2008 Breeders Cup Schedule on TV

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Photo by clickhere/iStockphoto
Photo by clickhere/iStockphoto

Just because we won’t see the anticipated Big Brown/Curlin match-up doesn’t mean that the Breeders Cup will be a complete yawn.

Culin, the reigning Horse of the Year and racing’s richest horse, won last year’s Classic and is looking for back2back wins. Other horses, of course, are intent on spoiling that campaign. Among them is formidable Japanese star Casino Drive.

Horses from all over the world wiil coverge on Santa Anita in California for two days of races.

Thanks to Cindy Pierson Dulay’s compilation for her horse racing pages at About.com, we’ve got a great listing for all the action.

Just FYI, all times listed here are Eastern Daylight Time, so check your local listings.

Western Art Christmas Cards

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Over on the Equestrian Ink blog, mystery writer Laura Crum more or less “outs” blogging horse trainer Mugwump as artist/writer Janet Huntington.

Although Huntington may consider herself a retired horse trainer, she offers sage advice in her Mugwump blog.

But she’s also a talented artist with a wide range of interests and media, as you can see on her studio site, Cowhorseart.com.

When you click through her online portfolio, you’ll see that she doesn’t just draw horses. You’ll see illustrations for books, as well as pictures now in private collections.

And she sells a weries of four cowhorse Christmas cards. I’m particularly fond of “Cutting Rudolph.”

Poverty Among Equestrians?

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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 pay in 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.

Belmont Child Care Association — Day care for the children of backstretch workers at Belmont Park. Regular day care is not an option for grooms, exercise riders and hot-walkers, if for no other reason than the job’s crazy hours. (Race horses 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.

Masks We All Wear

By Posted on 2 Comments 3 min read 173 views

I tend to enjoy Halloween. I don’t see the usual frenzied dash to meet obligations like I see with other holidays.

If you don’t want trick-or-treaters, you don’t turn on the porch light. Problem solved.

A friend’s strong dislike for the holiday surprised me. I had expected her to sneer at the commercialization or the emphasis on candy. But she explained that she didn’t appreciate Halloween’s “emphasis on the Dark Forces.” And she was serious.

I felt sorry for her. Because I think the whole point is to whistle through the graveyard. To look at our fears in a controlled fashion and say,

Nope. You can’t hurt me.

Think of a haunted house tour — a guy hops out from around a corner. He’s bloodied, laughing maniacally and waving a chain saw. Your adrenaline spikes. You scream. But he can’t hurt you.

Unless you’re a character in a slasher film. And that’s not very likely.

I’m no shrink, but the bottom-line effect, after the flight-or-flight zing fades, is a boost in self-confidence.

I escaped from the dragon. So there. Nyah.

Opportunity to explore hidden personalities

Halloween brings out the alter egos in safe environments. A kindly neighbor could dress up as The Headless Horseman. A conservative woman can don an opaque body stocking, a long wig and a stick horse to dress as Lady Godiva. A child can dress up as a pirate or a space alien.

I used Halloween once as an attempt at a form of self-expression. An artist friend, in celebration of an exhibit of pertaining to Ellis Island before the renovations, held a Halloween “immigrant party.” The invitation asked us to dress in costumes indicative of our ancestral nations.

My husband and I had moved from from Kentucky to Connecticut only a few years before. I still felt rocked by culture shock. I felt like an immigrant myself.

He traveled a lot for business, which added to my feeling of alienation. And, to put icing on the cake, he was scheduled to be on the road at the time of the party.

So, instead of wearing the long skirt, shawl and boots of my Irish ancestors, I opted for a version of jockey’s silks.

I assembled my own costume. A friend loaned me a green-and-yellow souvenir silky jockey cap, so I based my racing silks on that. I found a satiny long-sleeved collared blouse on a clearance rack. I rented breeches from a costume house because I wasn’t riding then. Likewise, for the tall boots, I used fashion boots with a higher heel than one would use for riding. (A lot like these.)

Upon arrival at the party, my hosts approached me with a tag like the ID tags worn by immigrants at Ellis Island. They asked, “Country of origin?” And I said, “Kentucky.”

Not good enough. They pressed me for a nationality, but I was too polite to argue, even though I tried to hold my ground. They didn’t understand that I felt like an immigrant, an outsider, myself.

After a bit of back-and-forth, in which I mumbled that my mother’s ancestors were Irish, the party hosts scribbled “IRELAND” on my tag in bold black felt-tip pen. And pointed me toward the bar.

At that point, I was ready for a drink.

In hindsight, I see that I had been homogenized like the immigrants processed through Ellis Island. The message was clear — you are now one of us. Act like it. Here’s your new name.

Go forth and fit in.

And, when I think about it, we all feel like immigrants in our own lives sometime. We’ll remain at a job that doesn’t suit us for the health care benefits. We’ll swallow our feelings for peace among the family.

Halloween is one day that people can rebel and craft an an exterior projecting an unexpressed aspect of his or her interior.

So, which mask is real? The one worn every day? Or the one worn on Halloween?