Thursday, December 31, 2009

Year in Review

2009, like all other years, was a year to remember. While previous years have held more singular exciting incidents, this year held a steady course of happiness, excitement, and of course, tears. It served as a nice wrap up to 2005 through 2008, and a great preview to what will come in 2010.

The most monumental factor of 2009 is the transition it has kick started in my life. This year I finished my University classroom work and wrapped up my job at Schonberg Farm (at least for now). I secured an internship at The Blood-Horse, accomodations at Lane's End Farm and am planning to do some travelling, all of which are to commence in 2010. 2009 will be remembered as the year when plans were made. 2010 will be the year to put those plans into action.

2009 started off with a bang, as I was heavily wrapped up in freelance writing for The Game and executing my duties as Editor-in-Chief of the school paper. The insanity continued throughout the winter, and I was very relieved to wrap up the school year and begin my fifth summer working at Schonberg Farm. Without a letdown, the summer also commenced with a bang, with five foals born in four days as soon as I started back. Our racing season began shortly thereafter, and the fruition of our hard work was finally realized as horses like First Circle, Woodsmoke and Politelyprecocious kicked off a 16-win season. The American racing scene was one of the most thrilling for me in a couple of years, as I wholeheartedly cheered on two Birdstone progeny, Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, to win the Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, Travers Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup. Mine That Bird allowed me to have my second story published in The Blood-Horse.

The hard work hammered on at the farm, and in early July I ventured to B.C. for a weekend vacation. The summer continued with a lot of hard work and a few fun nights out.

In September I headed back to school, and began my new job with Mike's stable at the track. Being involved on the track side of the industry proved to be a lot of fun, and working with the athletes I had helped foal and raise was very thrilling and rewarding. In November I travelled to California for the second year in a row to attend the Breeders' Cup, which was naturally an excellent trip which can be summed up as the "Zenyatta Show". A week later I took a road trip with Lauri to Kentucky. I had the time of my life looking at horses and talking about horses for two straight days, and I got to visit Wando for the first time in two years.

In the midst of all this travelling, I completed my thesis proposal and hammered away at five other courses. Now, I have finished my classroom education at Guelph-Humber and am making my final preparations to travel to Kentucky for three months.

2009 has been a year to remember. Here's to hoping it kick starts the next chapter of my life in style.

End Point

There are some things they don’t tell you when you start school. As I leave Guelph-Humber and venture into this big playground called the world, a flurry of emotions are making their rounds within me. There is the excitement of finally being finished: all those late nights agonizing over that seemingly meaningless essay are now over. Following excitement is anxiety: have I learned enough? Am I good enough? This anxiety spurs fear, as I remember that I am leaving the only life I have known for four years, and I wonder what it will be like to adjust to a new life as a working person. The final emotion is humbleness. After much excitement, fear, and anxiety, I am on the cusp of completing this journey and earning a university degree.

These last four years of my life have rushed by like the turning pages of a dramatic novel. University life has spurned the darkest times of my life, but also some of the most exciting. While I have often questioned the fa├žade of academia and debated it’s true importance, the bottom line is that my status as a journalism student has provided me opportunities that may have otherwise been obscure.

And now it is the end. To future Guelph-Humber students, I say this: first year is the hardest, and once you have completed this hurdle, a little heart and a lot of hard work will take you the rest of the way. Don’t listen to your professors on the first day of class. You may spend two hours a week on one class, or ten hours on another. Tune out the professor and take some time to digest everything. It’s not as bad as it may seem. There is time to do everything.

Do not wait. Starting your assignments early will give you more time, more confidence and allow for more creativity. A hard-earned, successful end result far outweighs the bragging rights of an all-nighter assignment.

Discount no one. You never know who you can learn from, and this does not disclude classmates. No matter how superior of a writer you feel you may be, listen to your editors. You never know who you can learn something from, and I repeat this phrase for a purpose. Take advantage of every learning opportunity.

You will encounter many professors during your four years. Some will be life changing, other’s names will be forgotten by the next semester. Professors are never as frightening as they are during the first class, and they may just be the one to inspire you. No matter how your instructor dresses or how bizarre they may seem, they may just be brilliant. Never discount a conversation because it seems tedious or irrelevant at the time. Listen to everyone. These people are teachers for a reason.

It is not always necessary to operate by the textbook. Take it class by class. If the reading does not help you learn, don’t do it. If the lectures don’t inspire you, don’t attend. But have an eye to what does help you learn, and make your best effort. Disinterest or dislike is not an excuse to deem the class pointless or stupid. Remember, you’re paying for it. You may as well try to take something from it.

Most importantly, make time for friends. Professors, aquaintances and classes will come and go, but friends are forever. Make time for them. You may quickly forget that paper you did just average on, but you will never forget the smiles, laughter and love of true friends. Get to know as many people as you can, and learn to love everyone. It makes the sometimes agonizing experiences survivable, and the most difficult four years of your life unforgettable. Thank you to all those who helped me through the excitement and agony. Thank you for keeping my head above water. We survived. We did it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Just when I thought the racing season was over, we logged three more wins in Maryland. Zarroc won a $32,000 optional claimer at Laurel, paying $32.90. He follows up wins by Longlasting and Cheers Mate, the latter having won three races for us this year, joining Woodsmoke as our co-winningest horse. Our other multiple winner was First Circle. Overall, Gus Schickedanz's stable has now won 16 races this year, stellar considering it more than doubles last year's record. I learned that hard work truly does pay off. I also learned that the winners circle is kind of a fun place to be!

Pieces of the Puzzle

The pieces of puzzle that is my internship at The Blood-Horse are coming together. I will be leaving Canada and arriving in Versailles, Kentucky on January 5, 2010. Over the past few weeks, I have learned that I will be contributing to magazine content including features and race reports, as well as writing stories for the website and getting feedback from editors on my work. I look forward to working in each of these capacities, but I'm particularly interested in doing some work for the website, as this is where I have the least experience. I can't wait to get some feedback on my work from some of the most respected writers and editors in the Thoroughbred industry. My hours to begin with will be Monday to Friday, 8 am to 3 pm, and will likely change according to workload and important events.

I will be living in a house owned by Lane's End Farm in downtown Versailles, with a girl my age. I will spend a couple days a week in the foaling barns there, where they will be foaling about 150 mares this year. This is many more than what I'm used to, and I look forward to all the learning opportunities that come along with those numbers.

I will be returning to Canada when my visa expires for the month of April. My plans afterward are not set in stone.

Monday, December 7, 2009


A little preview of the on-screen charisma and handy camera work learned at Guelph-Humber. Last Friday, one of my classmates and I covered a protest put on by our public relations counterparts from GH. Here's an overview, shot, edited, and reported on avec moi (they have also taught us French).

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Solid Sands

Click HERE for a thought-provoking article by Blood-Horse editor Dan Liebman on the influence of HH Sheikh Mohammed on the Thoroughbred industry during the global recession. The financial difficulties of Dubai have recently been brought to light, and it would be foolish for Thoroughbred industry participants to take this lightly, considering the strong influence Sheikh Mohammed's bloodstock empire has on Thoroughbred racing globally. Having said that, it would also be foolish to believe that Sheikh Mohammed would leave high and dry the industry that he so strongly supports. There is no saying what may happen with his global racing empire, but should any changes be made, there is no doubt in this journalist's mind that they will be made reasonably, and with the greater good in mind. As far as his racing and breeding operations are concerned, Sheikh Mohammed is first and foremost a horse person, more than can be said for some of the more prominent owners and breeders in North America today. While I am onboard with the many who believe that young stallions such as Bernardini, Street Sense and Hard Spun should have stayed on track past their three-year-old years, let's face reality: in the climate of today's breeding business, if Darley hadn't plucked these colts from the track in the prime of their careers, someone else would have. This is no legitimate reason to knock Sheikh Mohammed. The Sheikh injects millions of dollars into our industry, creates thousands of jobs globally, and displays the ultimate love of horses and sportsmanship this sport is desperately lacking. Instead of criticizing this leader, perhaps we should take a page from his book.

Thank you for bringing this issue up for conversation, Mr. Liebman.

Horse of the Year Home Run

Click HERE to read an excellent guest blog on regarding the current Horse of the Year pandemonium. Mr. Sealy hits a home run with this one. In the midst of the outrage between Zenyatta and Rachel fans, who has stopped to think about the real issue at hand? Had these two lovely ladies actually raced against each other, as was anticipated very publicly all year long, there would be no question as to who gets the crown. The best horse should be decided in a race, not by hundreds of voters waging words of war. I have been reading a lot lately about the origins of horse racing for my thesis on engaging fans, and Mr. Sealy depicts it perfectly: horse racing began with the challenge of obtaining the fastest horse, which led to social standing in society. It was all about sport, sportsmanship and socializing. Somewhere, we lost our way. And, as Mr. Sealy says, those who are serious about keeping horse racing alive must recognize an opportunity that was missed this year. While Rachel and Zenyatta were both no doubt much needed water to an increasingly parched sport, an opportunity was missed to return to the roots of racing, and regain the sportsmanship that crafted the beginnings of the game we love.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bite of Bobby

I have yet to weigh in on the recent passing of racing legend Bobby Frankel, but, like many others, I do have a story. I encountered Bobby just once in my racing adventures (it would be a stretch to say I met him). This was in August 2004, while I was at Saratoga for the Travers. At 16, I was fairly new to the racing scene, but I knew who Bobby was. I knew Medaglia D'oro, Empire Maker, Sightseek, Tates Creek and Heat Haze, among many others. And I knew he trained one of my favourite older runners, Peace Rules. I did not know about Bobby's often crusty facade, nor did I understand the privacy with which some trainers like to blanket their barns. I came across Bobby's barn while exploring the Saratoga backside, and was delighted to see the legendary trainer standing outside. Bouncing up to him, I announced to Bobby that I would like to meet Peace Rules. He stared down at me blankly for a moment, a look of surprise on his face as he assessed the gangly adolescent frame staring up at him. Finally muttering "okay", he led me over to the stall and walked away. Those were the only words and few moments of contact I ever had with Bobby, but as I've grown and learned more about racing and Bobby's legendary character, I would often think back on that morning and laugh. Bobby was well known for his gruff character, but the consent he made that day for a young girl who loved a horse showed how much Bobby really cared.

Secret Shame

Much has been written about the renaming of the Lady's Secret (gr. I) the Zenyatta, effective for the 2010 renewal of the race. Many racing fans are dismayed by the total disregard being given to Lady's Secret, myself amongst them. Aside from the general arguments that this change is being made too quickly, and what will happen in 10 years when another super mare comes along (both valid), here is my take on the situation as a young racing fan:

Lady's Secret etched her place in history two years before I was born. I did not know her as a racehorse, but I have learned about her legacy, much of which has been carried on in this race named in her honour. While I did not watch Lady's Secret race herself, I have watched numerous renewals of the Lady's Secret Stakes, and recognize it to be a prestigious event; any horse who has won or showed up well in this event is one to watch. On the flipside, I followed Zenyatta throughout her 14-race demolition, and need not hear more than her name to appreciate the wonderful champion she is, and the accomplishments she has made. The Zenyatta Stakes, however, is meaningless to me, and I am more likely to scan over it unintentionally on a racing form rather than give it the respect it deserves.

Secondly, it is not a secret (no pun intended) that the sport of horse racing is craving new fans. Watching its fan base age, the sport's leaders are tirelessly pondering ways to bring in younger followers. It is not easy, but, in this respect, it's also not rocket science: if we don't respect our legends of the past, how can we expect new fans to respect them, and understand what this sport is all about? If we don't respect our own legends, the heart, soul and foundation of this sport, business and industry, how can we expect fans to respect us?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A little graphic design skill. Just a little.

Here is the magazine layout I created for my story on horse slaughter. Please note this is a shortened version of the story, necessary to fit the layout. Click on images to enlarge.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Turf Beat, Live!

Here is the magazine cover and content page for the presently-fictitious Turf Beat, a Canadian Thoroughbred racing news magazine. These were done as assignments for my fourth year advanced magazine journalism class:

The Best of Years

In my four plus years working for Gus’s operation, this year was by far the best on the racing end. Gus’s horses racked up 13 wins, 2 stakes wins, 2 two-year-old winners, and three repeat winners (Woodsmoke, First Circle and Cheers Mate). There were many other strong efforts, giving preview to a promising 2010 season.

Tomorrow morning, the racehorses will pack up and van to Aiken for the winter. Four have shipped to Maryland, and one is already a winner there.

With this racing season wrapped up and packed away, here are some of my favourite moments from this year:

· Woodsmoke breaking her maiden in her first start, with Politelyprecocious third in the same race. Woodsmoke would go on to win the Fury and Alywow stakes in exciting front running fashion.

· Politely breaking her maiden on Kentucky Derby day, then watching Mine That Bird from the bar while celebrating the win.

· After finishing valiant seconds in two stakes (one by a wisker), First Circle closed out the year with a decisive allowance win.

· Silent Wisper becoming our first Wando winner.

· Mobil Unit following up his maiden victory with two impressive stakes showings.

· Artic Fern finishing a promising second in his first and only start of the year.

Okay, so what didn’t I list? Each horse and each race is special in some way, and each win is one we will never forget, whether it was a $50,000 claiming race or a $500,000 stake.

This fall, I had the good fortune of working for Mike a few days a week. This was a very new experience for me, coming from the farm, but one of the greatest experiences I have had. Working with the athletes in the barn was thrilling, and a wonderful sanctuary from the stresses of school. I met a lot of amazing people here; I can honestly say there wasn’t one person in the barn that I didn’t have an interesting conversation with, and I gained a great appreciation and respect for each one of these people. To spend time with so many people who love horses was truly a gift, and it is something I will remember fondly and cherish for a long time. The only thing left to do is to say thank you to each and every one of those people. Have a great winter, and see you next year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A "Wandoful" Weekend!

While I have been pulling at the bit to head to Kentucky ever since I was accepted as an intern at The Blood-Horse in August, a recent two-day visit only increased my adrenaline. On perhaps the warmest November weekend of my 21 years, I was lucky enough to attend two days of the Keeneland November Breeding Stock sale and drop into Lane's End, where I will be taking up residence for my ten week internship. The highlights of the trip included by and far seeing Wando, who looked as spectacular as ever (or perhaps more), meeting Curlin for the first time, meeting Mr. Bill Farish and Mike Cline for discussion on my stay at Lane's End, and spending hours on end looking at horses at Keeneland, a great way to tweak my eye for conformation.

Below is a photo of Wando. For more photos from Lane's End (including Curlin, Langfuhr, Candy Ride, and Rock Hard Ten) check out the new Turf Beat Picasa Album.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Horse Slaughter: Complications and Intricacies

I've just finished the following article for my fourth-year advanced magazine journalism class. The goal of the article was to examine both sides of the highly-controversial horse slaughter argument, and to compare and contrast these arguments and present them to readers in an objective manner so they may make their own decision as to which side they fall on. It is important to note that this article only brushes the surface of either side of the argument; I could have gone for 8000 words 0r more, but there is a limit. More information can be found on both anti and pro-slaughter arguments by simply Googling these terms.

I hope you enjoy.

People across the world are drawn to the grace and beauty of the horse. The exquisite features, shattering strength and breathtaking athleticism of this animal has made it a model of magnificence for leisure, work and sport for thousands of years.

Much of the evolution of human civilization has revolved around the horse. Right through to the mid 1800s, people used horses for the farming that put food on tables, for transportation of people and products, and for the leisure and sport that filled their downtime. Kings and rulers built their empires on horseback, and horses even went to war. In other words, there was little a horse could not do, and much that couldn’t be done without it.

Today, this is not the case. With the evolution of technology and machinery, the need for horses apart from recreational purposes has largely disappeared. Many people still use horses for sporting, leisure, and companionship, but few aside from the small community of people who breed and own these horses think about what happens to them when they are no longer useful to their owners. Those who do think about it often imagine them living out a happy retirement, grazing amongst a happy herd on lush farmland. Few would imagine that these elegant animals could be impaled, hung, and dragged down the processing line of a horse slaughterhouse.

But this is the reality for thousands of North American horses each year. While some horses change owners numerous times and unintentionally end up in the hands of a ‘kill buyer’, others are purposely sold for slaughter.

This state of affairs has inspired people like former IT professor and anti-horse slaughter advocate Alex Brown to lobby for an end to the killing of these animals.

For Brown, there are more than 3000 reasons to shut the slaughter industry down. That is the number of horses, and counting, that have been saved from the slaughter pipeline by Brown and his followers from the lobby group Alex Brown Racing since 2006.

A man of small stature, Brown doesn’t appear to be the type to move mountains. Thick layers of clothing shield him from the late October chill, his winter-weathered skin fading into the multicultural backdrop of backstretch workers at Toronto’s Woodbine Racetrack. Upon first impression, 45-year-old Brown is like most other stable employees. He braves the early mornings and progressively more bitter weather to make a living working with horses. A second glance, however, will reveal that the English-born exercise rider has a determined focus, and, where principle is concerned, would be more likely to ascend the Appalachians than to rest on his laurels.

“We (Alex Brown Racing) do a lot of work on the horse slaughter issue, lobbying (and) trying to effect change,” Brown said. “We’re also working within the horse slaughter pipeline, pulling horses out and rescuing them. We’ve raised more than a million dollars, and rescued probably 3100 horses.”

Brown became immersed in the horse slaughter issue following the death of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Bringing an undefeated record to the Preakness Stakes, the second jewel of America’s Triple Crown, Barbaro never made it to the finish line: he shattered his right hind leg shortly after leaving the starting gate, and was taken by horse ambulance to the New Bolton Center in Pennsylvania to undergo rigorous and dangerous surgery. This started a national rally behind Barbaro, in which Brown played a key role.

Prior to Barbaro’s Triple Crown campaign, Brown had been little more than a small blip on the popular colt’s radar, an underachieving blogger with an interest in horses and social media. But when he began blogging about Barbaro after his Kentucky Derby win, Brown’s popularity grew rapidly. Then, following Barbaro’s injury, readership of his blog skyrocketed as fans swarmed to his web page for information.

Over the next eight months, Brown would continue to provide comprehensive coverage of Barbaro’s recovery. When the celebrated Thoroughbred ultimately succumbed to complications from his injuries in January 2007, his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, identified the anti-horse slaughter cause as an important issue to them. They suggested fans could take up this cause to channel their grief for Barbaro.

As a result, Brown began researching horse slaughter and gathering others to join the cause through his website, Today Brown travels North America, working at different racetracks and managing his website. He has been in Canada for the past two years, working for leading trainer Steve Asmussen and raising awareness for horse slaughter.

Anti-slaughter advocates, mostly grassroots groups, are armed with many reasons why this practice should be banned, most of which revolve around the inhumanity of the executioners and the injustice to the horse. The reality, however, is that horse slaughter is a highly controversial and widely contested issue.

The other side of the argument, armed with strong reasons of its own, is the pro-slaughter community. It is largely comprised of government officials and livestock groups. These people fight for equality across the livestock sector, for property rights, and, for what they interpret as the welfare of unwanted and abused horses, contrary to the anti-slaughter side.

“We make our business with livestock, and we have a level-headed way of looking at animals and how we use them,” said Sue Wallis, a rancher and State of Wyoming Legislature Representative who is against the proposed horse slaughter ban. “We understand that horses were domesticated to be very multiple purpose animals and always have been, in the vast majority of the world, considered an ordinary food animal.”

Both pro and anti slaughter proponents bring a plethora of arguments and tactics to the table, and both are able to appeal to certain audiences as to why their side is right.

In 2007 the last remaining American slaughterhouses, two in Texas and one in Illinois, were closed by state legislation. This has encouraged anti-slaughter groups to shift their efforts to the federal level, in hopes of permanently banning slaughter across the U.S.. In the meantime, pro-slaughter groups have been working to ensure these bills do not pass. They are driven by a fear of growth in the numbers of unwanted horses, which they believe will lead to worse abuse and neglect.

“Without (slaughter), the only low-end horses that have any value at all are those big and healthy enough to be worth trucking to Canada or Mexico,” Wallis said. “So that leaves all those old horses, horses that people can’t afford any longer, (and) horses that are crippled or damaged, with nowhere to go.”

The website, a website documents cases of horse abandonment and neglect in America. The motivation for this site is the belief that if slaughter is banned, abuse will soar, as owners who can no longer dispose of their horses economically also find themselves unable to care for them. The website’s homepage claims that, without slaughter, America will be faced with one million unwanted horses in ten years’ time. This calculation is based on the fact that more than 100,000 horses have gone to slaughter annually in recent years. Wallis says that cases of abuse and neglect have been “horrifically magnified” since the closing of U.S. slaughter houses. “There’s been just an absolute explosion all across the country of abandoned and neglected and starving horses,” she explains. “Out here in the West, they just take them out and dump them in the desert. Back East, they turn them out in state parks, (or) they turn them out on roads and people run into them with their cars.”

Alex Brown, however, argues that the number of horses slaughtered each year far outnumber those that are abused and abandoned. In addition, Brown has seen firsthand that the unwanted horses turned out on the highway are often horses that slaughterhouses would reject anyway. In other words, they have no cash value. They are not sought after by ‘kill buyers’, people paid by slaughter houses to find horses worth slaughtering.

“I go to kill auctions, and the kill buyers want the young healthy horses, and they pay a premium for them,” Brown said. “The kill buyer has a contract with the slaughter house to buy a certain number of horses. They get more money for better looking, healthier horses.” Brown believes that the fact that these unwanted horses that Wallis describes are often not those picked up by kill buyers gives the lie to the pro-slaughter argument that these animals would be ‘saved’ by humane execution .

This view is shared by Simone Netherlands, a natural horse trainer in Arizona.

“I go to all these auctions, and it’s really tough,” Netherlands said. “You have the killer buyers and the horse rescues bidding against each other. That in itself tells you if they [the kill buyers] weren’t there these horses could have gone to good homes.” Netherlands stresses that it is not only rescue facilities that kill buyers are bidding against, but also people looking to buy horses for recreational animals and companions.

Netherlands, who fights horse slaughter under the name Respect 4 Horses (, suggests that rather than providing a disposal for unwanted horses, the option of slaughter encourages overbreeding and in itself creates the problem of unwanted horses. Where Wallis believes that ending slaughter would create a plethora of abandoned horses, Netherlands insists that banning slaughter would force breeders to upgrade their operations, breeding only the finest animals out of fear they would be stuck with the lifelong care and feeding of inferior ones.

A controversial aspect of the horse slaughter dispute is the fact that horses are legally classified as livestock. The purpose is to allow owners to receive tax incentives to breed them. But this has the unintended effect of grouping horses with stock that is slaughtered for food, such as cows, pigs and chickens. That suits pro-slaughter advocates, who believe any animal raised for profit is ‘livestock’ and should fall under the same blanket term. But anti-slaughter groups see horses as an exception.

“The reality is, horses are different from other livestock,” Brown said. “We train them, they trust us, we give them names, and they compete for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It doesn’t matter if they’re tax classified or not. They just [aren’t] livestock.”

Laws classifying horses as livestock also mean that they are, legally, ‘property’. This definition is used with effect by the pro-slaughter side, who argue that horse owners should be allowed to do as they wish with their property.

“Here’s the bottom line: it [banning horse slaughter] is really an imposition on our private property right,” Wallis said. “Telling me that I cannot market my unusable horse for food is denying me the ability to get the residual value in my asset. That’s the same as telling a rental car owner that they can’t market their used cars after so many miles.”

Brown rejects this logic. “The property rights argument is no good. I have restrictions on what I can do with my house, because of (my) Homeowners Association. Just because you own it doesn’t mean you can kill it.”

Brown is, technically, correct that society imposes many limits on property rights. But it’s an abstract argument. Far more potent for the anti-slaughter lobby are the arguments which arise from the manner in which horse killing is done. Groups such as Alex Brown Racing and Netherlands’ Respect 4 Horses argue that the slaughter process is cruel. Netherlands also argues there is no humane way to slaughter a horse.

“The horse slaughter practice is just so atrocious because these people don’t know how to deal with horses,” Netherlands said. “Many horses get beaten in the face because they think it’s easier if they can’t see anymore. They figure this horse is going to die anyway, so what does it matter?”

Brown describes the slaughter process on his website. The main concern is that slaughter is designed for cows, which are much smaller and less flighty than horses. This makes it difficult to ensure the horses are unconscious before they are slaughtered. Many times the captive bolt gun (the most commonly used method in North American slaughterhouses) doesn’t effectively penetrate the horse’s skull, leaving him conscious for portions of the slaughter process. Brown notes that while veterinarian groups such as the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medial Association (AVMA) have deemed the slaughter process humane, these particular professional groups are pro-slaughter. They do not speak for the many veterinarians who are outspoken in their belief that horse slaughter is inhumane.

Wallis, on the pro-slaughter side, argues that horse slaughter is humane precisely because it is legal, and therefore subject to government oversight. She notes that all livestock are treated the same, and approval by the AAEP and AVMA are indications of safe slaughter practice.

“The slaughter process for horses is exactly the same as it is for all other classes of livestock, and the only methods of killing that can be used are those that are approved by the vets who are experts in that particular species,” Wallis said. She argues that the captive bolt is effective, and that this is apparent in the quality of the resulting meat.

“The captive bolt creates instant insensibility. That’s important not only for veterinary reasons, but for meat quality reasons. If they are wounded or in pain for any length of time before they are insensible, it greatly affects the meat quality because there’s all that adrenaline coursing through the body.”

Whichever side of the slaughter argument one falls on, it is inevitable that the abolishment of horse slaughter would precipitate a major downward market correction in the value of these animals. Wallis argues that this market correction will force owners to turn their horses loose, leading to their death. Meanwhile Brown, while agreeing that there would indeed be a collapse in the value of bottom-end horses, insists that this very collapse would compel breeders to curb the “reckless breeding habits that horse slaughter enables.”

As the fight against horse slaughter marches on, both sides continue to gain momentum. While the pro-slaughter side is generally comprised of individuals and organizations with similar agendas, the anti-slaughter side continues to be challenged by contradictory lobbyists with highly varied agendas. Alex Brown Racing, for example, proposes an end to slaughter, but also supports the sport of horse racing. More extreme organizations, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), propose not only an end to slaughter but also abolishment of horse racing as a sport. In fact, PETA wants to eliminate the entire agricultural sector.

For Brown, this fragmentation in the anti-slaughter lobby has a sad and unfortunate effect. It drives horsemen, many of whom sympathize with the Brown lobby but don’t wish to be associated with PETA and groups like it, over to the pro-slaughter side.

“My focus is to get horsemen behind it,” Brown said. “The way things are structured right now, horsemen are much more apt to believe the pro-slaughter side. The pro slaughter people will say ‘there are all these unwanted horses, we need slaughter. It’s kind of sad but we need it.’ And the horsemen hear that and think ‘it’s probably better that they’re slaughtered than they’re all sick and starving and turned loose. And of course, slaughter is humane. You tell us it’s humane so it must be.’”

Nonetheless, the anti-slaughter movement appears to be gaining momentum, especially through use of the Internet. Social networking tools like Facebook allow people against slaughter to connect and communicate easily, and YouTube lets people broadcast their findings and opinions to the world.

“I do believe with the internet, we might actually be able to end horse slaughter,” Brown asserts.

Like many worldwide phenomena, the Internet can be a blessing and a curse. Wallis sees it as a chink in the armour of the pro-slaughter movement because it attracts the less-informed public.

“There is a great deal of misinformation and manipulated images being spread around. Particularly on the Internet, you will see loads of very graphic horrific stuff that is taken out of context and in some cases may even be completely fabricated,” she said, specifically referencing graphic slaughter videos on YouTube.

Despite the controversial and sometimes discouraging fight, Brown remains steadfast in his anti-slaughter position.

“I know we’re right, and at some point we’re going to get it done,” Brown said. Many will argue that as one horse is saved from the slaughter pipeline, another simply takes his place, allowing the cycle to continue without a moment’s hesitation. Brown acknowledges that this is likely the truth. But it does not deter him from seeing the justice in his work.

“The way I look at this is like the starfish parable: a guy walks up and down the beach all day, finds a starfish on the beach, chucks it back into the sea, sees another starfish on the beach, chucks it back into the sea. Someone comes up to him and says, ‘Why are you spending all your time doing that? You’re not going to stop starfish getting stranded on the beach and dying’. He’s like, ‘Yeah, but for that starfish I chucked back into the sea, it meant the world to him’. That’s the way I justify it. And for that horse, those 3100, it’s pretty cool.”

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This Stone Rocks!

Gainesway farm announced yesterday that the stud fee for leading sire Birdstone will be increased to $30,000 for the 2010 breeding season. Birdstone has stood for $10,000 since he entered stud duty in 2005. During the current economic conditions, a $20,000 rise deserves a standing ovation. Millionaires Mine That Bird and Summer Bird, winners of two-third of this year's Triple Crown, have been instrumental in elevating Birdstone to second place on the second crop sires list, behind only young super-sire Medaglia D'Oro, who will command a $100,000 fee in 2010.

Birdstone owner Marylou Whitney should be applauded for her modesty in marketing Birdstone. Upon setting his $10,000 fee immediately following a year in which Birdstone reeled off two grade I wins, including victory over Smarty Jones in the Belmont, Ms. Whitney explained that she wanted to make Birdstone accessible to all types of breeders. Don't we wish more people like Ms. Whitney owned stallions.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Photo Op!

Here are a few more lingering photos from Breeders' Cup weekend. To see the full album, become my friend on Facebook!

Goldikova returns after her Mile win.

Handsome Zensational, beaten favourite in the Sprint.

2006 Turf winner Red Rocks and Juvenile contender Radiohead on track Saturday morning.

Brilliant Einstein!

Canada's favourite girl, Grade I winner Careless Jewel.

One of Woodbine's former children, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Moments of Zen

A visit with Zenyatta on Breeders' Cup Friday, the morning before the Classic. With female repeat winners Zenyatta and Goldikova both running Saturday, I guess Friday wasn't Ladies' Day after all. For more on Zenyatta, see "The Sport of Queens" below.

That's My Bird

Special thanks to Steve Haskin for introducing me to Summer Bird the morning before the Classic. We saw him leave the track, and cooling out after at his barn. Also pictured here is owner, Dr. Jayaraman, who fed Summer Bird an entire bag of carrots. Summer Bird finished fourth in the Classic, an impressive result considering his apparent dislike for the Pro-Ride surface. Papa Birdstone would be proud!

The Sport of Queens

Browse the web, read the headlines, watch the races. Horse racing the world over has carried one dominant theme in 2009: fillies and mares beating the boys in important races. In a sport described as male dominated, the fillies are quickly proving it’s a girl’s world, too.

It started with the iconic superstar Rachel Alexandra. An annihilating victory as the overwhelming favourite in the Kentucky Oaks transitioned to male domination in the Preakness, Haskell Invitational and Woodward Stakes. A few weeks after Rachel’s Woodward win, it was the turf sprint master Ventura who shipped to Canada to overtake the boys in the Woodbine Mile, an important Breeders’ Cup prep race.

On Breeders’ Cup Saturday, however, all of this became a sidebar to Zenyatta’s overpowering win in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Going into this event, the towering bay Street Cry mare had everything to lose: the race, a perfect 13 for 13 record, and her claim for Horse of the Year.

The most refreshing aspect of this scenario is that Zenyatta could have opted for the Ladies Classic, an event she won last year, and still kept all of the above intact. But instead, owners Jerry and Ann Moss and trainer John Shirreffs decided to test their faith in their champion mare. They experienced the fruition of this decision a thousand times over.

The spectacle put on by Zenyatta both during and after the race was unlike anything I have seen thus far in this wonderful sport. Her entrance into the paddock made classic winning colts and multiple grade I winners look like green broke maidens, and from that point forward she captured the hearts and imaginations of all 37,000 plus present, and thousands more watching on television across the world.

The Zenyatta showcase continued into the post parade. While the rest of the field jogged off around the turn for their warmup, Zenyatta paraded in front of the grandstand, showing off her traditional strut, turning her head to the crowd and throwing out her right foreleg in response to the cheers.

What looked to be a fairytale in the making threatened to come to an end just moments before the race. The controversial starting gate incident involving Quality Road has been well publicized, but it must be noted that the Santa Anita assistant starter is as heroic as Zenyatta herself. In being able to catch the reins and bring Quality Road under control, this man prevented sure disaster; one can only imagine the tragedy that could have materialized had this colt gotten loose while panicked and blindfolded.

Quality Road aside, Zenyatta’s race was much the same as her 13 other wins, but altogether entirely different. Making her trademark sweeping move at the quarter pole, the Amazon mare used the length of the stretch to annihilate her opponents, a style exhilaratingly familiar to her fans. But this race was like none other. None other of Zenyatta’s, none other this year, and none other in history. On this day, Zenyatta waived all criticisms of her previous wins against “inferior” opponents. She provided the crowning moment of a year for females. She marked her spot in history as a dual Breeders’ Cup winner, became the first female winner of the Classic, and with this win soared past Horse of the Year Azeri to become North American racing’s all-time leading money earner. For those watching on scene and across the world, Zenyatta gave us all a reason to believe. To believe in hope and overcoming adversity. To believe that mountains can be moved. To believe that miracles can happen. To believe in the people and things you love, because standing strong can provide the greatest of dividends.

Other Breeders’ Cup Quips

Lost in the shuffle of Zenyatta is Goldikova, repeat winner of the Mile. The French-based mare beat the males in this event for the second straight year, joining the great Miesque as female repeat Mile winners. Coincidentally (or perhaps not) Miesque was ridden by Goldikova’s trainer, Freddy Head.

I think it is easier in hindsight to appreciate that we saw three repeat Breeders’ Cup winners in a row: Goldikova (Mile), Conduit (Turf) and Zenyatta (Ladies Classic/Classic). This is a rare feat accomplished by precious few horses, and the victories by these horses were a testament to the quality of this year’s event.

I have many special memories from this year’s Breeders’ Cup; far too many to list here. From the fan standpoint this year’s event was a success, and the countdown is officially on to Churchill Downs in 2010.

Below: Zenyatta enters the paddock for the Classic, showcasing her trademark "strut".

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

You're Always in My Heart, Always on My Mind

I realize that a lot of people may not have seen the obituary I wrote for my friend Ruth Young about a year ago. Ruth died on October 24, 2008, a year ago Breeders' Cup weekend. Ruth gave me my first job working with Thoroughbreds, was a constant friend and resource, and most importantly, she believed in me as much as anyone I know. She was thrilled by my stories published in The Game, and I hope that she was able to see my first story in The Blood-Horse a few weeks before she left us. I'm still in awe over my dream internship placement at The Blood-Horse and living arrangements at Lane's End Farm, and I know that Ruth had something to do with this. She loved to talk more than anyone else I know, and I'm sure she subconsciously yakked off the necessary ears until the deeds were done.

I wanted to post this before I left for California to mark the anniversary, but ran short on time. Here it is now.

Ruth Anne Young

February 8, 1969-October 24, 2008

On October 24, horse racing in Ontario suffered a great loss. Ruth Young, a lifelong horse enthusiast and supporter of horse racing, lost her battle with liver disease at age 39.

Being an eternal optimist, Ruth would want to be remembered for the wonderful things she accomplished in her life. Ruth harboured a boundless belief that things work out the way they should. This belief took her to many places to do great things. Ruth overcame many challenges, including a liver transplant at age 18 and a lymphoma diagnosis three months later.

In 1989 Ruth graduated first in her class from Humber College with honours in Equine Studies and Level One Coaching. That fall Ruth traveled to Singapore to compete at the World Transplant Games, finishing fourth in swimming. She returned to the event two years later in Hungary where she won a silver in track and two bronze medals in swimming.

Ruth had a great interest in and outstanding knowledge of horse conformation and nutrition. After working for a year with Dr. Darryl Bonder, Ruth studied animal sciences part time at the University of Guelph for three years.

Ruth’s love of horses knew no boundaries. After being told she should not be around animals during her illness, Ruth would return home and head straight to the stables. When Ruth broke her wrist in a riding fall, doctors were quick to guess the cause of the injury. Their exasperation with Ruth caused them to further explore the affects of animals on their patients. Their search came up empty, and the restrictions were dropped.

After working at various farms coaching and riding, Ruth started Castleview Farm near Ancaster, Ontario in 1999. A breaking, training and layup facility for thoroughbreds, Castleview was the starting point for many winners, including 2003 Canadian Champion two-year-old filly My Vintage Port. Castleview was also where my special friendship with Ruth began.

As a 15-year-old racing enthusiast, I would do anything the creative mind could conjure just to be around Thoroughbreds. So naturally, when I learned racehorses were being trained at a farm a mere 10 minutes from my home, it was all I talked about until my parents dropped me off at Ruth’s doorstep on October 25, 2003.

In my two years working at Castleview and the time following, I grew to appreciate the special type of person Ruth was. She treated her staff like family. In taking me under her wing Ruth gave me my first job with racehorses; the start to my career with thoroughbreds. For that I know she was always an angel.

When I remember Ruth there are two qualities that stand out: her beautiful smile and her compassionate character. Ruth could talk for hours. She never failed to share stories, advice or simple words of encouragement. In the words of her companion Jimmy McLaren, Ruth “always had that smile on her face.”

Perhaps the only thing Ruth loved more than horses was her daughter Ainsley. Three years old when I began working at Castleview, Ainsley was the epitome of a horse lover in training: bold, determined and impossible to keep clean. I have no doubt that Ainsley will embody and carry on all the wonderful qualities that define her mother.

Ruth strongly believed Jesus Christ helped her overcome adversity, and she encouraged faith in those around her. She wanted everyone to be aware of organ donation, the importance of signing a donor card and informing family of one’s wishes. After living for almost 21 years with the gift of another’s donation, Ruth herself is now an organ donor.

Ruth was so fittingly described at her funeral with the following words inspired by William Shakespeare: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one (woman) in (her) time plays many parts. To her colleagues and business associates, Ruth was a devoted and hard working rider, coach, trainer, business owner and mentor. To her family, a loving daughter, mother, sister, niece and companion. To every life she touched, a friend. To Ruth I say thank you. Thank you for making me your colleague, family member and friend. Thanks for the start. I will miss you, my friend.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Bird Watching

The following is a link to the Live Cam on Mine That Bird at Santa Anita Park:

I discovered this yesterday, and I'm absolutely fascinated by it. Even just watching the Bird eat or hang his head over the door is so amusing. This is the type of thing the sport needs to do way more often: racetrack backstretches (and racetracks in general, really) are very closed off from the public. For obvious safety reasons, horse racing cannot allow all the inside access that other sports can. But this gives fans access right into the stalls, and they can monitor the athletes 24/7. Also, and perhaps more importantly, it adds credibility. If this view of the horse is being streamed to the world 24/7, it dispels the notion that anything dishonest could be being done with the horse.

Huge kudos to the connections of Mine That Bird for sharing this with us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Rock-A-Bye Barbie

Isn't it fitting for a horse called Barbie to run in a race called the Princess Elizabeth? The Princess Elizabeth is no ordinary Thoroughbred race: each year, it showcases some of Canada's top two-year-old fillies, its Canadian-foaled classification making it an important stepping stone to next year's Canadian filly classics. The Princess Elizabeth is no ordinary race, but then again, Barbie is no ordinary horse.

Barbie is the pseudonym for Silent Wisper, a blonde-highlighted red head by Wando, out of Silent Course. At two years of age, Barbie seems to have grown into a patchwork of her parents, her slender build and cantankerous personality a mirror image of her mother. Barbie has a sweet side though, and this and her brightly burnished copper coat are the trademarks of her father.

Silent Wisper was born February 22, 2007, at around 5:15 p.m. While I have attended and assisted in a few handfuls of foalings (as many as possible) at Schonberg Farm, the birth of Barbie marked a special evening for me for two reasons: while I had observed a few foalings, Barbie's was the first birth I assisted in. Secondly, Barbie was our first Wando. This spindly little filly was by the horse that has been the cornerstone of my life with Thoroughbreds.

As I toweled off wet little Barbie that cold February evening, I was overcome with the exhilarating emotion of it all. It was at this time that my future was decided: I would spend my life in broodmare barns, caring for broodmares and helping little ones grow. About 10 years previously I had decided on a career with horses, but no pathway had yet been paved. My options were many, but on this night, because of Barbie, I knew that this was what I had to be doing. While I hope to spend the next few years dabbling in many facets of the Thoroughbred industry, my heart is still calling me back to the foaling barn.

Three weeks ago Barbie broke her maiden at Woodbine, becoming our first Wando winner. This week, she was our first Wando entered in a stake, and tomorrow, we will be cheering for her to become ours, and Wando's, first stakes winner.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seven reasons to celebrate

Tomorrow's eighth race at Woodbine marks the career debut of All Sevens, a three-year-old filly owned and bred by Gus Schickedanz and trained by Mike Keogh (and raised at Schonberg Farm!) At first glance, "Sevens" is as ordinary as they come: a plain bay with a hint of a white star, she isn't the first to catch your eye. Her features seem exaggerated: her head is a little too large for her body, her eyes a little too big and wide set for her head. Her jaw appears to be stolen from a larger creature, her bottom lip flapping lazily as she beckons you her way. Her legs are not those of a runway model; her walk is more reminiscent of a thug than the lady athlete that she is. Despite these imperfections, however, Sevens is the most impeccably bred horse in the barn. By leading sire A.P. Indy, Sevens is the first foal out of the stakes winning mare Six Sexy Sisters. Sevens' second dam is Kathie's Colleen, 2008 Canadian Broodmare of the Year. In addition to Six Sexy Sisters, Kathie has produced Wando, 2003 Canadian Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner, and stakes placed multiple winner Half Sister.

It is not Sevens' attractive pedigree, however, that melts my heart. Here are the reasons I will be celebrating tomorrow when Sevens enters the paddock for her first race:

1. I recall December 2005, roughly a month before Sevens was born. I spoke with Lauri on the phone about 7 p.m. one evening. He was in the barn keeping an eye on Six Sexy Sisters, and said he hadn't been this nervous for a foaling in a long time. An A.P. Indy was a big deal for us, and the first foal out a young, beautifully-bred mare was sure to be special.

2. Despite my efforts to attend the foaling, the first time I saw Sevens she was already a week old. While most foals typically scatter and hide behind their dams at the sight of a stranger, Sevens was at the stall door before I could open it, ready to inspect me. I could tell right away our friendship would be a happy one.

3. As I mentioned previously, Sevens was born with a contracted hind tendon. Most of my night watch shift that first night was spent sitting in the stall with Sevens, flexing her ankle as she snored in the straw. By morning, the end result of the farm staff's efforts the entire week, Sevens was standing with her hoof placed solidly on the ground. Some white-haired scarring is the only evidence that remains.

4. The spring that Sevens became a yearling, I visited Gus's farm in South Carolina. The filly had a rather clumsy walk as a foal, and Lauri wanted to know how she was doing. I wanted to take a video to bring back for him, and headed out to the field to find Sevens sprawled in the grass, the rest of the fillies grazing around her. In all my efforts to make her stand, none prevailed. I poked, pulled, proded, sat on her. My mom worried there was something wrong with her. I said nope, that's Sevens.

5. Sevens' magnetic personally stuck with her throughout her first year of life, and working with her as a yearling was a treat. I clearly remember the day, however, that she turned on me. Thinking this sweet little darling would surely let me pull her mane, I armed myself with the pulling comb and gave a good hard yank on her hair. Sevens was quick to let me know she liked her hair the way it was with flying feet and snapping teeth. I decided to leave her mane just like Sevens herself: tame enough, but a little frizzy and rough around the edges.

6. Tomorrow will mark the one year anniversary of the death of my dear friend Ruth Young. I started working with Thoroughbreds for Ruth when I was 15, and she believed in me so much. Even after she closed her farm, she came to the races whenever she could to watch our horses and to say hi to me. She pushed my journalistic aspirations, and would be thrilled to know that I will be completing my dream internship at The Blood-Horse. For Ruth, I hope that Sevens can make us all proud, because still to this day I know she doesn't miss one of our races.

7. My final reason is another wish from above. Last week, Sevens' two-year-old half sister, Dixie Gal, was euthanized after fracturing her pelvis during training, merely two days prior to her first scheduled start. Dixie Gal was so different from her sister in every possible way, but equally as loved, and for her, I hope Sevens can do this wonderful family's name proud.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Introduction: Hello!

Tonight I finished my thesis proposal. Here is a taste (aka the introduction):

Thoroughbred horse racing has been recognized for centuries as a symbol of high class and nobility. In the early days of the sport, the upper classes around the world would work to acquire the fastest horses, racing them against their neighbours in battles of superiority (Mooney 219). This competition, crowned the “Sport of Kings”, trickled down to minorities and lower classes (Bennett 13). Women were frequent spectators and occasionally participants, while blacks often attended the races and cared for the horses.

Throughout its evolution, horse racing has drawn an enthusiastic fan base mesmerized by the beauty of the moving animal and the thrill of competition and wagering. I fell in love with racing at age 14, and the attraction was instant. I watched my first horse race, the 2002 Kentucky Derby, on my basement television, and the thrill of watching these superior athletes battle neck and neck, stride for stride, gripped my heart like no other emotion I have experienced. Now, eight years later, that grip has grown to a stranglehold. I love horse racing because, despite claims by some that horses are forced to race, it is obvious that Thoroughbreds were born to race, and love to do it. This is why as babies, as young as a few weeks old, they race one another around their paddocks, and why, a few years later, they respond to the challenge of another horse racing beside them, and are often reluctant to stop running at the end of the race.

I could never have imagined that one passion could cause such turmoil of emotions. I cry at empathic wins and hard losses, scream as my picks race toward the finish line, and see my horses as my constant companions and best friends. Being in the presence of racehorses brings out the laughter from my heart and puts a smile on my face that shines straight from my soul. Horses give me so much just by being, a feeling that inspires me to give back to them and the Thoroughbred industry as a whole. Horse racing is my lifeblood and the air I breathe.

In recent years, this sport that I love has been plagued by technological innovations and integrity issues. The introduction of off-track betting parlours and internet and phone wagering has enabled bettors to participate without setting foot on the racetrack. This has challenged many tracks to look for ways to keep bettors coming to racetracks, such as implementing on site casinos (LaMarra). Furthermore, health and safety issues have arisen that racing’s governing bodies, particularly the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) appear to have little control over. These issues, including drug use in horses and injury rates, were compounded and exposed to the public by the highly publicized fatal injuries of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and 2008 Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles. Despite a growing number of safety and integrity initiatives set forth by the NTRA, the transparency of the sport is highly debatable, and the regulation of integrity issues appears to be out of the hands of those in power.

In addition, horse racing is experiencing less and less exposure in the mainstream media. While the expense of advertising is largely at play, keeping horse racing’s biggest events and stars out of the international limelight is ultimately hurting the sport; it makes the task of drawing new fans very difficult. The horse racing fan base is growing older, with not enough new and young followers entering the sport. This can be seen by attending many racetracks: the crowd is largely comprised of middle-aged or older men (Nilsson and Nulden 157). This is a significant problem because if horse racing doesn’t come up with new and innovative ways to maintain and expand their fan base, the sport will continue its downward spiral, a fate that would be devastating to dedicated fans like myself.

Therefore, I would like to study the phenomenon of social media as a marketing tool for horse racing. In conducting research I will consider the question, “can the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing use social media in ways that will help maintain its fan base, and if so, how?” This paper will look at current social media marketing plans currently being used by racetrack and racing-related organizations, and assess their effectiveness based on user feedback. Current literature suggests that sports fans are highly committed to their chosen sport, and spend time learning about and discussing their sport outside of just watching a game or competition. Therefore, I expect to find that social media can indeed be used to engage and maintain horse racing’s fan base. The goals of this study are to assess the effectiveness of social media as a marketing tool for the sport of horse racing and, if this tool is indeed successful, to pinpoint areas of potential growth in developing a seamless marketing plan.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Why horses and journalism?

For me, the connection between horses and writing is simple. Horses invoke in me feelings of love and happiness so strong they cannot be conveyed in speech. In turn, writing allows me to communicate those emotions that would not be done justice by the spoken word. When I join the company of my beloved horses, I am hypnotized; a feeling of pure ecstasy spreads through every cell of my body, blanketing me in a feeling of warmth and comfort so pure it is like Christmas morning at home. Nothing can be wrong in this world; how can it get better than this? I reach for my pen. Let me remember this moment. Let me tell the world.