, cows are always thinking up new stuff. Someday I want to meet one of the cow trainers, just to ask why they are so hateful.
There’s no doubt, I love spending time with my two granddaughters. Emery is 3 and Harper is almost 2, and watching them play or listening to what might come out of their mouths next is entertainment at its finest. When Emery has an announcement to make or wants to get your attention she cries out, “Hey anybodys!” (And believe me, she can always get her Pop’s attention!) One of my favorite things is watching how Emery and Harper love their horses. I see them and I wonder: Is a child’s attention and focus on horses caused by environment or parental direction? Is this “horse bug” actually inherited by a recessive gene no one has identified as yet? You might laugh at such a notion, but sometimes a child’s love for horses seems to pop up out of nowhere.
Breeding season is full on, with lots of time left. There is a special thrill to winning on a horse you raised. You own the mama; you won on her. You earn respect as an astute horse person. People want your advice. Justin Bieber wants your autograph. The President is offering you a cabinet post. Angels sing when you pull the rig into Will Rogers. Life is good.
In this modern day and age of advanced technology, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and email, most of us have become so connected that our lives start to appear like an open book. I’m on the side of those who say, “It’s a good thing.” But I know many of you share a different feeling about “baring one’s soul” in such a public forum.
The world is turning green again, in this hemisphere, anyway. Mares are foaling, cows springing. Tender grass is showing. The Super Stakes is right now in a minute. Our clock for the year has started, just as it has done since the mid-1800s, at least in the world of horses, cows and our sport – cutting.
The threads in this make the cloth of the sack that holds the why of the way we do things like we do. Timing is based on God and Mother Nature’s schedules, not ours. We use theirs because it is so much easier. Stuff just meshes up, like a six-speed transmission. Low gears lug us slowly, but steadily, out of the inactive winter into the higher gears of spring as we break loose the grip, shifting up as we gain traction and momentum.
I don’t usually write toward trainers; I write about them a lot, them being easy targets and all. Plus, I use way too many big words. But, after watching a lot of the Amateur and Non-Pro during the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity, I saw a need. There seems to be a big gap between what a trainer thinks we know and what we really know. Some are actually surprised at how dumb we can be. Even though they never taught us that “thing,” since they have known that “thing” since they were 3, they just assumed we had downloaded that “thing” when we shook hands the first time.
Buttermilk and I have been going to some “weekend” shows. It has been like high school homecoming – a comfortable thing, seeing old friends and making new ones. There are two and one-half minutes in the herd, but 24 hours in a day. It is all about the two and a half, but it would be not near as much fun without all the rest – loading before daylight, watching the sun come up, Allsup’s coffee, saddling, hanging chaps, bridles and war bag on your horse. Once your feet are on show dirt, all is right with the world.