Yep, Lucky is in the news again!

Lucky to Cope is dancer’s newest partner.

(With cameo by Nanook, who has been renamed Sylvester because, well, look at him.)

Thank you, Susan! See, buy an OTTB, people will interview you! (And if anyone is interested in one of those ballroom dresses, just ask. One’s on ebay right now. There’s another thing–you can’t put a horse on ebay. And now you’d better believe I’d want more for Lucky than I’m asking for the dress–maybe if someone offered me his weight in gold, I’d think about it.)

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Books, Horses, and the Male Mentor

Someone on my LiveJournal friends list has been doing a month-long book meme. Yesterday’s entry was about something like topics or characters you’ll ALWAYS read about. While I certainly am with her on Rome (and those sexy Praetorian Guards) I found the character type I was thinking of came from, no surprise, horse books, and by and large those written from the mid-Fifties to the Seventies, aimed at girls.

On reflection, there is a whole subcategory of horse books written in that time frame that was aimed at horse-crazy girls. Not surprising, and though I post-date the books (I’m not that old) a bit read every one I could find, in the school library or used bookstores or wherever I could come by them. I confess to STILL reading them when I get the urge, and reading them as an adult, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: most of these books are about a teen or pre-teen girl, somewhere between 12 and 16, a horse, and a mentor.

The mentor is the type who leapt out at me. He’s male, older enough to be non-threatening in a sexual sense to a young teen, sometimes married, often in a trainer/groom position, frequently English or Irish (convenient, as the girls ride English in the old-school sense), often worked with horses in “the old country”, and is a stern but kind mentor who is very serious about proper horse care. He often works for the family of or is otherwise connected to a female friend of the heroine. In two of the three examples I’m thinking of, the author is female, so I don’t think it’s self-insertion. Wish fulfillment? A cultural reality for young people learning to ride in the time period? Or a clever play to girls’ tastes? And reviewing them, I begin to see where I get some of my taste in men!

The examples I’m thinking of in particular, not least because I had all the books handy:

Michael (no last name given), from Jean Slaughter Doty’s Summer Pony and Winter Pony. (Please forgive the lame-ass new cover on the second link. I have the much-older edition.) If this were TV Tropes and I were creating a trope, Michael would be the Trope Codifier. He’s an indeterminate age (from the thirteen-ish Ginny’s perspective, “adult” could be anything) but old enough that, before he worked for the family of Ginny’s new friend Pam’s family, he was a steeplechase jockey in England. He now grooms, rides, trains, and in some ways acts in loco parentis for both girls. A career-ending injury (never specified, though if I’m recalling correctly there’s some mention of a limp) ended his racing career, but he’s described as a talented rider who exercises the hunters Pam’s family owns. He’s stern and obviously has a very firm idea about proper horse care, but he also very quickly takes Ginny and her rented pinto pony Mokey under his wing. Partially this seems to be because having a friend riding lights a fire under Pam’s rear end, motivating her to be more interested in the care of her spirited show pony Firefly, but partially he seems to genuinely want to help out Ginny because of how hard she works to care for Mokey. In the first book, he helps Ginny train Mokey to jump (and gives a pre-ASTM/SEI-certification lecture about the rules of jumping, one of which is to never jump without a hard hat. Those of you familiar with fiction tropes know where that was going whether you read the book or not) and brings her to a show with Pam and Firefly. In the second, he teaches Ginny to teach Mokey to drive, and at the end is the only adult to arrive in time to help Ginny when Mokey gives birth. He’s also excellent at letting the girls learn their lessons, making his displeasure clear without lecturing, certain that so long as the horse is uninjured it’s lesson learned, move on. Essentially, he’s the ideal mentor for the horse-crazy girl.

Michael has an Irish cousin in Jack Jeffers, a.k.a. Mr. Jeffers, the trainer in C.W. Anderson’s Afraid to Ride. Judy, the teen heroine of the book, has lost her nerve to ride after a bad fall. Mr. Jeffers owns the stable where she used to ride, and thinks the best therapy to get her back in the saddle is for her to help an abused show mare named Fair Lady regain her confidence in people. Like Michael, Jeffers comes from a riding background in the British isles. Unlike Michael, we get an entire chapter devoted to his history, including his crazy-bordering-on-arrogant young hijinks, as related by a farrier whose role in the book seems to mostly be telling these stories to Judy. Jeffers also takes the kind-but-firm method of dealing with Judy and Fair Lady’s issues, sometimes bordering on being an author mouthpiece on proper care and training of show horses (Fair Lady has been traumatized by rough handling.) Does his plan to get Judy back on a horse work? Does it ever happen any other way in a horse book? Not often. Mr. Jeffers must at some point have been paid to teach Judy, and as such had a formal teaching relationship with her at some point, but he doesn’t appear to have any continuing financial interest in her work with Fair Lady–he could as easily have done it himself, but takes it upon himself to give Judy a way back to horses.

A less-common type is represented by Mr. Jonathan Sedgwick from Selma Hudnut’s A Horse of Her Own. Mr. Sedgwick is not a professional trainer or a stable employee but is in fact the owner. The heroine, orphaned Rosemary, observes him riding, and as with Michael and Mr. Jeffers above, he takes her under his wing, partially out of sympathy (she’s lost her parents, and moved away from her old stables) and partially in hopes of helping his daughter (another recurring theme, hm) become more interested in horses. The story’s particularly focused around the local hunt, and around a horse owned by another member that needs help which, of course, Rosemary ultimately provides. Mr. Sedgwick acts as less an equine mentor than a social integrator, bringing the already-competent Rosemary into the local hunt scene and helping her create a new social group, though her riding. But, like Michael and Mr. Jeffers, he’s an accomplished rider who takes it upon himself to help out a horseless or new-to-horses girl for no apparent reason beyond love of the sport and appreciation for a student who wants to learn.

There are other examples, but these are the three that I happen to have easy access to at the moment. And there are echoes/reiterations of this type even in more recent books (such as the book version of Max Regnery in the Saddle Club series.) In particular it was a quick reread this weekend of Summer Pony and Winter Pony that made me notice the peculiar character type Michael represents. He’s basically the ideal mentor for a horse-crazy girl: nonthreatening (he’s much too old, from the heroine’s perspective, to be of interest, and in the case of Mr. Sedgwick and Rosemary he’s married, albeit to a nonentity character), deeply knowledgeable about horses, ready to share that knowledge, and encouraging of the girl’s interest. I suspect the fact these characters are mostly male are in part related to when the books were written: at the time, most trainers and competitive riders were men. The people most likely to have the knowledge the heroines of these books need are men. (The horses, meanwhile, vary–Mokey and Fair Lady are mares, Irish/Dublin Jack is male and though never specifically identified as such, likely a gelding, as is the friend’s pony Firefly in Summer/Winter Pony.)

I think on examination, from a writing rather than equine perspective, they serve another important function, one particular to the horse-crazy girls who haven’t yet discovered boys who are the target audience of the books: they introduce male characters in that way I mentioned, nonthreatening. Age alone removes them from romantic consideration (as does marital status in at least one case). It also lets them take the place of parents to a greater or lesser degree–Rosemary’s parents are dead, Judy’s are supportive but uninvolved themselves, and Ginny’s are, like her, new to the entire concept of horse ownership, providing financial support but with even less knowledge than Ginny of horse care. Michael, Mr. Jeffers, and Mr. Sedgwick provide an adult introduction to the larger horse world, with an overtone of paternal authority. Boys are minor figures in A Horse of Her Own, while they essentially don’t appear in Afraid to Ride or Summer/Winter Pony. In two of three cases, they also bring the cache (which still exists to a greater or lesser degree) that the British and Irish simply know more about horses than Americans. Foxhunting is an English sport and features in two of the three books, while Ginny and Mokey enter a hunter show (over the now-rare outside course, no less.) This is a justified trope in many ways–the British Pony Club and the British Horse Society are serious about teaching horsemanship, and the special relationship between the Irish and horses is a post of its own.

I realized while reading this book how rare this type actually is, at least now. All but one of my trainers has been female, and at the lowest levels, girls drastically outnumber boys in most equestrian sports. In books, the protagonists are still female, but very few of the current Young Adult books I’ve seen that involve horses really focus, as the older books did, on the idea of integrating a first-time horse or pony owner into a wider horse community. Mentors are rare, and the focus is often on the friendships between the protagonist and girls her own age (Max is an authority figure in the Saddle Club, but his role is secondary to the friendship between the three protagonists.) Still, I find myself wondering if there really are Michaels and Mr. Jefferses out there as teachers for new young riders. (And if there is a Michael, if he’s single. 😉 )

OT Day: A Rant From a Rerider

Yes, this is a rant post. Nothing to do with Lucky, who is still fine. I’m tempted to rant about the cat (whichever one it was) that peed in the living room. However, that happens.

No, instead, this is triggered by a rash of posts lately on Chronicle Forums of people “outing” owners whose horses end up in kill pens, demanding registration papers from a breeder on a yearling filly purchased as a grade quarter horse who turned out to be a freeze-branded Standardbred given away unpapered by her breeders, and general attempts to form lynch mobs based on horses bought from brokers as ‘rescues.’ Strictly speaking, they are saved, as the brokers can ship to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. And obviously, the brokers didn’t pluck these horses out of thin air.

But I’m not tying up the noose. I’m not ready to string up old owners or create blacklists of trainers or march on the breeding farm demanding papers.

Brokers: I don’t hold their jobs against them. I’m not prepared to keep every horse forever, pay for euthanasia and safe disposal of a barbiturate-contaminated body for every horse that doesn’t have a home. And I certainly don’t blame brokers for marking up their horses when they’re selling them to would-be rescuers. They didn’t put the horses in an auction where anyone can bid on them, and most do not get into massive bidding wars–if someone else wants a horse and is willing to pay, they bid on something else.

Owners and breeders: As far as selling at a low-end auction–no, it’s not something I’m likely to do. Certainly not Lucky-he’s the kind of horse a private buyer would buy. And I would hope that if I did have a horse that no one wanted and I couldn’t keep, or who was genuinely dangerous, I would have the cojones to put him down myself or find someone with a humane killer. But I don’t own every horse in the world (thank God; I don’t have that kind of money.) I don’t want people coming into my barn and telling me what I can and cannot do with my own horse, and therefore I’m not going into other people’s barns doing likewise. I wouldn’t chemically euthanize if at all avoidable, either–I’d rather have a body that can be safely buried, composted, or fed out. Some people think that’s horrible. Some people probably think it’s horrible I don’t use boots or polos to ride, I don’t have six blankets for every possible weather condition, and that I’ll use a bit stronger than a Dee ring if I think it’ll get me better results. When they’re paying me to ride their horse, their opinions will matter. Likewise, if I’m buying their horse, their means of selling it is my business, but if I’m not putting my money where my mouth is, my mouth stays shut. And who am I to DEMAND that a breeder register every last horse that hits the ground? Because the horse ‘deserves its identity?’

Bull. Shit.

(It’s my blog and I’ll swear if I want to.)

The situation, for those who don’t want to prowl the forums: a person purchased a horse from a broker lot long-distance. The horse was auctioned, advertised, and purchased as a suspected Quarter Horse with no papers. When she arrived, she was freeze branded, and turned out to have come from a Standardbred farm. The new owner informed the breeders (I assume politely) that they’d bought the horse from a ‘kill buyer’ and traced her via her brand, and would the breeder provide the registration papers. The breeder (also politely, I would assume) replied that they have given the filly away to someone who had apparently sent her to auction, and no, they would not turn over the papers. The new owner’s friend posted on the forums seeking a way to circumvent the breeders, saying that the purchaser is entitled to the papers so that the filly might be trained to race or bred. When it was pointed out that first, the USTA will provide ‘pleasure papers’ to horses in precisely the filly’s situation (something I don’t think any other registry does) allowing the horse to be sold or shown as a registered Standardbred, but not raced or bred, and second, the filly probably did not end up being given away because she was a promising broodmare or race prospect, the story became that the horse was entitled to its identity, and that having papers would “protect” it in the future.

Two things about this hacked me off. First, there is often a call for breeders to be responsible for their horses. People who have never been commercial or race breeders insist that there are too many Thoroughbreds or Standardbreds rescued, that the breeders must be responsible for and prepared to “take back” any horse they ever bred that falls on hard times, no matter where or when. They breed too many, those horses gets raced and broken down, they should be responsible. Well, this breeder apparently tried to be responsible by culling a filly that for whatever reason they not only didn’t think should be raced, but was not a good candidate to be kept as a broodmare. Or maybe they simply couldn’t afford to keep a yearling, pay her upkeep, until she was old enough. In any case, they opted to give her away without papers (and so far there isn’t any indication the papers exist any more). Now, could they have done a better job “rehoming” her? Apparently. But I don’t see people lining up at breeders’ doors for horses that aren’t quite right for the track. I do see breeders getting rid of excess stock being told they just breed too much. Since I’ve never met a horse who lived free, what exactly were they supposed to do if no buyers came calling? The old practice of taking the culls out behind the barn with a shotgun slug isn’t exactly a fan favorite, either. Was the “moral” option to try and sell a horse that they didn’t believe in as a racehorse to the racing market anyway, likely setting her on the road to a low-level career and being sold off after she’s broken down? Yeah, she was given away to someone who turned out not to have her best interests at heart. But shy of running a background check on every person interested in one of their horses, what should a breeder do when no one turns up with cash? Or there’s nowhere to advertise, or no one is biting where they do? How many cheap craigslist horses get passed over until they are in broker lot, marked up from their craigslist price with a week to go until they ship to Canada, when suddenly they’re a cause? What’s a breeder with culled stock supposed to do if there’s only interest once the horse is on the proverbial Death Row, and someone else is pocketing the money?

Second thing that hacked me off was the idea that the filly herself “deserves” her papers, and that somehow having papers in hand will protect her. The more I think on it, the more problems I have with this argument. The smallest and easiest to address is that in this case, this horse DOES have an identity. It’s branded on her neck for life. It’s obviously easy to trace as they found her breeders. Second, almost as easy to address–just because you have papers in a auction office that supposedly go with that horse, how do you know? If it’s not a TB or an STB who’s been tattooed or branded, how do you know this “Bay Quarter Horse Mare” is the one the broker is selling you? There are stories of brokers tossing papers in trash cans, keeping a set they use over and over for trips across the border where the named horses are long gone, and at least one case turned up on Another Chance For Horses where AC4H was fairly certain the papers that had come with the mare weren’t hers. Third, if you are not planning to breed or race, what exactly do you need those papers for? The Jockey Club requires they be handed on without charge to owners, but sometimes papers are lost, left in a track office, sitting in the wrong file. If you aren’t breeding, and if you are buying horses out of auction pens chances are you aren’t or shouldn’t be for a variety of reasons, and you aren’t going to race them (and horses who make profitable race horses and are likely to KEEP making money generally don’t get sold per pound–they are being dumped because they are no longer cost-effective for whatever reason) what does that paper do?

Fourth, and the more I think the more horrible this argument is, is the idea that simply having papers ‘protects’ the horse. I can’t even begin to describe how many things are wrong with this argument. The most glaring is: that horse you pulled out of a kill pen who had papers? WAS IN A KILL PEN, MORON. Having papers didn’t keep him from ending up there in the first place. Second, it assumes that horses ONLY have value if they are a purebred with papers to prove it. Performance and utility mean nothing without that little slip saying they can trace their parentage to some foundation sire or other. I grew up riding grade horses who were by and large not purebred anything and whose parents weren’t even known, they were so far removed from their breeding. That didn’t make them worthless–my friends and neighbors had them to ride, to have in the backyard to keep the grass down, to cross on a donkey to get a nice-looking mule. They had value because of what they DID, not who their sire and dam were. Not as much as, say, a warmblood bred from imported semen and a branded, inspected mare, but the people who owned them weren’t going to buy a $20,000 horse in the first place. And it’s not just backyards–my brother currently lessons at a very nice barn in New York, where one of the horses he routinely rides is a good old-fashioned American Mutt, as far as they know. He doesn’t look like a warmblood, he doesn’t seem to be a thoroughbred, he might be a quarter horse cross of some kind, but as he was seized by the SPCA, he didn’t come with papers and a life history. What he did come with was a love of jumping fast! Does he have value? Well, he’d probably be for sale for the right price, but it’s not a price I could ever afford! Is he unprotected because he has no papers? No, because he is a trained horse who is valuable because of what he does.

Conversely, by the standards of those who think even setting foot on a track (because horses only break down from racing, donchaknow, and race owners don’t care about their welfare at all) is putting the horse in danger, and hey, claiming ranks, anyone can take him home, is Lucky safe because I have his papers? Because with those papers, I can race him if I want to (until he’s old enough the stewards won’t allow me to restart him, at any rate.) If he were intact or a mare, I could breed him as many times as I wanted for sale–he probably wouldn’t produce much of note, but there’s a market for low-end racers, at least until they need to be moved on and no one wants them until they’re a rescue. If I didn’t have his papers, it wouldn’t matter if he was able to breed–they’d be unregisterable. I couldn’t race him.

And also–isn’t the assumption that the person who is buying that horse out of a kill pen does not want that horse to end up back in the lot and on the truck. So, exactly what sort of protection does the horse need? If they are indeed a cheap grade horse, is this new owner going to sell him to anyone who shows up with cash? Do they care less about the horse because it doesn’t have papers in hand? If I bought a horse, it is MY RESPONSIBILITY. Whether it has papers or not, if I care about that horse not ending up someplace less than pleasant, be it a kill pen, a barbed-wire pen, or turned loose to starve to death in a state park somewhere, I have to be responsible. If I am the “forever home” and I will never sell, I need to plan for that, including what to do if I am no longer able to care for him. If I sell him, I need to know who is buying him. I need a bill of sale showing how much they paid and where they came from. I need to check on where they’re going to keep him, see for myself that references are real. And then I need to acknowledge that once I do sell, I no longer have control, and I have to accept that. Maybe, if the horse doesn’t have papers or isn’t even a purebred anything, I don’t get quite as much money. But if I wanted to sell horses for huge profits in specific breeds, I would be going out looking for proven animals or well-bred ones. If I am reselling a horse I “upgraded”, from craigslist or a kill pen, I am presumably doing it mostly to give that horse a chance at a better life. A horse without papers is not less deserving of that courtesy.

I got a snotty reply that don’t I have papers for Lucky? Yes, yes I do. They’re in the same muddy envelope Jared put them in when he sold Lucky to a buyer seven hundred miles away on the basis of a few phone calls and an overnighted check, who’d only known the horse existed because FLTAP provides a means for trainers to shop these horses to buyers not in the Farmington area. They were handy for checking his tattoo against his papers (mixups do happen, and one bay 16hh TB can look a lot like another!) and I haven’t had any call to need them since. Did I want his papers? Sure.

Here’s the difference: I was purchasing Lucky To Cope, a 2002 bay gelding by Lucky Lionel out of Copenqueen by Copelan, foaled in Florida, last owner and trainer of record Jared Schoeneman, last start on November 5, 2009, at Finger Lakes Gaming and Racetrack, Farmington, New York. That was the horse advertised by name, examined by a vet for me, whose personality and behavior I inquired about. Did I want the easiest method of making sure the horse my hauler brought off the trailer was in fact the horse I paid for? Of course, and checking his tattoo against his papers is easier than checking it against the tattoo search.

I was NOT purchasing a bay gelding, presumably a thoroughbred, tattoo says a 2002 model, number might match a horse named Lucky To Cope, but those ARE hard to read, out of an auction back lot where the broker has no idea who the last owners were or why he’s there. If I call up Camelot or Enumclaw or the intermediaries at AC4H and buy hip #101, I just bought a bay thoroughbred. He might have papers. They might be sitting in a track office. They might have gone in the auction garbage can. If I can identify him and if some previous owner is found and IF they have the papers and hand them over, that’s nice. If the tattoo’s unreadable, if the last owner is dead or moved to Argentina or just never returns my calls…I still own that horse. I’m still responsible for that horse. The only one who is going to guarantee he never ends up in a Canadian feedlot is, guess who, ME. Not his breeders, not his old owners, certainly not the broker who’s just making a living off horses no one else wanted to buy when anyone could buy them, but me, the one who plunked down the cash for an unknown quantity. Just the same as if he was sired by shipped semen from an Olympic gold-medal-winning stallion with an embryo transfer from a Rolex-winning mare with papers for three registries, I am responsible for protecting him, even if he’s a Cremello Arapintapalaloosa Spotted Walking Pony with donkey ears who has no value except as an object lesson in why you shouldn’t breed it just because its genitals are functional. I bought it, I am responsible for its welfare.

The best way to be responsible for that horse? Make it the best citizen it can be. It might have all the papers in the world but if it kicks the crap out of you for coming in its stall or trying to saddle it, if it can’t be ridden except by the lab-created offspring of George Morris, Alois Podhajski and Julie Krone and then only if that uberrider is having a REALLY good day, if it is just a bad-mannered, poorly-trained horse, you might as well shred those papers yourself because the horse can’t be used, and no one in their right mind or who cared about a breed would want it to reproduce itself. Conversely, it might only be a plain bay backyard-bred quarter/paint/whatever grade horse, but if it can jump a 2’6″ course neatly, pack the little lesson kids around, or handle an all-day trail ride with phlegmatic aplomb and will even forgive the new guy in the barn brushing his hair backwards and mixing up the fly spray with the Show Sheen, that horse has value. Lucky is never going to make little racehorses, he’s never going win money at the track (unless we move to a state where on-line gaming is legal and he learns to hack my TVG account), but you can put a little kid on him. You can float his teeth without a tranquilizer. You can gallop him in a field and then ask him for an even trot in an arena. I’m not selling him, but if I wanted to, he has value, not because of what his papers say, but what he does.

You want to save horses? Give breeders, owners, and trainers ways to market the horses that don’t suit their purposes BEFORE it’s the last day of the season, they have nowhere to go, and nowhere to winter the horses. Do not tell them what horrible people they are and tell them you’re “saving” their horse from them. Go to an auction and outbid the kill buyer. And when you have that horse, teach him to be useful. And don’t sell him if you aren’t comfortable with where he’s going. The papers aren’t going to save the horse from future disaster. You are.

Want your very own OTTB?

Now, if you read my blog, you more than likely already read Retired Racehorse (and if not, why not?) But just in case you’ve come here via another link and have somehow never heard of it, go read it. You will probably be inspired to want your own OTTB. You might even want one who is the star of his own blog. No, you can’t have Lucky, sorry, but you CAN be the new lady (or gentleman; we don’t judge) in the life of THIS star of stage, screen the Intrawebs,
Final Call!

If you are near Florida, here is your golden opportunity to own an OTTB with miles on him, who ALREADY is a blogging celebrity. How often does a deal like this come along? Sure, you can get OTTBs . You can even get OTTBs with miles on them. But how often do you get the chance to own an OTTB, with miles on him, who is already the star of his very own blog?

Yeah, in other words someone go buy this horse before she drops the price so low I decide to make a side trip to Florida during my DC vacation in a couple weeks! I know I should have a second horse for foxhunting but really, no rush…but how do you say no to a fire-sale price? So save me from myself! Someone buy this horse!

Lookin’ at (my) Lucky

Remember that article I linked to?

Yes, FLTAP people, I did drop her a note clarifying he’s not an adoption (probably my fault for not being clear on the phone!) I hope her readers, a lot of whom are probably closer than I am to Finger Lakes, decide to go up for a visit. And Teresa has a standing invitation to come out any time she might be out our way and feed Lucky peppermints. (He’ll take all he can get.)

Minor Tweaking

Don’t mind me, just playing with some formatting. I think I like this blue with soft edges better. And nice little curlicue design things. Odd, how I get older and find decorating themes I used to hate (toile, stripes, greens/yellows/browns) so appealing.

Oh, and the old format didn’t allow for enough links. I hadn’t realized so many people were going to link to me, and it only seems fair to reciprocate.