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Horse races are dangerous but also beautiful

June 04, 2006|by KATE COLEMAN

I confess to crying easily. I also admit a fondness for horses.

The traits came together as I watched last month's running of the Preakness Stakes on television.

I had asked my friend and colleague Andy to wager $5 on Barbaro to win the Triple Crown race at Pimlico in Baltimore. I loved the way the bay colt had won the Kentucky Derby two weeks earlier. I loved the way he dug in and reached out. I thrilled at the six-and-a-half-length gap between him and the rest of the field at the finish line. He looked like he really wanted to win - like he loved running that race.

Although racing is dangerous for rider as well as horse, and sometimes tragic, to me it's evidence of the connection between horse and human and the joy of giving everything you've got.

I think that's beautiful, and worth the risk for those willing to take it.

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On the day of the Preakness, of course, horror happened as the Triple Crown hopeful shattered his right hind leg. His racing career is over, and because infection or complications might occur, his life might be, too.

I'm a little embarrassed to report that I Google Barbaro daily to learn how he's doing with a plate and 27 screws in his ankle after surgery.

I've read a bunch of online stories and commentaries in which breeding and racing schedules are criticized and the relative safety of a racetrack with a synthetic-surface is discussed. There are those who think the so-called "sport of kings" exists merely for the pleasure of humans, is cruel to animals and should go the way of royalty.

I'm not an avid race fan by any stretch of the imagination. I never would pretend to deserve to be labeled "horsewoman."

I really never care who wins. I just like to see them run. I sometimes choose my picks by their color (I prefer bays and grays). I'm also likely to favor a horse if I see his jockey patting his neck and talking to him as they approach the starting gate - very scientific handicapping.

I just love horses. Part of that is probably a holdover from my typical preteen "National Velvet" fantasies. The closest I ever got as a kid was on the back of a tired old pony being led around a dusty ring at the little annual fair in my Jersey-shore hometown. My horse dreams came true when I lived on a Keedysville farm for nearly 20 years when I was married.

I took some lessons and rode occasionally, but our herd consisted primarily of quarter horse broodmares and foals - not riding horses.

My chores included feeding them, (Boy, do I miss the smell of the sweet feed and alfalfa hay!) leading them to and from the barn and pasture, trying to hold them still for the vet or farrier.

I loved to watch them run and frolic in the fields. I named one little filly Stardancer. She had a "star," a white marking - not unlike Barbaro's - on her forehead and zipped around the pasture - leaping, pirouetting - having a wonderful time.

Several years ago, I bought a book of poems by Alice Walker because I couldn't resist its title: "Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful."

I believe that.




Kate Coleman writes a monthly lifestyle column for The Herald-Mail

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