The problem that dares not speak its name

by Trey Nosrac

You may believe I am ridiculous, and you may be correct, but I struggle with anxiety as an owner of racehorses. The problem has plagued me for 15 years.

A 3-year-old colt where I have 50 per cent ownership makes his first start in three hours. This race should be an exciting event. This colt is homebred; therefore, four years of my life are at stake. I am not enjoying the day. Physically and mentally, I am a mess.

The hours drag on. Like a death row convict waiting for the jangling of keys, I watch the clock. I already have a slight tremble, and my pulse rate has increased. These feelings will only get worse as post-time nears. Ever since the draw, my sleep has been fitful. I lie in bed, running the upcoming race in my mind on an endless loop. You may think I exaggerate; these feelings are “part of the fun.” For me, these hyper emotions are not fun.

An unknown person once described their feeling of anxiety as follows: “We don’t have a train of thought. We have seven trains on four tracks that narrowly avoid each other when paths cross, and all the conductors are screaming in terror.” 

Gambling is not the problem. I gamble on other horse races and other sports without a problem. However, when a horse I own heads to the starting car, it is an entirely different ballgame. A race as an owner involves a horse where I have invested more money than I should have, a horse I have thought about almost daily.

Many of us are afflicted with phobias and fears that people never see. My race anxiety is like stage fright. I have sweaty hands, a racing pulse, slight nausea, trembling, and an overwhelming desire to remove myself from the situation.

These emotions are somewhat inexplicable. I have teed off in front of huge galleries, played sports in front of filled gymnasiums, and spoken in front of large audiences. Those feelings are trivial compared to racing a horse that I own.

Economics might or might not be in play. My finances are such that I never sent a trotter or pacer to the starting gate where good performance and earning money did not matter. Would I feel as lousy facing post-time if I was a millionaire? Would the fear go away if the money was irrelevant? I don’t think so. But it is hard to say and a moot point.

After discussing this with a friend, she suggested that I have zero control over a racehorse and have no ways to channel my anxiety. She offers me a possible diagnosis but not a prescription for a cure.

I will take a break from writing these words to take a jog and see if that helps. Post time is approaching. My thoughts are scattered. If I don’t have a coronary, I will return in a few hours to report postrace.

* * *

The race is over, and my panic/anxiety attack is subsiding. It’s a relief that the race is in my rear-view mirror.

My trotter finished a disappointing seventh. The nice-looking young colt tried, and he was race timed in under 2:00, but he does not look like an answer to my fiscal prayers. I know the odds of getting a good horse are long, and disappointment is around every corner in this game. That is not the heart of the matter. Small purse or large purse, the uncomfortable pre-race nervousness lurks, waiting for the next race.

While jogging around the neighborhood, trying to work off my anxiety, a similar strange disorder in the horse racing arena crossed my mind. My pal and I have one broodmare, and we consign her yearlings to various sales. The awful feelings also afflict me before our yearling steps into the sales ring.

When auction time for our yearling approaches, the tension is so debilitating that I wobble out into the parking lot, start my car, turn to rock music on the radio, and occasionally imbibe something medicinal. I do not leave the car until I see my partner’s face and try to determine if he looks pleased or depressed. Once again, my lack of control in the bidding outcome may be a culprit.

Friends say, “Take a breath, relax,”

I don’t think many people calm down when asked to calm down. All this does is make me realize my unease is apparent, so in racing or at an auction, I prefer to suffer in solitude because the whole thing is embarrassing. I can’t help wondering how many others have these equine anxiety/panic disorders. How do they deal with them? Do they ever get over these feelings? Is this unhealthy?

If I can’t find a way to surf these prerace anxiety waves, I may need to get out of the ocean.