It may be Derby Days for some, but not for me. I'd rather be following the second career of barefoot, natural thoroughbred, Money Talkin owned, re-trained and rehabilitated by friend, trimmer and I.T. wiz, Maureen Tierney of Harned, Kentucky.
The Racehorse Experiment was one of those 'Ah Ha!' moments for Maureen. “I realized that Dr Fager's world record for the mile set in 1968, and which stood for decades, was 1.32; a good time today would be a mile in 1.36. That's only a difference of 4 seconds. Can a four second difference be made up with feet that 'fit', better diet and more exercise?” I think most of us reading the Easy Care Blog commiserate with racehorses. What about a rehabilitated racehorse. He is definitely happier and healthier but I wonder, could he run faster?
Instead of shod and long-toed hooves, instead of a traditional diet, instead of minimal exercise, instead of being drugged and stalled with resultant boredom, insecurity and pain.
- The horse had correct, bare hooves with full circulation and proprioception.
- The horse ate a diet designed for the Equine athlete.
- The horse was trained with appropriate and varied exercise,
- And lived in an established herd 24/7.
- The only drugs given the horse were those required to race and worming medicine.
- This athlete knew his job was to come in first.
In sum, what if the Equine Athlete was treated similarly to the human athlete?
Might that racehorse make a comeback? That's the question Maureen asked herself in 2009 when the project was launched. Regardless of the conclusion to this great experiment, lessons continue to be learned and shared and this lovely, bay horse, nicknamed Chance, has found his forever home.
The Horse – Money Talkin' aka Chance
Money Talkin's photo in the C.A.N.T.E.R. Catalog.
"I found Money Talkin by accident.
I went to the website for Suffolk Downs, a racetrack in East Boston, Massachusetts, trying to locate the phone number of a trainer I used to know. I didn't find his number, but stumbled upon the rescue C.A.N.T.E.R., which took me to horses for sale. There were quite a lot of horses. After checking them all out (viewing their photos, and looking up their pedigrees and race earnings ), the only one that seemed to really suit was Money Talkin.
I contacted his trainer, Pam Angevine, and arranged to purchase him and have him shipped to Kentucky.
He had all the qualifications I was looking for: (1) A gelding between the ages of 4 and 7, (2) A horse who had won an allowance race, (3) But was no longer running well.
Chance had won on dirt and the turf. As an added bonus, he was really bred to run. His sire, Aptitude, earned $1.9 million, and finished 2nd in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont Stakes. His dam's sire, Broad Brush earned $2.6 million and was 3rd in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness." – Maureen
2009, Tiny Bit of Connection at the Top. From Hairline to Ground, the Same Angle.
As with 99% of all racehorses, Chance arrived with typical, shod racehorse feet. His toes were long because it is a common misconception that long toes 'dig in' better! His long, under-run heels were pulled forward by the toes. When the horse lifts his heel, the front of the foot 'breaks over'. With a long toe, the break over is well in front of where it should be. To compensate the horse expends time and energy, getting over the long toe. In the process, it is common for ligaments in the leg to be strained or torn. The 2007 Report from the Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation continues to be ignored by most. Click here and page down to the February 2, 2012 entry to read the report in full.
"Long toes can cause strain on tendons, the suspensory ligament and the sesamoid bones while short toes combined with high heels can cause concussion to the hoof (putting the horse at risk for navicular disease, ringbone, and arthritis). Low toe angles have been reported for horses with musculoskeletal and/or lameness problems.
In one California study, all groups of injured horses had acute toe and heel angles suggesting that decreasing the difference between toe and heel angles should decrease the risk of suspensory apparatus failure for Thoroughbred racehorses and should be considered to help prevent injury.”
2009: Right after Shoe was Removed. A Year Later.
In 2009, the before photo, we expect to see a lot of hoof in front of the toe because the capsule is flared from the hairline. This means that the hoof wall is disconnected from the coffin bone; the laminae is broken. In relationship to each other, the coffin bone is too low and the capsule too high on the leg. I expect a flat sole. I would also expect a small, deformed and soft frog.
Most professionals would call the 2009 hoof, a good one. What they don't realize is that the frog can double in width and that a healthy foot opens up or decontracts in the back. Maureen exfoliated the sole for the photo. It is concaved to the first gray line or laminae. The laminae is tight and narrow, all good.
The next bright white line, on all horses, is the now, much thicker inner wall, often called the water line. And beyond that the thicker outer wall, which on this horse is black. Maureen is preparing to angle the outer wall for the mustang roll.
Maureen credits her ability to quickly rehab horses like Chance and even foundered horses, to the trim which focuses primarily on keeping the toes back, from 10:00-2:00. Other than making sure the heels are at the same height, she usually leaves them alone. Horses need heels to protect the back of their foot while they redevelop it, inside and out. In her trim, she works with the healing power of nature. Her experience of working on 1,000's of horses results in fast and sound rehabs.
The horses are exhausted after their Great Adventure around the country. Read more about Farm Drama!
From quarts of sweet feed and pads of alfalfa, Chance's diet changed to a horse diet of primarily forage, both grass and hay. Supplementation was based on Pat Coleby's book, Natural Horse Care. Maureen was careful to provide minerals and vitamins that are often overlooked today. Chance's diet also changes in accordance with the amount of work he was doing, so he did receive some grain, but never more than 2 quarts per day.
Most racehorses are stalled for 23 hours per day. Their training is minimal and certainly not enough to insure hard bones and strong tendons. In fact, research has shown that standing in a stall results in loss of bone density in young horses.
You may be surprised to learn that most horses are raced infrequently out of fear of breakdown. And given their feet, living conditions, training and side effects of common drugs which result in brittle bones, the owners should be afraid of disasters. Eight Belles come to mind.
In her previous life, Maureen was a trainer in the northeast, and it was clear to her that Chance, like any human athlete, needed various types of exercise, at various speeds and intensities. His program began with light riding, eventually working up to long gallops over natural, uneven terrain. Maureen created a training track (above) with her mower. Unlike other racehorses, Chance frequently gallops several miles, well beyond what he will face on race day. And like any top athlete, he was introduced to interval training.
Chance at the Training Center Working on Speed.
30-45 days before a race, Chance goes to the track to work on speed. While conditioning, Maureen learned quite a bit from this seasoned racehorse.
- He will not run at maximum speed without another horse to compete with. He knows to save himself for when it counts.
- He will not jump a cross country course or in a ring. What's the point, he wonders.
- He wouldn't consider basic dressage in a ring. Going around in circles is a waste of his time.
Isn't this a good reminder for all of us. Sometimes our horse simply does not share our enthusiasm for a particular discipline. The rider must shift gears; after all aren't we supposed to be the smart one.
After doing speed work at the Training Center, they'll head home. No stabling at the track. Surprisingly, Maureen had no problem entering a barefoot at Turfway Park. It was a non-issue.
“Over the years I’ve come to realize that human nature is a strong factor in horse racing. Specifically jockeys. A common phrase is ‘pace makes the race’. And that is true, but only because the jockeys believe it so strongly."
Maureen favors a more scientific approach:
- Find the horse’s maximum cruising speed,
- Ignore pace, and
- Minimize the distance the horse is asked to perform at maximum ability.
This approach would result in faster times and safer racing. The world record for a mile is slightly over 1:32 but most races never come close. A decent racehorse can run a half mile in 48 seconds (this is not that fast) and most likely could run a second half mile just as fast. That would make a mile in 96 seconds or 1:36 – a time that was good enough to win the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on April 21st of this year, with a purse of $200,000!
"As a rule, cold logic is not involved in thoroughbred racing. Flowing adrenaline and a lack of sport science knowledge result in a couple of horses rushing out first, blazing along until they are spent and overtaken, in the stretch, by horses who are still fresh. The horses held back may well be able to go at a faster, cruising speed than the jockeys allowed. The front runners were worked too hard (which is risky) when they might have done better if not pushed to their maximum for so long. In my generation there are just of handful of really talented jockeys," she told me.
“I’ve often watched Chance galloping with the herd in the field,” Maureen recounted. “He keeps his eyes on the other horses. He knows when to put on the steam and he clearly loves to win. That's one thing I did not have to teach him.” Thoroughbreds may enjoy running, but what horse wants to reach the cougar first? Not too many.
Winter and the Herd is Foraging.
Maureen's established, forever herd of ten adopted and rescued horses provides the backdrop for Chance's recovery. Most competition horses, racing and show, have ulcers. Stall life is the antithesis of what any horse would chose. Chance returned to what came naturally: moving around with other horses, grazing, napping, having a roll in the mud, playing, in short the herd life.
Zola, a baby racehorse!
Maureen and Zola, 17 Months A Gawky Two-Year Old
Zola at 4 (April 2012). Good Shoulder, Well Laid Back Withers, Great Depth of Chest for Lungs and Heart, and Plenty of 'Tude.
Although The Racehorse Experiment was originally designed for 1 experienced thoroughbred, Maureen couldn't resist purchasing Zola, Hip #601 for $1,000. The undersized, chestnut filly didn't sell at Keeneland. Even as a small yearling, Maureen saw the potential in the filly. With the carefully designed lifestyle at Wild Dreams Farm, Zola matured into everything Maureen had hoped for. Could any of this happened if she had been stalled and raced as a 2 year old? Not a chance.
And then came the barren brood mares, Tiz Life aka Beauty (by the world famous sire, Tiznow) and More Oysters aka Maura. Both were free; both have forever homes. Could the right diet, rehabbed feet, and herd (both sexes) life bring them back in fertility? Read more at The Barren Mare Project, part of Maureen's Horses A Better Way.
“Drugs are a poor substitute for proper exercise and a natural lifestyle,” Maureen told me. “Not only that, people seem to forget that drugs have side effects!”
Many racehorses today are on the following three drugs: corticosteroids (for growth and pain), phenylbutazone ('bute' for pain) and lasix (a diuretic). All three are known to cause loss of bone density. “I believe that to be only one reason why horses don't seem as durable today as in the past. And I think drugs may well be responsible for catastrophic injuries such as Barbaro’s and Eight Belles," Maureen said. It shocked me to learn that some breeders are now putting youngsters on steroids to bulk them up for the sales.
For the record, Chance receives only the shots mandated by racing. And he is wormed. That's it.
Mangled Horse, Maimed Jockeys. New York Times, March 24th, 2012. "The new economies of horse racing are making an always-dangerous game, even more so, as laz oversight puts animal and rider at risk."
National Thoroughbred Times, The Industry responds to the NY Times story, essentially with agreement and not denial.
Watch Out You Kentucky Thoroughbred. Neigh to the Butt.
Maureen will be checking Comments if you have any questions.
Until next time, happy trails,
Maintenance Trim for the Beginner on YouTube
The Racehorse Experiment
is dedicated to the memory of:
Quiet Soldier (Quarter Horse)