10/10/2013 12:42PM

Jay Hovdey: All kingdoms in search for a horse


Of the 136 television series filling the commercial airwaves and cables this fall, exactly none of them is a Western, unless you count “Sons of Anarchy,” which sometimes does a pretty good impression of John Ford meets Sam Peckinpah by way of Hunter Thompson. Then again, they ride Hogs.

The only time a horse appears as a regular in one of those 136 shows is in “Sleepy Hollow,” a real laugh romp. The horse is white and has red eyes. His rider has no head. Thank you, Washington Irving.

The dearth of horses as part of modern American culture – at least as that culture is represented on commercial TV – is not unusual. Several years ago, trainer Richard Mandella observed that in spite of the deep and abiding heritage represented by the horse in America, the closest most people came to touching one of the creatures anymore was on a merry-go-round.

Horses continue give texture to TV’s occasional period pieces, such as “Hell on Wheels” or “Hatfields & McCoys,” while the fantasy franchises of paid TV like “Game of Thrones” and “Spartacus” employ horses for a lot of sweaty transportation as the plots lurch to and fro.

All this comes to mind as the calendar hurtles toward the equine extravaganza called the Breeders’ Cup, to be held at Santa Anita Park on the first two days of November. Dedicated fans of Thoroughbred racing – your correspondent included – spend the days leading up to the Cup wrapped in a cocoon of giddy delusion, convinced that sport has at least gone temporarily mainstream, and that horses retain their remarkable attraction.

In truth, an inordinate portion of whatever horse news comes along trends not toward racing, but more in the direction of saving the wild herds of the American plains, or rescuing animals abused and abandoned by heartless owners, or beating back the incursion of slaughterhouse facilities in local communities.

A disturbing item came out of a Connecticut Appellate Court ruling last month that held horses are “a species naturally inclined to do mischief or be vicious.” A child was bitten at a stable and his father sued the owner. A lower court ruled in favor of the stable owner, stating that posted signs of warning were sufficient. That ruling was overturned, so now it’s on to the state Supreme Court.

Of course the heart goes out to the child who suffered injury. It’s also possible the parent is papering over his own guilt with a lawsuit. Horses, left to their own devices, can be mischievous. But vicious? Unless the lower court ruling is reversed, the consequences of such a ruling – essentially lumping horses in with honey badgers and poisonous snakes – would set a precedent with disastrous economic impact.

Thankfully, there are also current links giving hope to the idea that horses are still considered enjoyable organic alternatives to an increasingly digitalized alternatives. For instance:

◗ A Dodge truck commercial features Will Ferrell in his movie character as idiot anchorman Ron Burgundy, comparing the virtues of the new Dodge Durango “with up to 360 horsepower!” to a gorgeous white horse under a western saddle.

“One horse … with one horsepower,” chides the vapid Burgundy. “That makes you feel pretty dumb, doesn’t it. Look at you, you’re worthless.” Then he challenges the horse to a staring contest (http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/anchormans-ron-burgundy-promotes-2014-644326).

◗ The Oct. 9 installation of guerilla street artist Banksy on New York’s lower east side depicts a trio of ferocious stallions in an apocalyptic setting as backdrop to further images of conflict painted on an abandoned car. The theme of the audio accompaniment is the “Crazy Horse” handle used in graphic police and military communications. Chilling, but the horses are very cool.

◗ Kate may be the Princess Baby Mama, but it is Princess Anne who loves the horses and proved it once again on a recent visit to the stables of the British-based World Horse Welfare. The Princess Royal, an accomplished rider and former amateur jockey, adopted a bay Welsh Cob mare for her personal use. The fact that its name is Annie was, I’m sure, purely coincidental. That the princess is also president of the WHW is vastly more significant.

◗ In order to be legally married, Ryan Messer and Jimmy Musuraca of Over-the-Rhine, Ohio, had to go to New York, where the law says it’s okay. There was nothing on the books in Ohio, however, that prevented them from having a good old fashioned Hindu-themed wedding party back home, complete with the grooms riding to the ceremony aboard matching bays done up in silk blankets and frills.

◗ Who isn’t rooting for Dennis Drazin, the respected New Jersey racing executive, owner and breeder, to get his dream of an Atlantic City beach race off the ground. Drazin tried for this month, but now it looks more promising for the spring of 2014, with a series of races slated for a packed stretch of sand fronting historic Boardwalk Hall. They’re calling it an American Palio, after the riotous, claustrophobic street race in Italy, but the concept is more fittingly inspired by the Laytown races on the shores of the Irish Sea, near Dublin (http://vimeo.com/19453476).

◗ Finally, let’s hear it for Richard Holdship, a retired educator from Ubly, Mich., who celebrated his 70th birthday this week by riding the 225-mile Shore-to-Shore Riding Trail from Lake Michigan to Lake Huron aboard his 13-year-old gray Missouri Fox Trotter, named Rudy.

“It ranks the highest on my bucket list,” Holdship told the Huron Daily Tribune. “Every day I thought, ‘This is as close to heaven as I’m going to get.’”

And it took a horse to get him there.


John Nicoletti More than 1 year ago
As a former owner, I had my children at the barn area many times without incident. The horse is in the shedrow, and the only way this child was bitten,is he tried to feed the horse, or pet him, without adult supervision.
Matthew Ellis More than 1 year ago
That was good stuff JAY thanks as always. Those stories really make you think how special horse can be in LIFE (Richard Holdship journey) Keep up the good work
Rocky More than 1 year ago
You missed the Hallmark channel movies. (IT is one click down from TVG on my cable). They have horses in almost every movie. Little girls and horses ,dogs and horses ,old drunks and horses ,wild horses ,etc..Some of theses movies are not bad but they take forever to watch. Hence the name "Lifetime Movies" Rocky
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Jay, I grew up watching "Fury" on TV. My favorite program without a doubt. Always pestered my dad to buy me a horse when I was young (wanted a Fury wanna be). Dad grew up in Montana during the depression with a few work horses on the farm and didn't see the connection or want to go there again. As a kid, we lived in the suburbs, much to my dismay. So, no horse for me. Flash forward 50 years later. I got my horse. Had to buy her myself. Thank you very much. Do I ride her? Heck no. Bought her as a brood mare. And I love her for what and who she is. It's not a "what have you done for me, lately?" kind of proposition.. She's the best lawn ornament I ever purchased. Call me foolish but just being around her everyday brings peace and joy to my life. It's all I could ask for. I hope many unsuspecting others can experience the horse. A true gift to mankind.
Ann More than 1 year ago
You sound like me, except that I had a brief window of being a farm kid who got to ride behind a neighbor on their palomino working QH. Mom grew up on the same farm, driving a team with the hay-rake and herding sheep on horseback (sheep are SOOO stupid, according to her) - horses meant work to her. And two years ago I bought my first horse, a TB broodmare. Unfortunately, I lost her last spring in foaling, along with the foal. But I will try again.
April Smith More than 1 year ago
Yes,there is a lot to be said for a 'companion horse'. Of my two,only one is ridable.,but both are beautiful and great to be with. I try to bring up horses in my everyday conversation and tell people to find a stable near them and go on a relaxing trail ride.
Mike B More than 1 year ago
No Mr. Ed shows out there (when some viewers remember horses as transportation) but gotta like the commercials... Budweiser--Landslide and the new Dodge Will Ferrel. And we have the guy walking around the West (into cities and suburbs) with mules.
April Smith More than 1 year ago
Don't forget the Viagra commercial.
Brenda Wahler More than 1 year ago
Well stated. The absence of horses from public life is a dark cloud that is no longer merely a threat on the horizon. It is a problem that is already visible in reduced registration numbers across multiple breeds, increased incidence of unwanted/neglected animals, and the many economic problems well-known in the racing industry, which are even more evident in other fields where horses compete in front of empty grandstands. It is also one manifestation of the new concept of "NDD" - 'nature deficit disorder" - the notion that children no longer are allowed to grow up with a connection to the natural world. Horses themselves are no longer a part of growing up for most children, which is when a human's most natural "wiring" occurs. From summer camps to computer games, the raw hours needed for mastery of horses and horsemanship is not a part of growing up these days. The implications for horse racing, training, breeding, and riding insruction are equally clear: where is the new blood coming from?
Abby Fuller More than 1 year ago
Thankyou Jay, as always some interesting observations....and yet horses still hold much fascination for many including folks who aren't "horse people".Some great work is being done by horses as co-facilitators for leadership,personal development,even psychotherapy.Check out Oprah Aug. issue "Horse Sense" and Red Barn leadership at Stanford Univ.I'm privileged to be working with a professor and her masters students from Nova S.E. Univ. as we explore partnering with horses to bring nonjudgemental awareness,change and growth to clients.Of course Saratoga War Horse and others have done some great work with veterans as well.It would sure be great to have a really cool horse show on t.v. ,maybe I would have something besides The Voice and racing to watch. P.S. Huge congrats to Julie, Well done on the Hall of Fame! (:
Hail No More than 1 year ago
Great reply to a great article...Hmm, check out "Oprah"? Sound's like a Command only a Mom could make, but my horse sense is telling me that my Clock has a Secret :-)