Kentucky Part Two

Sculpture of Secretariat in a roundabout in Lexington, Kentucky.

After flying out of Salt Lake and into Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky, about ninety miles from Lexington, I got a hold of Colton(my veterinarian friend who was going to show us around) about spending the day with him. We decided he would pick me and my daughter Alyx(who is married to my son-in-law, who is also a farrier) up at our hotel at 6:30 the next morning. After picking us up, we headed to his first stop, Calumet Farm. I’ll be honest, before going to Kentucky, I did not know a lot about thoroughbred horse racing and its history. Growing up out West, a kid of hippies who lived in the city wanting to be a cowboy, learning about blue blood, high society thoroughbred racehorses isn’t high on the list of things to know. 

Calumet Farm was started in 1924 by William Wright, owner of Calumet Baking Powder. From 1940-1960 the farm was at the top of thoroughbred racing and breeding. Pulling up to the farm, I was immediately fascinated. In the west, I am used to most farms and ranches being fenced in barbwire. In the Lexington area, the horse farms are surrounded mainly by dark wood fencing. Calumet is different. Instead, the farm is surrounded by beautiful white fencing that goes on forever, with rolling green pastures with horses grazing in them. It’s like entering a scene in a movie. The barns are reminiscent of the golden era of thoroughbred racing. Beautiful white with red trim and iconic Churchill Downs spires on top. 

We spent a few hours there while Colton worked on the horses he had scheduled for veterinarian work. They let us hang around after and watch them work some horses on the track they were getting ready to run.

A couple of days later we came back because there were a few things I wanted to see that I didn’t get a chance to see the first time. One of them was the horse cemetery on the farm. We drove past it on the way in, and it caught my eye. Actually, the whole farm caught my eye, but this struck a cord. I had to see and experience it! As we walked through the old bushes that had overgrown the walkway, I couldn’t help but be overcome with reverence looking at the names on the old headstones, Citation, Alydar, Whirlaway, Tim Tam. All great racehorses. 

We also got to go to Lanes End Farm and tour the facility. Lanes End is a breeding facility hosting a group of breeding stallions. It’s an immaculate place that you can tell is a well-managed farm. The barns were constructed with wood beams and woodwork that I’m sure if I sold my house, the proceeds would pay for a couple of stalls in one of their three giant barns. It’s the kind of place you get the feeling that as soon as a horse leaves a manure pile, someone is watching on a camera and sends someone to clean it. That might be far-fetched, but it wouldn’t surprise me if true.

The inside of one of the barns at Lanes End Farm

Ok, this next part of the story explains why I have always said that when I die, I want to return as a thoroughbred stallion even before my visit to Kentucky for the first time. I knew just enough about the thoroughbred horse breeding business to convince me.

Horse farms like Lanes End are specific to just breeding. They don’t foal out or train horses in this facility. For the 2023 season, they have 21 stallions on the farm. There may be a few that are owned by the farm, but others own most. Not everyone who owns thoroughbreds has the facility or staff to have a prized stallion. So they send them to a stallion station to handle all the logistics of owning them. The farm will manage the advertising, boarding, booking of mares, and the actual breeding. Think of it like a male brothel for horses. You go, they will line up the stallions, and you pick which one you think your mare will produce best with. 

After a mare is booked to a stallion, they will schedule her to come to the farm when she is in heat. When she arrives, they will check to ensure she is in heat with what they call a teaser stallion( I don’t want to be that stallion). The mare will be in a stall, and the teaser stallion will be led up to the stall. If the mare is in heat and ready, showing signs, they will bring in the stallion she was booked for and have him breed her. It’s a rule in The Jockey Club(the governing body of thoroughbred breeding) that all mares will be live-covered. Then she gets in a trailer, and off she goes back to her farm. In other breeds, breeders are allowed to collect semon from studs and ship it off to farms all over the country to be artificially inseminated. In the height of the breeding season in Kentucky, the studs will breed mares in the morning and evening every day all spring.

(Side note) If you’re a curious person like me. You wonder if they ever let the teaser stallion breed a mare or two for the frustrating work he puts into the operation. I was told he has a few little girlfriends for just that. The farm has a friend that brings a couple of mares over a year for the teaser stallion to cover. We never did see him, but the handlers say he throws a decent colt! 

A funny thing happened to me while we were at Lanes End. One of the stud handlers showed us around all the studs while they were turned out in their paddocks. We walked up to one, and the handler said, in a proud tone, “This is Flightline.” But to me, he was just a bay horse grazing out in a field. I said, “Flightline, I have no idea who that is?” He and my Veterinarian friend who lives in Kentucky looked at me like I had just insulted them both. It turns out one of the stallions on the farm, the horse called Flightline, was the horse of the year in 2022. He was undefeated in six starts. He won the Breeders Cup Classic on November 5, 2022, at the Keeneland race track in Kentucky by 8 1/4 lengths. His overall winnings in his career were $4,514,800. His stud fee for his first year is $200,000 and he doesn’t even have a colt on the ground. Yet people will pay that much to see if he will be a good producer. I guess he’s a big deal, and I probably should have known that. 

I’ve learned over the years that the most expensive word in the English language is “Potential” How many “Potential” high draft pics in the NBA never amount too much? Same thing in the NFL. Athletes will get guaranteed contracts for large sums of money without ever playing a minute of professional sports. The horse business is the same way. I have never understood it. I’ve watched horse sales where certainly the best conformation and nicest looking horse is the top seller as it should be. But it’s never done a thing to prove his worth. So someone is still buying “Potential.”

On my way home from Kentucky, I was thinking that after a few days, I would be back in the high deserts of the American West photographing wild horses, and what a contrast that would be from the Blue Bloods of Lexington. A million-dollar racehorse would never be seen with a wind knot in his mane. Not a chance of a bite mark on his hide. It is two opposite ends of the spectrum of the horse world. And I love all of it! I talk about it at times in my social media posts about how I don’t belong in fancy show barns or fancy events, and I don’t. I would much rather spend my time in the wild landscapes of the West watching horses be horses. But I also have to appreciate what horses can do in conjunction with man. They are incredible animals who changed our way of life and continue to do so. And at the end of the day, as long as I’m around horses, I’m where I belong.

I’ve Never Been To Kentucky

This past week, my son-in-law and my daughter, and I traveled to Lexington, Kentucky. We were there for a farrier contest he was entered in. It was called the World Championship Blacksmith Competition Winter Classic. The format consists of four people on a team. Each person shoes one foot and throughout the contest, the four of them will assist each other. It’s always fun to watch him compete and watch them work as a team. I will usually try and make it to at least one of his contests a year.

I was excited to go to this one. I’ve never been to Kentucky, but I’ve wanted to go for a long time. I’ve always heard and seen pictures about the big thoroughbred farms that are around the Lexington area. Even though I have never really followed horse racing close. I’ve always been interested in the horses. Back in the early part of my horseshoeing career, I used to work on racehorse babies, yearlings, and broodmares at a few of the Quarterhorse horse farms around my area keeping their feet trimmed. I loved the horses, but working on young race-bred horses is not the easiest thing to do. They are bred to be high-powered running machines! That would usually mean that training them to stand to get their feet trimmed was like entering the octagon with an MMA fighter. They are not much for standing in one place. When I would put a hand on them they either try and kick me, or run over the person holding them trying to get away. I don’t do any racehorses anymore, and my body appreciates it.

With four hundred horse farms, Lexington, Kentucky is the thoroughbred breeding capital of the world. Its claim is that because it sits on a limestone shelf its bluegrass produces calcium from the limestone helping build strong bones in the horses raised there. Its mild climate also lends itself to be a great place for horses to be raised. I’m not sure what I think about the limestone theory, but I do know that there are advantages in numbers, and with Lexington having more horse farms in one location than anywhere in the world there are bound to be some winners coming from there.

I had a lot of things planned for this trip. Not only the shoeing contest, but I know a veterinarian who works at the Rood and Riddle clinic in Lexington and he offered to take us to the clinic and give us a tour, and take us around all the farms that he works on. I also have a farrier/artist friend south of Lexington who builds metal sculptures of horses. The new piece he is working on is American Mustangs and I wanted to go see it.

My veterinarian friend’s name is Colton Thacker. I’ve known Colton since he was a young teenager. I have shoed horses for his family in Utah for twenty years or more. Colton did his residency at the famed Rood and Riddle veterinary clinic in Lexington. They have over sixty veterinarians on staff and some of the top equine surgeons in the world. To have a clinic of this magnitude location has to be the key. There needs to be a large horse population with owners with high earning capacities, Lexington is a prime example. Lots of horses, and LOTS of money! With my farrier background, I was eager to see their podiatry department. They have a few veterinarians who are also farriers. When it comes to lameness in horses, their feet are a majority of the cause. So the podiatry department is a big part of the program. I was amazed at what I saw. I think they had every horseshoe known to man hanging on the wall. If there was a therapeutic horseshoe that could be used for any reason, they had it. They had a crane in the shop that they used if they needed to hoist a horse up to work on him. Sometimes horses will be so lame that picking up a foot to work on it is not an option because they are so sore. There was a full blacksmith shop with multiple anvils to build custom horseshoes. Everything you would need to work on a lame horse was available. There were two buildings dedicated to surgeries. Colton says most of the time they are booked through the week, and that’s not counting emergencies. It also has its own compounding pharmacy. It’s a state-of-the-art facility!

I don’t want to make these posts too long so I will continue my trip in the next email. The thoroughbred farms we visited are worthy of their own post. To say they left an impression on me is an understatement! 

Talk to you soon!


Tough Winter

It’s been a tough winter for me to get out to the Onaqui range. Last winter, I was able to get out at least a couple of times a month January-March. But this winter has been a different story. Between the weather and renting the gallery space at the Monarch in Ogden(more on that in my next journal), things haven’t worked out as I hoped.

I’m itching to get out there pretty bad! As I was sitting here writing this, I got a text from some friends in a group text that photograph the Onaqui too. And they told me about a friend of ours that made it out there in the last couple of days and said this winter has been hard on the horses. Some are thin, especially a couple of the older ones.

The saving grace for the horses this winter is that we had an excellent monsoonal summer and a decent fall for precipitation in 2022. And the horses were well nourished going into winter.

Horses will use any extra body fat as insulation and use extra calories to get them through winter. They grow long hair that stands up, trapping tiny air pockets between them. It’s the same effect as a down comforter with enormous insulating qualities. Oils in the horse’s hair coat help it shed moisture. Early spring is when the horses are most vulnerable for suffering in the cold. Loss of hair and wetter snow and rain soak closer into the skin. Body fat is also less before the spring grasses can start to grow and replenish what they have lost over the winter.

In my experience as a farrier, I’ve often wondered how horses could withstand the extreme cold in their hoofs. Nobody has pinned it down in the many journals I’ve read on the subject. But the closest anyone can explain is that horses have no muscle mass below their knees or hocks. Ligaments, tendons, and bones are not high-energy-requiring tissues; therefore, horses can stand in cold water or snow without affecting their core temperatures.

As of today, March 4, 2023, the ten-day forecast is keeping a winter weather pattern for the Onaqui range. Hopefully, it starts to warm up sooner than later and we can get some green grass to start growing out there and they can start replenishing what they have lost over the winter.

From The American West to Vermont

About a month ago I got a message from a girl who sent me a picture of a horse I took on the Onaqui range back in the summer of 2019. She asked me if she could buy a print of it because she adopted him after he was rounded up off the range back in the summer of 2021. I was a little taken aback. I can only imagine how many images she must have gone through to find him.

She calls him Atlas. From the looks of it, this colt couldn’t have found a better home. Amelia Peters is doing a great job of training him and giving him every opportunity to thrive!

It’s intriguing to me when I think about him being born in the wild in the high desert of the American West and finding himself in Vermont thousands of miles away living a completely different life.

But I know that some things in this life are meant to be. Whether he was destined to find her, or she was meant to find him. It makes me feel good knowing he’s in good hands. The horse/human relationship is one of the most powerful things I’ve ever witnessed.