Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Good Lord, I feel like I'm dyin'

Note: Sound file since removed as this is no longer the top blog post.

Turn down the sound if you don't want to hear this blog's one-time-only backing track. And, O.K., it isn't quite as serious as all that angst from this Allman Brothers Band classic.

But, late on a Sunday night, I volunteered for an experiment that could help advance the cause of horse racing and animal welfare. Or at least the perception thereof.

Sid Fernando, former Daily Racing Form columnist and president of eMatings.com, in the wake of Rachel Alexandra's Woodward Stakes win, asked whether the fabulous filly was whipped too much in the stretch by jockey Calvin Borel. Sid's opinion clearly is "yes." A lively exchange of comments included both Fernando detractors and supporters, with one of the most ardent anti-whip pleas being lodged by former rider Garrett Redmond.

Redmond contends that a whip is "never necessary" in a race. He believes -- and as an observer I tend to agree with him -- that flogging a horse who is already giving her best actually is counter-productive. Redmond says it's time to give up the notion even of a kinder, "padded whip" that has supplanted the traditional riding crop in some jurisdictions, such as Australia.

"Padded whips?" Redmond wrote in commentary at Fernando's blog. "Anyone out there willing to offer themselves for a taste test?"

Yeah, sure. I'll be your Johnny Knoxville, though I'm a better stunt double for Butterbean.

Now first let me make something clear -- I'm not one of those who is opposed to an outright ban of the whip, so I'm not trying to prove that particular point. A ban certainly would eliminate the animal-welfare argument against any kind of whipping and would leave all riders and horses on equal terms.

I'm also not certain that whip-prohibition is necessary, but then I'm neither a jockey nor a horse. And since I'm more likely to be mistaken for the latter than the former, if I'm to gain any education on the matter, somebody might just have to beat it into me.

Look, journalists do this sort of thing sometimes. Several years ago, two women who covered law enforcement agencies for my small-town newspaper volunteered to be pepper-sprayed, just so they could know and relate to readers what it's like. (Here's a hint: It sucks.)

My brother-in-law is a police officer. He, like most other cops, had to be shot with a Taser to give him an appreciation for the weapon's effects before he was allowed to carry one on patrol.

I honestly believe I'd rather take a series of sharp whacks with a "padded whip" than be spritzed in the mug with a chili mist or get the shock of my life from a Taser.

But to make the experiment both safe and worthwhile, a few ground rules must be set. Here's where the negotiations begin.

1. The whipper or whippers must be from the race-riding community. It is they who are whacking America's racehorses in deep stretch; one or a couple of their number should be the ones who do the flogging of yours truly. No waiting for Brian Urlacher to come off injured reserve to give me a beatdown before a capacity crowd next spring at Arlington Park.

2. I would suggest -- if Fernando serves as organizer of this stunt, as Redmond has suggested -- that he invite Borel to be the first whipper, since it was his ride aboard Rachel that prompted this discussion. If there's only one rider willing to participate in this event, I don't particularly care who you can find. But if we decide to experiment with more than one jockey brandishing the crop, then for each one "you" arrange, I want to invite one. And shut up; of course that list starts with Chantal Sutherland.

3. The whacks should be as reminiscent as possible of the blows jockeys rain onto the horses' flanks during a race. That is, backhanded. I suppose I'm not afraid of taking a few overhand swats for accuracy's sake and to appreciate the maximum force of the whip, but ideally we can arrange a positioning so that the jockey is swinging behind him- or herself to best recreate the angle and force of each strike a horse would feel during the race.

4. The backhanded strike will cause accuracy to suffer somewhat. And unlike a horse, whose head is in front of the rider, mine will be in harm's way. Some provision will have to be made for eye protection -- but I have a feeling I'd look silly in goggles and everyone will want to see my face clearly to gauge how I respond. I think perhaps leaning against the rail, hands behind my head (so my arms and the rail create a barrier) with my face toward the ground (and a camera shooting upward to catch the reaction) might be the ticket. But I'm open to suggestions.

5. Horsehide is anywhere from two to five times thicker than human skin. At least sometimes the whip-shots are cushioned by the saddle towel. And nobody wants to see me without a shirt anyway. So I'll take the whacks through a t-shirt. If the marks left behind are garish enough, we can provide photographic evidence later.

6. No running. I realize as Redmond notes that the supposed point of whipping a racehorse is to make it run faster. I'm not a thoroughbred. I'm an Irish draught. ... But I'm open to terms on pulling a wagon.

So, whether I take a few sharp shots from a padded riding crop is still an open question. But if I do, the spectacle will look something like that detailed above.


  1. Although all this talk of horses is new to me - and foreign to say the least - your choice of music is not. Allman Brothers, who I've seen in concert more than once, is one of my favorites! Great choice!!!

  2. From the instant I started writing that blog -- one that I think more than a few people just don't quite know how to take -- that song was running through my head.

    Obviously I've never had a tune on the blog before, and I doubt that it will be a frequent occurrence. In fact, enjoy this one while it's here (those of you who do), because it comes down when the next post goes up, which will be at least by 6 a.m. Thursday. (It's written; deciding whether to post it now or queue it for later.)

    But I enjoyed a day or so of classic rock to go along with my warped ramblings on a classic pastime.

  3. I've hit myself with both whips -- the regular model and the pro cush. VA conducted an experiment in 2008 with the pro cush whip, so I took one and whacked myself on the calf with it. It hurt, but not as much as the same blow to the other calf with a regular whip. Many of the riders who used the VA version of the pro-cush steeplechase crop still use it today if the trainer of the horse has no opposition...Progress of sorts.

    ...and Greg, Duane and the boys are one of my wife's favorites. Seen 'em several times.

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Glenn. And for proving I'm not the only Glenn unafraid of a sting in the name of science. Though my wife thinks I've lost my ever-lovin' mind.

    I still have plans to blog about your stallion idea, too. Just haven't put it all together yet!


I welcome comments, including criticism and debate. But jerks and the vulgar will not be tolerated.