There’s a great article about Barbaro in this month’s Vanity Fair – by one of my favorite nonfiction writers, Buzz Bissinger (author of Friday Night Lights).
Although Barbaro’s story has a sad ending, I think of him as a bold, confident winner – even during his long rehab at New Bolton, you could his sass as he eyed the camera crews around him, trying to figure out if he could take a nip out of an unwary reporter or two.
He inspired me because of his courage during all those surgeries – a classic champion, he knew when it was important to be calm, to be focused, to give 100% in the homestretch, whether at Churchill Downs or in a post-surgery recovery sling. His bravery motivated me to write about him in our annual capital campaign letter.
Bissinger’s article includes excerpts from Gretchen Jackson’s journal. As Barbaro’s owner, she wrestled with whether to euthanize him for months. She describes how it was Barbaro’s spark, his fire during the months of surgeries that compelled her to give him every chance possible. Until finally the day came when his eyes were subdued, in pain, no longer able to push for the finish line. That was the day he was put down, surrounded by his greatest admirers, by the people who loved him most.
Bissinger’s article is moving and well-written. My only quibble is with how he describes Thoroughbreds as moody, difficult and unlikely to be good patients for veterinary care.
I have personally worked with 115 ex-racehorses here over the last 3 years. Some were QHs, one was an Arabian – but the vast majority were Thoroughbreds. Many of them required rehab, some for serious injuries – I have worked with knee fractures, EPM cases, bowed tendons, torn suspensory ligaments, shattered sesamoids, hoof surgeries, tracheotomies and even a near-critical rattlesnake bite.
I also have restarted several back under saddle, often being their first rider after a long layoff from racing.
Although I am not a professional trainer or a veterinarian, the TBs have always seemed willing to meet me halfway, to work with me, even when they are in pain or learning something new. The Thoroughbreds have impressed me every time with their intelligence and eagerness to please.
It really is a myth that Thoroughbreds are inherently moody, crazy or difficult.
I’d like to invite Buzz Bissinger to come see our decidedly non-hyper racehorses here at the LOPE Ranch – they rarely move faster than a trot, happily waddling through our knee-high green grass (thanks to the Texas monsoon season).
Stayed tuned for my upcoming blog entries about racehorse myths!