The 140th Belmont Stakes is set for June 7, 2008 at Belmont Park in Elmont, NY. This race is the third leg in the Triple Crown for top 3-year-old thoroughbreds in the United States with a one million dollar purse. However, going through the minds of many race fans all over the world, I am certain, is the death of Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby only 5 weeks before (and other fallen athletes in the sport of course).
So how do we and horse people better prepare for such competitions? I am not raising and racing thoroughbred horses mind you but, I did work at the racetrack as a teenager for my aunt and her horse-business colleagues and for other race-horse owners during those years. The track is a fun, interesting, and sad place all at the same time. I enjoyed being on the back stretch, at the training farms, seeing all of the horses, and actually helping (cleaning stalls, exercise riding, hot walking, feeding, grooming, etc.)
My philosophy about horses (and people for that matter) is to treat them with respect and dignity. As a natural horseperson, I know that I can accomplish my goals without coersion and torture devices. I also know that it is vitally important that we be sure our horses are prepared, mentally, emotionally, and physically to perform the tasks we ask. That we remember their hierarchy of needs (in this order) safety, comfort, play, and food. Only then, can we have any real expectation of greatness.
I can only hope that our top TB trailers, owners, jockeys, etc., while preparing for the Belmont (and other competitions for that matter), take these factors into consideration when entering their horses in competitive sports. I am sure many do and I am sure many don't. I believe that we will be seeing a diametric shift in competitive equestrian sports but, it will be a slow one.
So, when you think about Belmont Stakes betting, or just watching the race, be thinking about what goes on behind the scenes, in front of the camera, and after the event. Be proactive and encourage your competitive horsey friends through your own actions, help them to understand that the change will actually help them (and their horses) have more successes. But, as Pat Parelli has said, "Don't walk the extra mile for someone walking in the opposite direction." Use your time and energy to change your own thinking (if you are not here yet) and lead by example. Don't preach and push others, they will often run in the other direction. It is amazing how one can lead by example (and your horse can do this too--you'd be amazed) and how others will follow. ---How interesting.