Louw: As a breeder you don’t always get the horse you want, but you get the one you need – Horse Racing News
I was mulling over some writing in my head. It was going to be super sassy, incredibly well-researched, incredibly funny, and just a little quirky. And then, as the Facebook meme says, “THIS happened….”.
Charlotte, Anky, Carl – if you’re reading this – breathe out. Not because of the horse (obviously), but because of the rider, who is still trying to grasp the fabulousness of which I have the privilege of being associated.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to be one of the generations that had mercury in your thermometers, you’ll know the wild fascination of holding mercury in your hands. It’s there, it’s not, it’s fascination, it’s out of your frame of reference, it’s desirable, it’s totally out of control and totally out of your reach. I think that’s what having kids must feel like (if not, I apologize – it wasn’t my privilege).
The closest thing – for various reasons – is breeding my own horses. With six foals to my name, I consider myself a veteran, but as with so many things in life, there’s nothing quite like your first.
I suspect that if we knew the inherent dangers – physical and emotional – of most things in life, we’d likely give them a wide stealth berth, instead of running headlong towards them, laughing in the face of the danger. I’ve found that your early to mid thirties are the best time for this, when you have too many resources and too little common sense to help you know better.
It may not be everyone’s journey, but it was for me with breeding my first horse. My first horse. The words still send little theatrical shivers down your spine. I’d had horses before of course, but I wanted more than just buying one off a commercial or inheriting a lead with a bucket of free trouble to go with it. I wanted to do it myself (and yes, I realize how silly I look) and after the fact, I made going to our first show together my ultimate goal.
I started with an image in my head of the final product and worked from there. It turns out to be a pretty useful strategy for a lot of things. Unfortunately, it can rarely be applied to breeding. At least, not the first time. So the image in my head was of a shiny bay colt with black spots and a star. It was my command to the universe. My favorite horse, perfect in every way, please. I helped myself a bit by starting with a bay mare. And then I read, researched, and gathered as much information as I could about bloodlines, temperaments, and conformation. I phoned people and asked for advice, researched previous generations and inspected existing lineage. Finally, after hours of agony, my precious selection (chestnut – alarm bells) was made, allowing me to spend more hours dreaming of how all the best traits of my chosen father would be transferred into my foal.
Send the mare to the stallion, achieve successful conception, bake at body temperature for 11 months and voila, right? Not quite, but we finally put my mare in foal successfully. Then, almost as an afterthought, I was recommended Phyllis Lose’s Blessed Are The Broodmares. If you are considering breeding your mare, may I advise you not to read it. It will give you sleepless nights about losing your mare, losing your foal and most likely losing your head. If you have bred your mare, can I still advise against it as it will make you realize how much you sail upwind.
When the time came, being a responsible owner (and being scared of me by Phyllis), I chose to send my mare to a maternity farm to receive expert care. We saw her a few hours before the birth and spoke with the farm manager about the mare, the pregnancy and what I was expecting.
“Bay colt,” I repeated firmly.
As usual, my mare waited until we were safely an hour away for dinner before producing her prize. By the time we got back, in the drizzle of a September KZN Midlands night, there was a small wet package on the ground.
The universe had scrambled my order and delivered me a Chestnut. Filly. And about as rough and angular and away from my heart horse as it could possibly get.
But as they say, you may not get the horse you want, but you get the horse you need. And as she got up and swayed in the drizzle, this funny little orange bundle with long ears slipped through a hole in my heart that I didn’t even know I had.
People talk about bonding with their horse. It wasn’t something I was thinking about when I decided to do this. I just wanted a horse that was mine. A totally new, untouched little being who I could be with from the start. I wanted all of that. Every high, low, snotty nose, uncomfortable phase, growth spurt, winter coat, etc. What I didn’t realize was that when you choose to tie your life so closely to a horse, you become his too. In a way that I couldn’t even begin to process at the time, in that moment we made a connection. This funny long-eared chestnut filly (of all things) was MY horse. And I was hers.
And so began our adventures. From the ground to the saddle and beyond. We’ve moved homes and jobsites, lost friends and family and gained new ones along the way. All was not rosy. In fact, as you might expect with a big, willful chestnut mare and an equally strong-willed, not-quite-prepared little owner, probably very few have one. We haven’t always liked each other. She put me in the hospital and freaked me out in broad daylight and made me scream and cry and swear way more than I care to admit. But throughout, no matter how revolting things got, that connection remained.
We went to that first show together. She was terrible and tried to push me away and flatten a judge. That’s life. She’s still got long ears and rough angles and everything completely inelegant, but in that weird breakable/unbreakable way that quicksilver has, though we part ways from time to time, we’re inexorably reunited again. We are always there for each other.
Although there are still days when she makes me want to pull my hair out – and I’m sure she feels the same way – Oh my God, the days she doesn’t…
We had one recently (hence this column – ta-daaa). Having passed my naïve and energetic thirties, I am now a bit more blessed in the digital department and from this lofty height being thrown off a 17hh wall of chestnut trees becomes less appealing the higher one goes in the ladder.
Time in the saddle is meant to be sacred, a meditation between you and your horse, cleared of all the detritus of everyday life, from A to B, one foot in front of the other of life. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way and life frequently follows you into the tack room, onto the mounting block and right into the saddle, getting between you and your partner. Somehow, all the things you used to neatly organize around your driving time won’t fit so well in their allotted spaces anymore. They threaten to reach out and choke you if you don’t keep feeding them and the time spent at the stables is reduced to “once it’s over”, “just another half hour” or “well , maybe tomorrow”. If you’re not careful, it’ll just throw you off your horse.
So I was there last Saturday. I hadn’t worked during the week and I knew I had no right to lower my behind in the saddle and demand a good ride. And yet, when I did, there was my friend. Patiently waiting to see what we were going to do today and doing her best to make her huge chestnut as small and smooth and soft as she could. I guess it struck me that my funny little clumsy bundle had grown up in so many ways and when it matters most, my horse, MY horse, really carries me.
Robyn Louw has always studied horses. Owning, riding and breeding Thoroughbreds and competition horses motivates his continued research into anatomy, exercise physiology, breeding theory and riding methodologies and has forged a strong advocacy for the responsible welfare, retirement and monitoring of racehorses. A longtime contributor to the Sporting Post, she has received two industry awards for her contributions to the South African racing media space.