The Might and Plight of the Thoroughbred Horse

With the Triple Crown looming, Randy Henry tackles a favorite subject…

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I love Thoroughbreds. Always have. When I was a youngster the horses we bought, trained and showed were Thoroughbreds. “Warmblood” was a word and concept unheard of.

There was no lack of stock and they weren’t expensive. We found them on the track where they failed as racehorses. Sometimes we weren’t even allowed to see them out of their stalls. Talk about honing the intuitive and instinctive skills, buying on the track was a real sharpener. There was no pre-purchase, try, lease or guarantee. It was just buy and pray.

Even as pre-teens we trained our own horses. They were our teachers, our partners and our friends. Of course there was the occasional hot and nervous type, (they usually became jumpers), but by and large they were intelligent, willing, straight forward, and easy to train. I don’t think I can recall ever seeing one lunged, unless it was with a surcingle for training purposes. We had no grooms, no mounting blocks, and no hand-holding. It was get tough or get off.

Today thoroughbreds are an anomaly. Rarely can we find one of real quality. Where we once had the pick of the culls at good racecourses, we now have what hasn’t been broken, maimed, or tortured to death at bush tracks to pick through.

What a terrible pity! The Thoroughbred is the equine star athlete of the horse world. He is the Michael Jordan and Carmelo Anthony of equine competition in nearly any discipline. In my opinion he is the smartest, and most generous of all the breed types. Why then are they so few in show jumping?

1) The economy. Being a millionaire race horse owner wasn’t enough. To play at the top, one needed billions. Fewer owners, fewer horses. Tracks closing or running for minimal purses. When the trainers could run a horse outclassed at big tracks, they just kept going down in class until there was nothing left in the horse.

2) The culture. When it was that the American rider decided not to learn how to ride and be a responsible caretaker, I’m not sure. I do know that somewhere in the 80’s, when money was plentiful, and the darling daughters of self made men said, “Daddy, I want to win!  Buy me a better pony”, we as a culture changed dramatically. The trainers of the era saw big bucks and a never ending supply of dupes. We made the customer utterly dependent, unable to think for themselves, veritable ATM machines. We promised them, they or their darling daughters, could be in the winners’ circle if only they listened solely to us. For the most part, we delivered. But boy, did it cost, and money was the least of it.

The desire to work hard, learn hard, take the lumps and try all over again was gone. It somehow got replaced by, “My daughter is never to experience a bad moment, and I’m paying you enormous amounts of dollars to see that she doesn’t”. She has other interests and obligations, so her riding time will be minimal. Still, I expect you to make it all work.”

The dominated dummy of the 80’s became the monster of the new millennium.

Because Thoroughbreds required the character and dedication of the riders of yesteryear, the perfect scenario was created for the quieter, more automated warmblood to take their place. Grooms were hired to spit and polish, lunge and lead the new European show horse to the mounting block. The owners didn’t even have to learn their courses. The trainer or assistant fed each jump, and direction one by one to the intended winner. This kind of mentality wasn’t suited for the Thoroughbred. There was work involved, understanding, responsibility and patience.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the warmblood horse, too. They have a great upside and they are well suited for today’s weekend warrior. For the most part, the ones amateurs and kids ride, are resistant to mistakes, forgetters and forgivers, and there to make the next day possible. Actually, they are valiant. But my heart of heart belongs to the TB.

We have 11 of them at our barn now. They serve as lesson horses, hunters, jumpers, and equitation mounts. Some are as solid as the sun coming up. Some are quirky, and some have special needs. All of them try to be what we want. If I live long enough to see them have their day in the sun again I will be a very lucky human.

Randy Henry

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One Response to The Might and Plight of the Thoroughbred Horse

  1. Jennifer Glenn October 30, 2014 at 4:24 pm #

    Thank you so much for this Posting. I have always and will always love Thoroughbreds. They want to work and they want to have a job and they are so smart. I have ridden so many green Thoroughbreds I have lost count and now I have the most wonderful mare at Winsome Farms that I rescued. Even though it has been a long road of rehabilitation for her, all I had to do was show her love and she will jump the moon for me.

    They have lost the respect that they deserve and I hope we see it come back again soon.

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