Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Big Brown

I promised you guys a post about Big Brown, but I didn't get back to it yesterday so here it is.

Big Brown. Gorgeous, fast as hell, and, holy shit, a racehorse with manners!

This guy is just a freaking freight train on the track, and a lovely one to watch at that. He's sleek and muscled and just a beautiful specimen.

The thing that surprised me the most about Big Brown, however, was not the ease with which he overcame his 20 post start, or the way he flew by the pack and cleared the finish line all by his lonesome, in spite of his fragile feet.

No, what surprised me most was his behavior. Anyone who watches horse racing knows that racers, by and large, are a high strung, ill mannered bunch. Trainers are afraid to kill their spirit, so they tend to let manners slide, and they're focused on speed, so they ignore the finer points of training.

If you look at the above picture of Big Brown, however, you'll see that he's bent at the poll, flexing his neck and "giving his head back" to his rider. He obviously wants to keep going, but he is listening.

Seeing a horse in the Kentucky Derby that will do that is a major surprise to me. Watching the videos online at the Kentucky Derby website of his previous races and workouts, I was flabbergasted.

It's so refreshing to see a horse that has that kind of speed and heart, also being given training beyond the required lead changes, and go go go.

It's a bonus that he's such a gorgeous boy, as well. I see many many girlfriends in Big Brown's future. Of course, the smart breeders will breed him to mares with feet like iron to try to overcome his brittle hoof walls, and to keep from reinforcing that fault.

But, as it stands, I think that Big Brown could have won the Derby blindfolded, with no jockey. This is a horse that was born to run, who loves his job, and is magnificent at it.

Keep your eyes open, folks. I think that, barring injury, Big Brown is going to breeze over the finish line of the first Triple Crown victory in thirty years.

The term "Cinderella Story" is apt enough here, as everyone was questioning his victory at the Derby because of his foot problems. Plus, here's a horse that's running on glass slippers, in the form of thin, fragile feet.

Pray that he doesn't lose one before the end of the ball, we need another Triple Crown.


Stephen said...

Okay, I gotta ask - this from a guy that knows nada about horses...
Why do these animals have such weak ankles, feet...?

Thanks, and love your blog btw.

Farmgirl said...

Stephen- Big Brown has thin hoof walls. Normally the hoof walls are thick, and tough. Kind of like great grandpa's nasty toenails, except that they're supposed to be like that. Big Brown's hoof walls are thinner, and they're brittle. Instead of being bonded strongly together, the layers of the hoof wall are barely connected, so any chips in the hoof wall will be far worse than they would for a horse with good feet. Sort of like a fingernail breaking into the quick. As to what causes that, I think in Big Brown's case, it's genetic, he was born that way. There are a couple of diseases that can cause that, and high fever can make a section of hoof wall that way.

Now, on to the weak ankles thing. I'm gonna do my best not to talk over people's heads, and since I don't have diagrams, it's gonna be difficult to explain, but here goes.

A horse's lower legs are made up of several different bones. The long one, still in the leg, is the cannon bone. This is a very thin bone to support as much weight as it does, but it's helped out by the cushioning in the joints below it.

Moving down from the cannon bone, you have the fetlock joint, where the cannon bone and the long pastern bone meet. Along with the cannon bone and the long pastern (the long pastern is the part of the horse's "ankle" that you see angling from the hoof up to the leg) is the sesamoid bone. It provides an anchoring point for tendons and ligaments, and sits right at the edge of the joint. Then there's the short pastern bone, which joins the long pastern bone right at the top of the hoof, which provides movement for just the hoof, and gives another joint to cushion movement. Inside the hoof is the coffin bone, which provides the anchor for the foot.

Below the fetlock joint, all of the bones are very small, and thin. They also don't have a whole lot of protection from the outside, with the exception of the coffin bone. A horse's lower legs are mostly bone, tendons and ligaments, and skin.

Different breeds and different horses, of course, will have different sizes of all of those small bones. A draft horse is going to have a more substantial pastern than a Quarter Horse, but they also have more weight on them.

Thoroughbreds are kind of notorious for their delicate legs. Breeding for speed means breeding lean, long legged horses, and along with that comes more delicate bone structure, making the pasterns and cannon bones even more fragile.

So part of it comes from the basic anatomy, and part from the breeding, on Thoroughbreds.

Let me know if that was helpful or just confusing, Stephen. If it just confused you further, I'll post up some diagrams and explain it a little better with them.