“Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein
by Trey Nosrac
Trey is not a huge fan of winter harness horseracing, especially above the Mason Dixon line. Last Saturday, I wanted to imitate the gang on the deck in Florida and watch yearlings train. Alas, the deck remained covered with snow and the howling winds kept blowing the snow shovel out of my mittens. I froze my bagels off.
Racetrack operators, owners and horse trainers will come up with 237 reasons why we need to continue to race in the winter months. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Trey is immune to reason. Watching and wagering in the frigid weather just feels forced to some of us.
My total agricultural and animal experience consists of stickball games on tree lawns and trying to snag pigeons with fishing nets. It came as a bit of a shock one summer when my loose tongue and overserving by a friendly bartender resulted in finding myself in charge of a three-horse stable of harness horses each Saturday.
In the beginning, it was rough.
As usual, I made a poor first impression. The horses sensed two things: this clown does not know what he is doing and he is terrified. My early Saturdays at the barn were festivals of biting, kicking, dragging, squashing, stomping and head-butting that were punctuated with harsh words, sort of like my second marriage.
My equine confusion and terror slowly abated. The horses seemed to either take pity or tolerate me. We reached a rather pleasant truce. Soon the leaves began to fall and arctic blasts began to blow across the shores of Lake Erie.
Since I previously stated that winter racing is not my cup of tea, common sense indicated that these blustery, snowy Saturdays would be my worst of times.
Astonishingly, jogging horses in the harsh weather turned out to be my best of times, bizarrely enjoyable. True horse trainers and grooms probably find little to smile about in the harsh winters, but keep in mind — I was a fake trainer and fake groom in search of solitude. The following are some reasons I enjoyed jogging horses in the winter:
The colder the weather, the more layers of clothing I wore. It got very, very cold. Soon, I wore enough layers of clothing that sniper fire from an Uzi would not have harmed me. No longer did I fear falling out of the jog bike, I could fall from a Cessna and bounce. My only fear was that should I fall, I would be like Ralphie in the Christmas Story who could not get to his feet without assistance and someone would discover my corpse the next morning surrounded by snow angels.
I used a full-faced scuba mask to keep the breeze off my face and keep my eyeballs from freezing. It was as if I placed a fishbowl over my head. With snowflakes drifting past, the sensation was quite mesmerizing and gave me plenty of time to think deep thoughts; like the meaning of life and my chronic inability to cash a trifecta ticket.
My day job, teaching at the local high school, was stressful and loud. An astonishing array of adults and students chirped at me from the time of the homeroom bell until the safety of my Dodge Dart at the end of the day. Saturdays at the barn it was just me and three horses, not one of them was named Mr. Ed, so the silence was welcome. The snow muffled the hooves as we circled the track. All was quiet on Saturday mornings in the winter.
For a kid who grew up on concrete, mucking the stalls, tossing down fresh straw, and standing among animals was somewhat spiritual, especially around the holiday season. I always thought about the manger scene from a winter long ago. The tasks inside the barn were physical and simple. When everything was completed and the place was all neat and tidy, a warm feeling filled the chilly barn.
Steam rose from the horses as I removed the buckles and belts after their workout. I would walk them to the wash stall and another cloud of steam would rise, then back to towel them down with the steam still rising. The steam from horse nostrils, sweaty flanks, the warmth and the smells always made me smile, if my face had thawed enough.
At the time, the racetrack had a cozy kitchen. While this was not five-star dining, the massive breakfast special and the coffee were great. So were the people who pulled up a chair to chat and gossip with me. There is something about hot food in a comfortable place after a job semi-well done that gives one a good vibe.
Of course, I only needed to face the winter winds and the needs of three horses for one day each week. Four days a month made each winter Saturday an unusual adventure, not a daily slog. Repeating my Saturday with the horses every single day would have been a much different story.
Let us recap and make plans for the future. In Trey’s world, winter racing is not good but jogging horses in the winter can be good in small doses.
Let us not merely reminisce, let us innovate for horse people who have to train yearlings and prepare racehorses every single day of the long winter in cold climates. Trey is working on three
1. A large, heated building with seating for spectators where the floor is a continuous treadmill.
2. Machines that teleport horses and people to warmer climates.
3. Huge, inflatable, heated tubes to cover the racetrack surface.
Undoubtedly, doubters and naysayers will abound. Let me refer you to Mr. Albert Einstein who once opined, “If at first an idea is absurd, then there is no hope for it.”