Ralph Nester: Horseracing is about the Backside…Keep the Glamour!

 
It’s about the smell of pine oil in the shed row as you walk in your barn, and hearing your horses whinny for you, knowing they are going to get a great meal.
It’s about grabbing a halter off its hook on the stall door and grabbing a shank and putting halter on a horse and walking him outside to graze, watching him spread his front legs out so he can reach the grass.  You can hear the relief in his sigh and feel him relax while you walk him around to different areas, as all the while knowing and anticipating he can, at any second, get excited and explode in a burst of energy and rear up and strike at something unknown (or yourself).   The quiet serenity of the barn area after the hectic rush of training is done and all the horses are back in their stalls is so peaceful.  The grooms, trainers, assistant trainers, jocks, exercise women and men and visitors leaning against the rail around the shed row and discuss u coming races or past races.  You just reflect on that morning’s training exercises and each individual horse’s quirks,  good points, mental attitude, capabilities or lack of, and enjoy your quiet time.
Late at night, after dinner, strolling quietly down your shed row checking on every individual horse, making sure they are ok, and poking your head in groom’s rooms or tack room to check on them.  Those are the peaceful times and the quiet serenity of the evening hours are some of the most precious times of the day.  Then, the  heart pounding excitable times will come with getting a horse to race on race day the anticipation. The excitement of him standing in the gate, waiting for the gates to open…the race track is one extreme to another.
No, it’s the backside of the racing industry, the foundation  that horseracing is about. It’s about the barn area with horsemen scurrying at the break of dawn to get their horses ready for training and making the deadline for track closing at ten in the morning.  It should show a groom mucking the stalls before daylight with a light on in the barn and shed row as she/he carries a muck sack to the manure pile.   And then, getting freshly cleaned saddlecloths and clean bridles and saddles out of the  tack room off the saddle rack and walking down shed row to his horses to put the tack on them to send to the track, for their morning gallop.  And how a horse comes off the race track with sand, dirt or mud on him from the morning gallop and getting a warm bath, rinsed and water scraped off, a blanket or light sheet so he cools down slowly.
The focus should be about the hot walker, turning left and stopping at water bucket which hangs on a hook so the horse can get small sips of water (but not too much as to shock his system) and cooling the horse down and into his stall.  He’s led into a freshly bedded stall of golden-yellow wheat straw, and a rack of fresh sweet-smelling timothy and alfalfa hay.  And later, his legs being bandaged with freshly laundered, white flannel bandages rolled on over thick cotton, perfectly rolled bandages, looking like they were painted on…and with extreme care that they are not too tight or too loose, after leg liniments, have been meticulously applied to the legs and rubbed in and the feet cleaned out with a hoof pick which were packed with mud or clay.
And then, slapping a page out of an old condition book on the mud to stop the straw from being stuck to it.
It’s about the grooms, the hot walkers, the exercise riders, the trainers, the assistant trainers, the van drivers and owners.  Horse people are a special breed of people and we have a language of our own…a unique group of people.
We were at lunch on our way to the races to run a horse.   I had “outside people” with me and a rider.  After lunch and back in the car headed for racetrack, the outsiders said, “Ralph, we listened to you giving that jock instructions and we didn’t understand a word you said.”   Well, all I said was, “When you’re in the gate get tied on, when gates open shoot ducks for 30 yards then take a deep seat and a long hold and sit chilly till the three-eights pole, then pick him up.  Suck your lips to him keep a leg on each side and hang on. He’ll do the running for you and please don’t try any fancy race riding.  See you in the Winner’s Circle.”
Now, what’s not to understand in those instructions?
 

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