An open letter to the unsuspecting…

 Charlene Barry & West Point

An Open Letter to the Unsuspecting;

An educational essay written by Charlene Barry and Kolina Crowe

I’d like to introduce you to an amazing community of people. A community you’ve probably heard of, but probably do not know very much about.  They are some of the most resilient, hard working people you will ever meet. They are opinionated, they are honest, they are a little eccentric, and they know hundreds of ways to fix any problem you can think of.  The industry that this community exists in is not an easy one. They have to be willing to spend endless hours working for their passion and making sure everything is attended to and in place in order to create the best opportunity for success. They will stay up well after dark, and rise before the sun has broken the horizon without a second thought. It is a physically demanding, thankless career choice that goes twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. These people have a passion like no other and the love and dedication to their animals is surpassed by none. They get up every day and work, all just to make sure their job is done the right way. None of them see this as a sacrifice and many of its members couldn’t imagine doing anything else. In this community, all of this is simply accepted as what needs to be done. The compassion that can be found in this motley crew of people is hard to surpass.  Together they weather episodes of despair and celebrate the moments of joy. They are fierce competitors, but will come together in an instant to help someone in need, often on a global scale.  They donate their time, money, resources, and whatever else they can afford to give.  There is no other community like it; they are the horsemen and women of the race industry.

Thoroughbred Racing at Northlands Park

Unfortunately, the majority of people who are not directly involved in this community often know very little about it. They only know horse racing for what they’ve seen on television, in movies, or from the falsehoods and misconceptions smeared across the internet designed to pull on the heart strings of the unsuspecting for financial gain.  Because of this the race industry often gets slammed with the stigma of being dog-eat-dog; with trainers, drivers and jockeys ruthlessly pushing their horses and battling each other at the expense of their animals. As with literally every industry out there, there are exceptions to the rule and unfortunately there are those out there who would rather cheat the game than choose to play fair, but by and large this is simply not the norm.

Now, there wouldn’t be a race industry without race horses.  In Alberta, we have three main types of race horses; Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Standardbreds. These horses, although all different breeds with their own set of unique performance demands, truly are high performance athletes.  Not only are they designed for their jobs, they’re good at them!

Standardbred racing; photo taken at Century Downs

The horses of the race world train 5-6 days a week, and we’re not talking a nice lazy trail ride through a field. We’re talking about fairly high intensity training; their jobs require them to be at the peak of physical and mental fitness. These horses like to work, they like to do their job and to do it well. Their days are a strict schedule of training, feeding; they are fed high quality, nutrient rich diets, and important maintenance work including grooming, treatments with electromagnetic and infrared therapy, massage and chiropractic work. They are monitored daily by their caretakers, grooms and veterinary professionals who all ensure that these horses are happy, healthy and fit to preform the task at hand. These horses are bright, smart, curious, and love learning and investigating new things. These truly are living, breathing, performance athletes and are treated as such; many of them get more handling and care in a day than a pasture pet pony would see in a month.

In addition to being incredible athletes race horses are introduced to an amazing set of life skills from a very young age. These are skills and experiences that a number of ‘regular horses’ would spend their entire lives without ever acquiring.  Tied or in hand they know how to stand quietly for farrier work, being tacked or untacked, brushed and bathed; these horses are accustomed to the job at hand and know what is expected of them.

Wrapping legs before morning training

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