Having A Field Day

Let's honour our horses by building a fan base

“Be the person your dog thinks you are” is one of the quotation memes that floats around on social media from time to time.

Oscar Foulkes writes that working with animals – horses in our case – is a great way to stay grounded. It’s a privilege to work with them, and when I look at the bickering, multiple agendas and mistrust that have surrounded the past few weeks in Cape Racing, I sometimes think we don’t deserve our horses.

Sergeant Hardy didn’t ask ten questions before the gates opened on the Cape Flying Championship. He got himself to the lead, and then galloped as hard as he could while he still had breath.

Sergeant Hardy

It’s easy to forget how much we take for granted when 500kg racehorses gallop at 60 km/h, supporting all the down forces on just one leg. In a minute, their lungs will move about 2250 litres of air – put differently, that’s the same volume as ten barrels of wine.

Yesterday’s Cape Breeders’ field day at Baker McVeigh was one of the most interesting afternoons I’ve spent, as five vets took us through dissections and lesions of hocks and lower limbs, as well as the larynx.

We also had a farrier, in the form of Robbie Miller, talk about the management of lower limb deviations in foals.

I should add that it wasn’t just a talk fest. Each vet had physical samples, either dissected body parts, radiographs or videos. Their preparation was extremely rigorous. So, not only had they given up an afternoon of billable work for their presentations, but they’d also invested significant time in preparation.

There’s nothing to build awe and wonder at the system of ligaments and tendons that support racehorses’ legs quite like seeing them in the flesh, as it were.

I want to express my gratitude to Doctors Dave Timpson, Alasdair Cameron, Andre Hanekom, Garth Nieuwenhuis and Barbara Gillespie, as well as Robbie Miller.

Skeleton of a horse

All these anatomical structures work because their function is to enable a racehorse to gallop as fast as possible.

Unfortunately, there has been far less clarity and single- minded focus about the way that humans have managed the sport that is based upon these fine creatures galloping fast.

We racing people are a resilient bunch. In the ways we can support each other, the interaction of our horses’ ligaments and tendons is a potent metaphor. It is also instructive to what extent it’s possible for them to recover from serious injuries to (some of) these structures.

We got ourselves into a mess by mistreating our customers.

In my opinion, this should leave us in the position of sticking to asking ourselves a few very simple questions relating to the experience we’re delivering to punters, occasional racegoers or online consumers of our product.

Business can be very simple when viewed through the eyes of customers.

Our horses owe their existence to us breeding them for the racecourse. We can honour them by building the fan base on which this sport depends.

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