The Melbourne Cup may be billed as “the race that stops a nation,” but it’s largely ignored outside Australia.
That’s too bad because it’s a longer race than The Belmont Stakes, which is a test of stamina. The Melbourne Cup is considered “the staying championship of the world.”
Anyway, if you’re a casual racing fan here in the US (which I define as someone who watches the Kentucky Derby and the other US Triple Crown races on TV), I bet you’ve never heard of The Melbourne Cup.
Race day, the first Tuesday in November, is more than the Australian equivalent of Kentucky’s first Saturday in May.
That title looks like an oxymoron. Horses are a luxury item, right?
Today is Blog Action Day . Today is the day that bloggers all over the world blog about poverty.
And this blog is about horses and culture. We also talk here about watching equestrian events and visiting farms. So, how do we fit our topic to to the day’s theme?
The people behind the scenes
Working behind the scenes at those farms and events, keeping the horses fed and happy, are people who work in subsistence living.
Grooms, hot-walkers, stable hands, trainers, exercise riders. Often there’s a minimum payment in a trade-off for working with horses. Almost certainly, there’s no health insurance in a job that can be hazardous.
Why I don’t have a real horse job
Even though I loved horses when I was growing up and I lived in horse country in Kentucky, my mother discouraged my interest in horses. Especially when I read Walter Farley’s “The Black Stallion” and announced that I had decided that I’d rather be a jockey than a cowgirl. When I grew older, I wanted to be a horse trainer. Yes, everyone sensed a theme here.
Both my mother and grandmother were probably a little too close to the generations who considered horses an out-moded and dirty form of transportation. In their minds, the barns were hangouts for low-life men, plus horses were dirty and unpredictable.
My interest was entertained when I was little. We accompanied horse-owning friends to horse shows. She even bought me a pony that stayed with my show horse friends.
But, once I became old enough to get out of the “cowgirl” career phase, my mother steered me toward band and scholarships.
Her message was, not only are horses unsafe, but you’ll never be able to support yourself with horses. Get real and stay out of the barn.
Even now, I have to admit that she had a point. Most people I know who work with horses don’t have much money. Every bit they have is sunk into daily living and their horses.
And, for most who choose a career in close contact with horses, the financial prognosis is worse. Most of them work in jobs with no health insurance.
Charities to help horse people
I know I should pick one charity to write about, but I just can’t single one out. So, let’s list a few.
The Permanently Disabled Jockey’s Fund – The National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s fund helps disabled jockeys with their medical and daily living expenses. Charities like this one are especially useful for people who may not have a significant amount of money. Living expenses can be extreme, which is why this charity is so helpful for some people who might otherwise be struggling to afford to keep their house running. With utility bills increasing, it’s so important that people do regularly look into switching utility suppliers to save money for themselves. Electricity bills can be one of the most expensive, so it’s worth looking into companies like Spark Energy to see if they have any better deals. Switching utility suppliers can lower living expenses slightly, so it’s important that these disabled jockeys look into that.
Belmont Child Care Association — Daycare for the children of backstretch workers at Belmont Park. Regular daycare is not an option for grooms, exercise riders, and hot-walkers, if for no other reason than the job’s crazy hours. (Racehorses are worked around dawn.) And then there’s that subsistence pay thing.
Britain’s Racing Welfare even offers a retirement home for stablehands. The site has a video that would have made my mother point at the screen and say, “See?” (It’s not scary, IMO, just true.)
Thoroughbred Charities of America works sort of like the United Way does. It gathers up funds to donate to charities that help both horses and their people. When you’re browsing the site, click on “Groups We Support” and scroll down the list to find the “people charities.”
One of those is the Race Track Chaplaincy of America. Not just in America, but RTCA supports 77 track chaplains at 117 tracks around the world. A race track chaplain isn’t simply a preacher, but a helper for grooms, hot walkers and exercise riders working hard behind the scenes at the tracks.
Why so much about thoroughbred racing?
Good question. A lot of equestrian events serve as fund-raisers for charities. But are there industry-specific charities for other breeds?
I have noticed, when browsing the TCA’s groups, that they’re not just only thoroughbred-centric. The rescues aren’t thoroughbred-only. Neither are the therapeutic riding programs.
So, if I’ve missed any charities for horse-industry workers, please add them in the comments.
Because the best of the best will compete in two separate events.
The World Equestrian Games
September 25 to October 10, 2010
Kentucky Horse Park
For 16 days, world-class equestrian athletes in eight different sports will compete for world titles.
This is the first time the WEG will be held in the US. Think about it … just that distinction makes it a Very Big Deal.
Five hundred thousand spectators are expected. More than 900 horses are expected to compete.
Just those numbers make it bigger than the Kentucky Derby, which only attracts about 125,00 spectators.
Is your head swimming from all these numbers?
Not an annual event
Then, howzabout this — the WEG is like the Olympics, only it’s horses. Just equestrian competitions.
Like the Olympics, the WEG is held every four years, but two years away from the Summer Olympics.
Not every equestrian sport will be represented at the WEG, only eight. But there are SO many, when you think about it.
But that’s more than you can see at the Olympics, which only offers dressage, eventing and show jumping.
The WEG includes those Olympic equestrian sports along with reining, para-equestrian, vaulting, driving and endurance.
FWIW, in case any of those sports look unfamiliar, we’ll talk more about those in future posts. For now, you can see some in the WEG banner video on the site.
Tickets go on sale in fall 2009. So, if you’d like to go, start saving and planning now.
WEG on TV
But, if you’d prefer the comfort of your home to the crowds, NBC will broadcast six live hours on the weekends of the event, plus a yet-to-be-announced schedule of online coverage.
The other event recently announced as coming to Kentucky in 2010 is:
The Breeders Cup
Tentatively scheduled for Nov. 5 and 6, 2010
Churchill Downs, Louisville
The fastest thoroughbreds will meet for two days under the legendary Twin Spires that symbolize the Kentucky Derby.
Horses of both sexes will compete in different divisions on the track and on the turf.
This year’s and next year’s Breeders Cup will be held at Santa Anita in California.
Each year, at least one race on the card generates excitement. This year’s marquee runners are said to be the current richest horse in the world Curlin and this year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, finally to meet in the Breeders Cup Classic.
ESPN will provide live coverage of both days of this year’s Breeder’s Cup.
Again, if the idea of attending the Breeder’s Cup excites you, my suggestion is to start saving and planning now. Those tickets won’t be cheap, either.
Now, my advice? Start saving up and planning now, if you want to attend either, let alone both, of these events.
In future posts, we’ll talk about logistics and lodging and those other whatnots of travel, especially in these trying (now, there’s an understatement) financial times.
I used to live in Kentucky, plus I often (well, not often enough) return as a tourist to see the things that I didn’t have time to see when I was living and working there.