I’m not sure if it’s the story on the omega-3s and Kentucky Karron Oil coming out on top or our preference for flaxseed over fish oil (see page 1), but this issue made me think back more years than I care to admit, when I spent college summers working in Lexington, Ky., at Bluegrass Farm.
This Thoroughbred breeding farm was owned by then-billionaire Nelson Bunker Hunt. His racing stable boasted superstars like Dahlia, Youth and Exceller, while his breeding farm churned out million-dollar babies from broodmare queens like Goofed and Charming Alibi. The farm was managed by Bill Taylor, who was the former farm manager at Claiborne Farm. This farm was the best of the best.
Like all the temporary help, I was assigned to one of the sales-yearling barns, which meant that we had to make these young Thoroughbreds stand up properly, so they could be evaluated, and groom them so they would shine like gold.
It was my first experience working with young horses, let alone high-strung future racehorses. I learned how to stay out of harm?s way while handling a rambunctious colt or filly, and I sure learned how to hang on to one when we were hand walking them at 5 a.m. at the sales barns.
For a farm full of high-priced horses, there was little in the way of horse-care products in the tack room. I learned the benefits of nitrofurazone, aka ?furacin,? which was a popular antibacterial skin remedy back then, and by summer?s end, poultices, sweats and wrapping legs were second nature.
I honestly don’t remember seeing a lot of fly spray, coat polishes, detanglers, or any of the umpteen other products on my own tack-room shelf today. The horse care may seem like it was basic, but it was thorough.
Nutrition was simple, too. All the horses were turned out in lush, large fields. The yearlings were turned out overnight and brought in during the day, so they escaped the heat, flies and coat-damaging sun. When they came in, we fed them the best timothy hay available (the broodmares got alfalfa, too), plus whole oats. The sales yearlings were fed whole flaxseed in the few months prior to the sales. There weren?t multiple supplements, individualized to each horse’s needs, but these Thoroughbreds flourished.
The horses were raised in as natural of a domesticated environment as possible. The rich pasture grass meant that they lacked for nothing nutritionally, so they didn’t need to be fed a fortified grain and/or several supplements. The exercise that came from roaming enormous fields for 16 hours a day kept joints lubricated and healthy. Farms were managed with only the horse’s welfare in mind, as it was the height of record-blasting yearling sales prices and stud fees, and there was money to be spent on these horses.
Life was certainly simpler then, for both us and for our horses, and I miss those years for more reasons than just that. As I look back, I realize that I learned a lot more than just horsemanship over those years. I also learned that the more you know, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. And tHere’s nothing we should enjoy more than the opportunity to learn something new.
Cindy Foley, Editor-in-Chief