My family has been involved in Thoroughbred racing for years. As a child I would hang out in the training barn, tack rooms and the jockey diners to listen to the chatter of riders bragging about their horses or to hear a trainer discuss the problems a filly is having loading in the gate. Now as an adult, it is still a daily adventure where I’m involved hands-on with bloodstock agents, memorizing pedigrees and racing results, breaking, galloping, sales and marketing. If there was ever a ‘Jeopardy Horse’ game show, I’m positive that I’d walk away with millions – at least that is what I thought until yesterday.
I was introduced to some potential buyers who were interested in looking at ex-race horses for show prospects. The women were very excited to be in the barn and were chattering between them so fast, that I could hardly follow what they were saying. They kept repeating something about, “Oh! I just love O-T-T-B’s, don’t you?”, “O-T-T-B’s are my
favorite breed”, “O-T-T-B’s, O-T-T-B’s, O-T-T-B’s . . . . ”
What the heck were they saying, and why do they keep spelling in front of me, I thought?
10 minutes into the visit it finally dawned on me that they were referring to the term ‘Off The Track Thoroughbred’ and were using the abbreviation as if it were a noun and not an adjective. For me it was like nails on a chalk-board and I interrupted their conversation to explain how to properly use the term ‘OTTB’. I explained that OTTB can sometimes be used as a reference to describe a Thoroughbred that once was a race horse on a race track, and that it’s an abbreviated adjective. The women stared back at me in silence and I thought I heard crickets chirping in the background somewhere. So of course, I continued to explain that a Thoroughbred is the name of a type of equine breed, just like an Arabian or Quarter Horse. They’re nouns and they’re capitalized. Again, more blank stares.
We continued with the walk-through and as I spoke about the horses, I repeatedly spoke of the “Thoroughbreds”. Who knows if they ever really caught on to their impromptu English lesson.
. . . by the way they give you a leg-up on a horse. For some reason, when I’ve asked family or friends for a leg-up, I’m immediately met with a smirk or a nervous giggle. That usually puts me in my “Uh-Oh” mode as I stand facing my horse with my left leg bent back, dangling my foot waiting for someone to take hold.
At the track, you’re never going to find a mounting block to climb on or a rider sticking their toe in the stirrup and hoisting themselves up. First of all, a young Thoroughbred is unlikely to stand still next to a plastic step and for an exercise rider to try to put their foot in the stirrup of a jock’s saddle from the ground up will be impossible. You need to have a ground person who knows how to give you a leg-up on the horse, and you need to trust that person isn’t going to screw things up.
When I first started galloping race horses, all eyes were on me – judging me and dissecting me from the clothing I wore, to the type of whip I carried. They knew I was green and what better way to stick-it-to-her, was to play a joke on me when I was handed my first horse of the morning.
Louie was the trainer’s best groom. He was short, stocky, silver-haired with a thick South American accent and always seemed to be in a bad mood. He took care of the famous gray colt El Senor and flew to Japan with the horse when he was sold into stud. He scared the crap out of me and I did my best to never make eye contact or be caught in a situation where I’d have to make conversation. When I was handed a horse, I knew it was going to be all business and a serious atmosphere as I stood with my leg cocked. That morning, Louie bent over, grabbed my ankle and tries lifting me. He lets out a huge moan as I’m dropped into the withers face-first of an impatient 2 year old.
What? Am I so weak that I don’t have any upper body strength to raise me up on a horse? I slide to the ground and look at him wide-eyed. Rolling his eyes, he impatiently motions me back up to the horse to try again and this time I am slung over onto my belly as Louie drops his grip from my leg and lets out another loud moan. “What the hell man!” I yelled, looking back at the hot walker and Louie smirking at each other. “Oh! So sorry! You heavy!” he said.
I guess you could call that morning my ‘initiation’. I was never dropped or slung onto the back of a horse again. But I must admit because of Louie’s practical joke, I immediately went on a strict diet.