"I offered the opinion that nowhere is the disparity between the haves and the have-nots played out quite so dramatically as it is on the racetrack."
"There are no laws against hardheartedness. A horse is private property, and private property is a sacred notion. And so it is that some Thoroughbreds must literally run for their lives. There is glory on the racetrack, glory writ large. But there are shameful acts, too, and callousness."
"We on the periphery gravitate to the classic images of victory: the great horse coming down the stretch, in the winner’s circle, the jockey’s hand raised in victory. The groom treasures the quieter moments, when the charger is at peace."
"A Thoroughbred takes a mere six strides from the starting gate to hit forty miles an hour and start taking in five gallons of air a second. The force of all that weight and speed exerts an impact on the horse’s cannon bone of ten thousand to twelve thousand pounds."
"A study done several years ago at the University of Pennsylvania found that 98 percent of pet owners talk to their animals, as if to a sympathetic friend. But I wonder how many listen to their animals in the way, say, that Eddie Sweat listened to Secretariat— listened with his ears, his heart, listened in his bones."
Book: The Horse God Built
Author: Lawrence Scanlan
Published: Thomas Dunne Books (2007)
My Review: For something I was expecting to be an easy-read and palate cleanser (yes, I’m moping over Outlander), this book was surprisingly complex and interesting.
Horse racing doesn’t sit right with me. To me, the sport screams horse-as-machine; it goes fast when we jump in the saddle, goes faster still when we throttle toward the finish line, and suffers in silence as its health and well-being become dismissed as non-issues in the eyes of the consumer (owner, trainer, jockey, etc.). Shattered bone? Colic? Laminitis? Might as well be engine failure or a broken alternator. If it can’t continue running, just trade the bugger in. The only thing missing is a warranty!
I’m a cynic, yes, but am I wrong? Am I the only one disgusted by this?
There are two sides to every story, though. Duly noted. The more compassionate side of racing should be known and understood as well as its cruel counterpart. Which is why I liked this book.
Scanlon does a phenomenal job exploring, understanding, and documenting both sides of horse racing. One side shows us unfathomable cruelty, human selfishness, unbridled ego, racism, classism, and greed. Did I mention all seven deadly sins? Because I meant to. They’re all there, I’m sure. And animal cruelty should be listed as an eighth deadly sin.
Apparently this horse racing beast has a soft(er) underbelly, though. Frequently out of sight, behind the curtains, in “the backstretch,” as they say, are genuine human beings connecting with living, breathing, beautifully honest animals.
And this incredible book highlights the groom, the hardest and least appreciated team member who is forced to hang on for dear life to the lowest rung of the horse racing ladder. The camera rarely strays from the winner’s circle to the stables where the real work (and the real compassion) gets done, day in and day out, and day in again.
There are other reasons, I think, particularly when Secretariat was running in the 70’s, that made integration between the haves and the have nots (race & class) an almost impossible political feat. During this time, owners, trainers, jockeys were rich and white. Grooms and other lower-rung workers, however, were (with few exceptions) black and poor as all get out.
Interesting that today the situation hasn’t changed much. Only one small change, really. The owners, trainers, jockeys are still white, but the grooms are, with few exceptions, poor white women and poor hispanics.
[INSERT ASTUTE POLITICAL DECONSTRUCTION AND ANALYSIS OF INTERSECTIONS BETWEEN RACE, GENDER, CLASS, POWER, AND PRIVILEGE HERE]
I’ll spare you my own deconstruction, but I’m serious when I say check in with yourself here. Who does horse racing benefit? Who works hardest? Who gets respect and reward, and why? How is life (human and horse) treated? What are the values of the sport?
And finally, do these values mirror your own?
Chew on that, nerdy book friends, feminists, and fellow horse lovers! This book, apparently, hits a hot topic for everyone!