Thursday, July 31, 2008

Barbaro's Other Vet

There's a nice post on about Dr. Kathy Anderson, the vet who is President of the Fair Hill Condo Association (and who helped it become a financially successful training center) and was, when he was stabled at Fair Hill, Barbaro's vet.

I had the opportunity to visit Fair Hill and see Kathy in action as well as speak to her at numerous events during the Barbaro adventure and she is one of my favorite people. An honest and gifted practitioner, a caring and gracious person, Michael Matz is her partner in her practice which is based at Fair Hill, Equine Veterinary Care Clinic. In case you ever visit there, her office has the only ladies room on the premises!

She and Matz have a special relationship--I believe she takes care of all his horses--and it was readily apparent during Barbaro's stay at New Bolton. It was a delicate wire for her to walk during the time that Barbaro was at New Bolton and she did it with extreme grace. After all, it was not her place to interfere or make recommendations since she was only the "referring" vet (and actually Barbaro was never sick for even one day since before his accident, which in itself was remarkable), yet she cared deeply about the horse and visited him often.

On one occasion when I was with both her and Matz, they were discussing the possibility of Barbaro being released to her care at Fair Hill. She volunteered that she could do everything for Barbaro at her facility that was being done at that time at New Bolton. Of course this was before the complications from laminitis started to multiply, but she was eager, at the time, for the "art" of medicine to take over from the "science" of medicine. Of course, she never got that opportunity.

I don't think that Kathy's "telepathy" with horses has to do with her gender, although it may be true that women and horses do have a special bond. I think it has to do with her style as a vet and the amount of time she spends with and around horses. So many aspects of taking care of animals is based on careful observation, I think it is important to find and trust a vet who lets the horse "tell him/her where it hurts."

The best veterinary medicine is probably a combination of art and science and I think between Dean Richardson and Kathy Anderson, Barbaro got the best of both kinds of care.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Haskell

Please note--my 300th post!!! Thanks to you my faithful readers for continuing to read...

So the buzz is starting for this Sunday's Haskell at Monmouth Park and all are wondering if the "real" Big Brown is going to be on hand. I can assure you of one thing. If his alter-ego, the one who was pulled up in the Belmont, shows up, it will be the last time you see either of them on a race track.

The Haskell is a great race. Way back in 1987, Bet Twice won the Haskell on a glorious August day with sparkling blue skies and low humidity. Monmouth gets those cool, ocean breezes and on a beautiful summer day, there really is no nicer place to be. The track is decorated with thousands of red geraniums in window boxes and it has a country-fair kind of feel. Not quite as country-fair as Saratoga but a great place to be, especially when all is right with your horse.

Which begs the question, of course, if all is right with Big Brown. Rick Dutrow has been keeping a low profile lately and the horse seems to be training well, but you never know. I suppose we should assume that Big Brown will be racing steroid-free since that is what the racing stable that owns him, IEAH, announced, but I am pretty sure he will run on lasix as do most horses these days. I don't think we will know his medication status given the muzzle that has been placed on his trainer, but, once again, you never know.

As for his owners, spokesperson Michael Iavarone is pretty sure we are going to see the real Big Brown show up. "I know there are doubts that maybe Big Brown wasn't that good," he told the New York Times. "I'm pretty sure, though, those doubts will be dispelled after Sunday."

Here's my question for him: When will you learn? Just be quiet and don't make any predictions. Be gracious, humble ("We hope he runs well and are looking forward to the race....") and sporting and let the horse do your talking.

Oh, I forgot. He doesn't know how to listen.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Flying First Class

Have you ever shipped an animal via plane? I know it is routine for dog breeders and handlers, but it still make me quiver in my shoes, even though Sammy flew from Buffalo to Newark and arrived none the worse for the trip.

Rest assured that the equines who will be competing in the Olympics next month are all flying first class, according to an article in the July 24 New York Times. I can assure you that this philosophy also applies to horses who are "shipped" via air to race across the country. "The trick to help them recover is you keep the whole transport as smooth and stress free as possible," says Martin Atock, managing director of Peden Bloodstock, the German agency that is arranging the transport of every national team's Olympic horses.

Essentially horses are shipped in containers that are mobile horse trailers. The idea is to make the horse think that he/she is in a trailer, a situation to which they are routinely exposed. The "trailer" is then loaded onto a huge cargo plane and the horse flies to the destination, ideally experiencing the same conditions he/she would experience if he/she were transported by truck."Apart from wearing protective foam boots, and, occasionally, ear muffs to block engine noise, the horse has an experience similar to riding in a trailer," says Atock.

Of course, there are thousands of ways in which the situation is not similar to road travel, not the least of which is the noise, cabin pressure, exposure to climate changes and turbulence. Ideally one plans to have all these disruptions minimized but we all know the adventure that air travel has become these days. Anything can happen.

Race horses seem to do just fine flying from across the country and even out of the country and I am sure the Olympic equine athletes will also handle the journey with flying colors. They are taking the long trip to Hong Kong, where the equestrian events are being held, in stages, stopping over in Europe to break up the travel. And many of the horses competing have flown before since they routinely travel to Europe to compete.

As for me, I learned if you do have to ship a pet stateside, Continental is a great airline to choose even if it means going a bit out of your way. The dogs never sit on the tarmac and they are transported (at least in my experience) with extreme care. Sammy earned his wings and on those days when he seems to have chewed every roll of toilet paper in the house, I threaten him with a one-way, return trip! (not that it seems to have much effect!!!)

Monday, July 28, 2008

Battle Lines

The beat goes on with regard to the backlash from the June 19 Congressional hearings into the state of thoroughbred racing. On July 18, an equine welfare and safety forum in Hershey, PA. gave those who were not asked to testify before Congress an opportunity to voice their opinions regarding the status of their sport. The battle lines seems to be clearly drawn.

On one side we have the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) team, led by Alex Waldrop, president of the organization, now joined by Jay Hickey, representing the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protection Association (HBPA), and Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, who do not want the federal government "interfering" in their sport. They cite the existence of the 1982 legislation to regulate parts of the horseracing industry that "went nowhere" as well as efforts on the part of the industry, notably the Racing Medication Consortium and the Grayson-Jockey Club research foundation, to regulate itself. In other words, we are working on it; leave us alone.

On the other side we have the Ed Whitfield-led contingent that proposes "Congress set minimum standards in the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978 and require state racing authorities to adopt those standards to continue receiving the benefits of simulcasting." In other words, no standards, no money.

Somewhere in the middle is Dr. Scott Palmer (you might remember him as one of the veterinarians at Pimlico the day Barbaro was injured who jumped into the fray and helped the track vets diagnose the horse, who is currently the owner of the New Jersey Equine Clinic), who noted that catastrophic injuries are nothing new to horse racing and there are lots of reasons for them. That said, he advocated "a core-value system that puts the welfare and safety of the horse uppermost. We need to do it in a very public-way to blunt criticism. We need evidence-based information, not political decisions. We need courage to accept personal responsibility. We need to be in it for the long haul." In other words, give us a chance to research this and come up with some hard-core numbers and in the meantime we will redraft our mission statement and put the welfare of the horse at its center.

All fine and well but I'm still on Whitfield's side. It seems to me that the industry has had long enough to regulate itself and figure out that the welfare of horses needs to be first and foremost and it is only now, under the perceived threat of interference from Congress, that they are actually doing anything other than pay lip service to the issues within the sport.

It's no different than any other kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. The only way to reduce the temptation is to make the jar disappear.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Don't Bet on It

It seems that thoroughbred racing may be getting the message that all is not well in the sport of kings, since the public is starting to hit them where it hurts--the pocketbook. According to Bloodhorse, wagering has dropped 11% on North American racing since the Triple Crown series.

Of course, there could be many reasons for this decline, not the least of which is the overall dismal state of the economy. But I think I remember hearing that when the economy is in the dumps, gambling seems to take off--you know, the theory of hitting it big to pay off some bills. Apparently that is not the case at the moment because, according to Chris Scherf, executive vice president of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, "There is a significant drop in the casino industry, if you look at the Atlantic City numbers from around here."

Once again, those Atlantic City numbers may have more to do with increased competition from Pennsylvania than overall decline, so its hard to tell. But I do think that there is some dissatisfaction with the racing industry on the part of the general public and it seems that fewer and fewer of them are paying attention to the ponies. "When handle is down, that is not a good sign," says Scherf. "There is less interest."

Or there are less and less discretionary gambling dollars to be spent. Or there is more competition for those dollars. Or the public just doesn't care to place bets on races in which too many "outside influences" may play a role in determining the winner. Let's be honest: drugs don't show up in past performances so until the playing field is leveled and they are eliminated across the board, its hard to convince the casual gambler to take a chance on races where there are too many unknown factors.

"Betting at the recently concluded Churchill Downs meet was down 11.5% and day handle at Del Mar was off 9%--including a 14% drop in on-track wagering despite a record crows of more than 43,000 on hand," notes Bloodhorse. Let's see what happens at Saratoga before making any grand conclusions but it would be nice to think that the court of public opinion is beginning to count.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Christian the Lion

This is a video from You Tube shown on The View on Tuesday that will restore your faith in all that is right between man and beast. Get the tissues ready and do yourself a favor and play it!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Wild Mustangs

A front page article in Sunday 's New York Times was devoted to the plight of the wild mustangs. This is a topic about which the Fans of Barbaro become increasingly concerned, and I must state, up front, that I have absolutely no expertise in what seems to me to be a very complicated situation. I only present the subject here because I think it is exemplifies the increasingly precarious nature of our relationship with "wild" animals.

The issue in question is preservation of the wild mustang herd reported to number approximately 30,000. The question is one of diminishing resources--the herd is growing and competing for grazing land with cattle. The Federal Bureau of Land Management is the government agency charged with the protection of the herd and they have run an Adopt-A-Horse program for years in an effort to control its growth. The problem is that fewer and fewer horses are being adopted.

Nonetheless, the government still corrals wild mustangs into holdings pens where their existence is less threatened (so they claim) than on the plains, where drought threatens their food and water supplies. The problem has become one of numbers, specifically those related to the price tag associated with the care of a growing herd in and out of those corrals. "The bureau can't do a good job of taking care of horses on the range if they have to take care of all the horses off the range," notes Nathaniel Messer, a professor of veterinary science at the University of Missouri and a former member of the Federal Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Committee.

The option being floated about for culling the herd is euthanasia, a solution that many find impossible. "It's not acceptable to the American public," says Virginie L. Parent, a lawyer who is also director of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign. The wild mustang is so connected to the romantic images of the Wild West that it is hard for many to condone their reduction in a "non-natural" manner.

It is a difficult situation and one that appears to have no easy solution. There is no doubt that part of the stand-off between those that want to preserve the herd and those that want to cull it is related to the relative strength of the beef industry lobby compared to that of the "animal activists." In addition, death of any horse by human hands strikes fear in the hearts of those who work long and hard to prevent horses slaughter, especially since many of the wild mustangs were indeed slaughtered in the 1940s and 50s before the creation of the Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act in 1971. Add to that the growing suspicion that many of the facts about the size of the wild herd may be inflated as are those about the increasing numbers of horses being "abandoned" since the slaughter plants closed in the U. S.

So there you have it: animal rights against the cattlemen (see previous post on Rodeo), ironically the same antagonists in the pro- and anti-horse slaughter debate. Who will prevail? Only time will tell but my bet is on the guys who wield the money.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ride 'Em Cowboy!

Is rodeo a cultural exercise dedicated to preserving the skills of the Wild West or is it another sport in which animals are exploited for human greed? Apparently the rock band Matchbox Twenty thinks the later since it canceled its scheduled appearance at the granddaddy of all rodeos, the 10-day Cheyenne Frontier Days celebration, which kicked off last weekend.

Events like calf roping, bull riding and bronco busting are all targeted as cruel and violent by activists like Steve Hindi, president of SHARK, or Showing Animals Respect and Kindness, who notes: "These animals are suffering and dying in the name of family entertainment, in the name of Americana."

It is interesting, of course, that this latest culture clash comes at the same time that Congress has decided to investigate horse racing in the wake of Eight Belle's tragic demise at the Kentucky Derby.

I don't profess to be in the least bit knowledgeable about rodeo (I did attend one last fall at our local horse show stomping grounds and actually found the animals to be very well treated but that was what they wanted me to see), but I do think that cowboy culture is unique and usually extremely respectful of the animals who to a certain extent provide their livelihood. Busting broncos and roping steers all come with the territory and while rodeo puts these skills on display, the protesters say nothing about doing away with the practices in the "wild" so to speak.

As I understand it, rodeos were a chance for cowboys to show off their skills and compete against each other. They have, of course, evolved to become "professional" events and that is no doubt where the problems begin. Just like every other sport that involves money and competition, there are those who play by the rules and those who don't.

It is interesting that there is a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association that promotes and sanctions official rodeos and which maintains standards for the treatment of rodeo animals. It may not be the greatest life to be a horse or bull on the rodeo circuit, but especially in the case of the bull, it beats the alternative. It just seems to me that a cowboy is nothing without his horse so it behooves him to treat his animal well.

You're never going to stop cowboys from roping calves. If you want to stop them from making money from it, that's one thing, but then target the actual concept of professional rodeo, not the traditions and techniques that "tamed the West."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Horse

On Saturday I was in New York and, among other activities, I went to the Horse exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. I had been looking forward to the exhibit and frankly I was a little disappointed.

What is there is fabulous and extremely well displayed. The section on the evolution of the horse, including fossils, bones and teeth, are fascinating and, as might be expected from a science museum, beautifully documented with extra video footage of scientists explaining their research.

The next section is about the importance of the horse throughout history and across cultures. Again there are some amazing artifacts--including a gas mask worn by horses in World War I and a full coat of armor. There are depictions of horses in many art forms, from painting to pottery to terra cotta statues. It is not hard to get the message that horses were and are important to many different cultures.

There is a small section on "modern" horse activities, including rodeo, Olympic riding, fox hunting, polo and racing. There is mention of Barbaro and his catastrophic injury, including the now famous photo by Sabina Pierce of Barbaro being hoisted blindfolded above the raft in which he woke up from anesthesia. There is also a radiograph of his leg with all the surgical pins.

But that is it and that, to me, is the problem. What is there is great, interesting and entertaining (many exhibits are interactive with buttons to push and/or videos to watch) but I wish there had been more. It took me about 45 minutes to go through the exhibit and I went slowly and carefully, reading almost everything. I watched families with small children zip in and out in about 20 minutes.

And that is probably the point--in trying to appeal to all ages (parents as well as kids), the exhibit does a good job. But as far as adults go, I think it falls short.

Not that I am complaining that I went. But I wouldn't make a special trip...

I'd love to know if you had a similar reaction if you have seen the exhibit which is there until January.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Writing for an Audience

Probably the best diatribe on the ludicrous nature of the publishing industry that I have read in recent memory comes from Jack Engelhard, author of Indecent Proposal and The Bathsheba Deadline.

Anyway, it seems that even best selling novelists have their issues with the industry. (I think in Engelhard's case it may be with a reviewer who did not sing the praises of his latest tome, but I am just guessing...) In fact Engelhard quotes both Hemingway (who apparently told Bernard Berenson, "Having books published is very destructive to writing"), and Salinger ("There is a marvelous peace in not publishing") even as he outlines the impossible steps it takes to get something published.

So why try? Because as Engelhard says "a book being read constitutes a private and intimate conversation between reader and book"--not between reader and author--in which the author has no business intruding. It is not about what the author meant or didn't mean or whether or not his/her work is influenced by some deep dark secret of his/her past--it is about what the reader reads and to Englehard, "readers who understand this--they are what keeps us going."

But it's not easy. First you have to find an agent but "that is impossible if you don't already have an agent." You also can't get published unless you are already published and quality doesn't matter, as long as you are "marketable."

And then there is the business of being assigned an editor who may or may not "get" what you are trying to say (Don't be too literary--you aren't literary enough) only to be thrown to the critics, which in this day and age is anyone and everyone who writes a review for Amazon.

In case you don't know this, one of the sure fire ways to generate interest in a book you are trying to sell is to convince a bunch of your friends to post glowing reviews on Amazon. Of course, the same thing applies in reverse. The fastest way to watch your book bomb is with a review by Joe Schmoe who just might be out to get you.

And if you think that reviews don't matter, Engelhard notes Frank Rich, the former theater critic for the New York Times actually laughed on Don Imus' radio program when he remembered "that some of the stage plays he poisoned were not so bad after all, and some were even good, very good." And yet, Englehard wonders how many of the plays that literally closed after one night because Rich panned them were written by playwrights who never wrote again?

So there you have it. We crazy writers who write because it is in our blood, subject ourselves to an awful lot of pitfalls before we can share it with the people for whom we write--the few "dear readers" who do indeed "get it." Which is why blogs are so wonderful for the purists who agree with Hemingway, and probably why my Barbaro story needs to be rethought. Which is a shame because I think there are some people who just might like to read it, regardless of what I have to say.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Hair Out There

Here's a great idea for you to pass on to the salon where you get your hair cut or the groomer who clips your pets. Human hair, as we all know, gets greasy from absorbing oils on your head and in the environment. A San Francisco environmental group, A Matter of Trust, has taken that observation even farther.

It seems that when a ship spilled 58,000 gallons of greasy liquid into San Francisco Bay last November, a number of organizations, Matter of Trust among them, donated more than 5,000 mats made of woven human hair to help soak up the slick. This was the first time that hair mats had been used in an oil spill cleanup effort!

"Within the first 72 hours these hair mats were just slurping up oil," says co-founder of the group, Lisa Gautier. "You would just dab it like a paper towel, and it would soak it right up."

Matter of Trust runs a program on its website for hair salons and pet grooming salons around the country to contribute their excess hair which they weave into 1 foot by 1 foot squares. In return, Matter of Trust will send participating salons posters that advertise their recycling efforts.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a win-win situation. Salons get rid of the hair in a meaningful way and hair helps save sea animals who might become entrapped in oil slicks. A wonderful idea and a true no-brainer when it comes to doing the right thing for the environment.

A Matter of Trust is also conducting an experiment to see if these hair squares can be put to other uses. $10,000 worth of oyster mushroom spores, donated by Washington State mycologist Paul Staments, are currently being added to the hair mats to see whether or not the mushrooms will digest the oil and the mats will turn into compost. You can follow the progress of the experiment on the website.

Any kind of hair works so spread the word. The mats are also currently in use in a San Francisco Department of the Environment motor oil collection program, so your hair will be put to good use even if there are no more oil spills!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Trouble's Fund

The animal world is buzzing with the possibility of what the Leona Helmsley bequest of $8 million will do for the dogs of this country. Over at HSUS, Wayne Pacelle is lobbying long and hard as are all the other animal welfare organizations. In the abstract I don't blame any of them--it is a huge sum of money and one that might well change the lives of millions of animals, not to mention eliminate the fund raising obligations of which ever organization ultimately benefits from the bequest.

But I do hope that the Trustees of the Helmsley estate do not put all their eggs in one basket--that is, make one organization the sole beneficiary of the bequest. I know it seems a bit of a cop out to divide it between groups but the truth of the matter is that there are many organizations out there that are already doing good work on behalf of the nation's dogs. How do you choose just one?

I also hope that they do not create a new organization (perhaps Trouble's Fund) that merely replicates what already exists. It would be a sincere waste for a significant portion of the funds to go to start up and administrative costs that are already functioning elsewhere. Why reinvent the wheel?

It is also a shame that the money is earmarked specifically for dogs--just think of what a sum like that could do for species everywhere.

If they asked me, I would probably suggest funding research on canine cancer since more dogs than people get cancer every year. Research into canine cancer also indirectly benefits humans since dogs get many of the same cancers that people do. An already existing trial of a vaccine for lymphoma has proved remarkably successful in dogs and shows promise for people. It just seems to make sense to treat dogs who already have cancer with human drugs rather than inject mice with the disease to test these same treatments.

I actually think it may be some time before we see how this entire bequest plays out. You can be sure there will be much haggling among lawyers about what she meant or did not mean and it is indeed a shame that in this case, Trouble cannot speak for herself.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Beach Boy

I'm not much of a harness racing maven, but there is a great story about a horse competing today in the $1 million Meadowlands Pace that caught my eye. The horse's name is Somebeachsomewhere and he is 10 for 10! He races out of a one horse stable in Truro, Nova Scotia and he is, according to the New York Times, "on his way to being one of the best horses ever."

The horse, owned by one Brent MacGrath, has amassed earnings of $1.6 million, holds the record for the fastest race by a 2 year old pacer and won the $1.5 million North America Cup at Ontario's Mohawk Raceway. What is remarkable is his rags to riches story, which parallels that of his owner/trainer.

MacGrath was once a full-time horse trainer who took a job as a car salesman back in 1987, to make ends meet. He continued to work part-time as a trainer but, as is so often the case with those working their way up, he ended up training "bargain" horses that never amounted to much.

He decided he wanted to try his hand at training horses of a better caliber so he put together a small partnership and went shopping with a modest budget. It was at the 2006 Selected Sale in Lexington that he discovered his horse by "walking through the barns, popping my head into stalls and looking for a good individual." He bought Somebeachsomewhere for $40,000. He is one of the six owners as well as the trainer of the son of Mach Three (who won the 2002 Meadowlands Pace) and Where's the Beach.

"It was his overall presence that impressed me," says MacGrath. "Breeding is very important, but when you have a budget like I do, you have to give up something. I can't afford a horse that is a blueblood and has perfect conformation."

As a two year old, Somebeachsomewhere competed at the major tracks on the Ontario circuit and was named the juvenile pacer in both Canada and the United States. He has become a local celebrity in his hometown of Truro, Nova Scotia (pop. 12,000), putting the tiny town on the map.

This will likely be Somebeachsomewhere's last race especially if he wins it, as expected, in record time. MacGrath plans to retire the horse to stud and return to the car dealership, from which he has taken a leave of absence.

You have to cheer for the accomplished pair, especially since MacGrath, who admits he would like to set a world record, seems to have his priorities in order. "I would like to set a world record with him, an all-age world record...because I think he can do it," he says. "I won't put a lot of pressure on myself or on him. But if you put the horse first, things will usually work out."

Sounds like a winner to me.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Kicking a Dead Horse

There was a review on Tuesday in the New York Times about a new Sam Shepard play called "Kicking a Dead Horse." As the review notes the play opens with a startling image: that of a life-size dead horse lying on its back with all four feet in the air, next to a hole that is presumably his grave. We see shovelfuls of dirt emerge from the depths of the hole long before we see the main character crawl out of the hole and explain how all this came to be.

Apparently the main character, one Hobart Struther, had been on his way "out West" to reclaim the cowboy in his soul when his horse literally dropped dead. The rest of the play deals with his attempts to bury the majestic beast and becomes a symbolic diatribe for what is wrong with our country and our souls: in a nutshell, we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

Now I haven't seen the play so I can't comment on it or the review (which wasn't so great), but I do find it amazingly interesting that the play write chose to symbolize the destruction of the last frontier with a dead horse. To be fair, Shepard is known for his love of "the Wild West" so it makes sense for him to sound the death knoll for all that he holds dear (in the words of the reviewer "America's lost ideals and despoiled frontiers"), with a potent symbol of romantic freedom.

And how effective that symbol is in both its simplicity and grandeur. A dead horse dwarfs the cowboy-wanna be and it may only be because it is lying on its back that we can actually see just how large the animal actually is. That such large creatures are in many ways dependent on smaller ones to sustain them is but one of the many ironies in Shepard's message. Look how the mighty have fallen and look even closer to see if we humans are large enough to take their places.

One thing I can comment on is the image of the horse as a symbol of freedom, which is why it is so horrific that they are still being slaughtered for food. Horsepower literally built this nation and I believe it is our obligation to repay the debt and at the very least take care of those who we have tamed.

The review does not give away the ending of the play but hints that Shepard's vision is not as bleak as it first appears. "The horse is dead, true, but maybe, there's some life left in him [the cowboy] yet." Let's hope that there are enough of us with life left in us to sustain the magnificent beasts that took us into uncharted territories. What we did with them was not their fault.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Just Say No To Slaughter

Here's another feel-good story about thoroughbred racing, this time in the form of a race track owner who has taken a very public stance against slaughtering racehorses. Richard Fields, the relatively new owner of Suffolk Downs racetrack in East Boston, has instituted severe penalties for trainers at his track who sell their horses to "kill buyers."

The ban has been in effect since last year but this year Fields is invoking the penalties that go along with it. In what the Boston Herald says may be the first of its kind crackdown in the industry, Fields is revoking stall privileges of trainers who violate the rule. In other words, a trainer caught selling a horse for meat, will be prohibited from racing at Suffolk Downs.

Bravo to Fields for walking the walk! "Nobody has gone to that extent," notes Diana Pikulski, executive director of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. "It's basically saying if you are going to do business here, you have to treat your horses humanely."

Not only is Fields banning trainers who violate his no-slaughter rule, he financially supports a pair of groups that help provide retirement homes for race horses and has even sent a trio of retired Suffolk Downs horses to his own ranch in Wyoming to live out their days.

Proving that it is possible to own a race track and treat horses humanely, Fields is high on my list of people making a difference in the sport. Or as Jeff Hooper of the New England Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association says, "I'd like to be owned by Richard Fields."

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fans of Barbaro Celebrate

Last weekend was the Second Celebration of Barbaro's Life event hosted by the Fans of Barbaro at Delaware Park. Timed to coincide with the Barbaro Stakes, in which the Jacksons' horse ran a game third, the event included a fundraiser on Friday evening, a day of activities at Fair Hill on Saturday (including a surprise appearance by Nicanor) and a day of racing on Sunday.

I was unable to attend due to last minute family obligations, but I did catch a glimpse of the gathering on Sunday on ESPN 2 during their Summer Racing program and know that Edgar Prado stopped by the tent for a visit. ESPN also televised the Barbaro Stakes and showed a glimpse of the Jacksons who were in attendance. I gather from the information on the message board that the events were successful.

I also gather from Amazon book sales that the same cannot be said about Edgar's book, My Guy Barbaro, written with sportswriter John Eisenberg. According to Amazon, it is 9,194 from the top in sales, which is not to be confused with a best seller. It is a shame that the public memory for valiant horse stories is so short and that a soon-to-be inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame (Aug. 4) jockey can not command a greater audience.

All of which demonstrates the incredible fickleness of the reading public, which seems to be growing less attentive by the day. What sells? Books written by celebrities (although you would think Prado would qualify as such), spy thrillers that aren't too complicated, feel-good romances, some cookbooks and some self-help. The bottom line seems to be you have to be somebody to get a book deal and then you have to write something that middle America wants to hear.

The rare exception may be the marvelous novel that I am in the midst of: The Life of Edgar Sawtelle--a first time novel that was TEN YEARS in the making. TEN YEARS. Who hangs in there for ten years? Patient people who are writing timeless stories.

Am I growing increasingly disenchanted with the publishing world? Gee, can you tell? Am I giving up on my Barbaro tome? It may be that the story has to go away and come back but I think the story has actually moved on to Part II and I wonder if anyone really cares.

It's a continual shame of course, because it is the ultimate timeless morality tale......

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Humanizing" Pets

It was a banner weekend for pet-related news, what with the cover story of the New York Times magazine being devoted to the current veterinary psycho-pharmacology trend and the entire issue of the Boston Globe's Sunday magazine being devoted to pets. So what is one to conclude from all this media attention? That, despite the recession, pet-related businesses are booming and the trend is expected to continue for the next five years.

Of course this is probably on the high end of the spectrum. You will still be reading about those forced to make the heartbreaking decision to give their pets up because they can't afford to feed them, but for those to whom $4.00 plus for gas is hardly a dent, the pampering will go on, often to absurd proportions.

But who am I to judge? On Sunday, I took my canine brood for a swim at my parents' pool, where my brother and sister-in-law had stopped by with my two nephews (three and seven months). The dogs had jumped out of the car and were eagerly waiting for me to unlatch the gate, especially when they heard the giggling of children in the pool. As a result, my sister-in-law saw my dogs, who charged through way ahead of me, before she saw me and just burst out laughing. "That's what happens when your kids grow up--your dogs replace them!" was her comment as my brood proceeded to lather hers with total affection.

And she is undoubtedly right. It is no small coincidence that my three kids have been replaced by three dogs, in exactly the same sexes. So when I read about people medicating dogs for separation anxiety with prozac or treating a goose for cancer (could I make this up?) who am I to quibble? Am I so different?

Apparently the rumblings among vets is that the psycho-pharmacy trend is hardly new, so why make such a fuss now? The bigger issue seems to be why are our pets suffering from "human" psychological issues? My guess is that it is probably not because we are "humanizing" them but because they are being subject to the same environmental and social factors that we are--increased isolation, less time to exercise and be outside and greater distance from our shared hunter/gatherer roots. In other words dogs and cats living under the same conditions that humans do will inevitably suffer the same conditions--its just that we see it more clearly in our pets than we do in ourselves.

So short of moving to a farm--which not everyone can afford to do--we opt for the quick fix. Seriously, once you have decided to adopt a dog only to discover that you can't leave it for any length of time without risking total destruction of your house, what are you supposed to do--quit your job? And the truth of the matter is, just like people, not all dogs freak out when left alone. Drugs may not be the ultimate answer but they are better than euthanasia.

The moral of the story is, children or not, once a living being has entered your life it is hard NOT to do everything you can to make their life (and yours) the best it can be. Otherwise, why invite them in? The key may be to remember that there is indeed a difference between what is an optimum "dog's life" and what is an optimum human life. They are not necessarily the same thing.

But go tell it to the guy who is giving his goose chemotherapy...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Walk for a Cure

Way back in another life (at least it seems that way), I was working on a book about pets with cancer in conjunction with the University of Pennsylvania vet school, specifically the oncology department of their small animal hospital. To be sure, the subject was hardly "sunshine and lollipops" but it was, I felt, extremely relevant since more dogs than people get cancer every year.

Apparently the topic was too depressing because the proposal did not sell--dare I say the story of my life?--but I still believe in the essential idea because once you have dealt with a dog with cancer, your life is forever changed.

Anyway, the following story about Luke Robinson renewed my belief in the essential integrity of the project. Robinson has a Great Pyrenees named Malcolm who was diagnosed with cancer. Like most owners who receive that diagnosis, Robinson was devastated by the news. He decided to start a one-person campaign, named 2 Dogs, 2,000 Miles, to bring awareness to canine and feline cancer so he is walking from Austin, Texas to Boston, Mass. with his two other dogs, Murphy and Hudson. Murphy has recently been sidelined with a stress fracture but Robinson and Hudson are plodding on. They are currently in Arkansas and you can follow their progress and read about the cause here.

One of the things that Robinson said truly hit home with me and that is the need for more research into treatment for canine and feline cancer. Once again he notes that drug companies induce cancer in lab animals rather than test new drugs on cats and dogs that already have the disease. This all but eliminates the possibility of cats and dogs having access to cutting edge treatments--unless of course your pet meets the requirements for a clinical trial that is being conducted in your neck of the woods.

To be clear, Wayne Ledbetter in the Nevada County Picayune, emphasizes Robinson's stance: "Robinson said he's not promoting treatment of animals above humans or even that human cancer treatment options should be pushed aside in favor of animal options. Instead he proposes a marriage of the two, giving pet owners hope of finding something that works when their companion falls ill while providing a way for drug companies to continue human treatment development."

Seems to make infinite sense to me. What do you think?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Heart of a Champion

There was an article in Monday's New York Times about ongoing research on the size of elite athletes' hearts. There has been concern in recent years about the possible stress that an enlarged heart places on the rest of the body. Three U. S. Olympic rowers are among the athletes participating in a study to determine whether a huge heart is dangerous or a normal adaption to strenuous exercise.

Doctors and scientists have known for some time that athletes like marathon runners and Tour de France cyclists have enlarged hearts and many have wondered whether the phenomenon can contribute to sudden death. Now it seems that their fears are unfounded. According to Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist at Hartford Hospital, as long as a heart is healthy, there is never a point at which it is too big. Dr. Benjamin Levine, a cardiologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, notes that a heart can grow or shrink by a third depending on the demands being placed on it.

Nonetheless it was a surprise to cardiologists Dr. Malissa Wood and Dr. Aaron Baggish, both of Mass. General, when they began to study the hearts of three Olympic rowers. They took their first readings in December and were amazed at the sizes of the the rowers' hearts. "Their hearts were incredible, " Wood said. "Their masses were some of the biggest we have ever seen." And when they checked those same hearts three months later, they were even more amazed to discover they had grown even larger.

These large hearts actually mimic those of athletes who have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a condition that effects 1 in 1500 people and is the leading cause of sudden death in athletes. But there is an important difference, according to Wood. The key in determining a healthy large heart from one that is not as healthy is not its size but its functions, specifically those of high velocity pumping and super powerful suctioning of blood back into the heart. In particular, an ill heart does not have the same suctioning capabilities.

All of which reminded me of Secretariat's heart, which upon his death was determined to be almost twice the average size and a third larger than any equine heart Dr. Thomas Swerczek (the doctor who performed the necropsy) had ever seen. And yet, according to Swerczek, "It wasn't pathologically enlarged. All the chambers and the valves were normal. It was just larger."

Romantics like to attribute "a big heart" to superior athletic performance but in this case, science has demonstrated that a big heart is often the by product of elite training.

So the question remains, did Secretariat's heart become that big over time or was it always oversize? And in the end, did it contribute to his accomplishments or result from them?

Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Greatest American Dog

You already know I'm a sucker for reality shows and when you combine that with dogs--another weak spot for me--well, here I am, the target audience for the recent new reality show, Greatest American Dog. Of course I watched the debut episode on Thursday and of course I latched onto some dog favorites and marveled at the accommodations in the Top Dog private suite.

And yes, I was amused, entertained and in awe of the level of some of these dogs' acrobatic tricks, especially while contemplating the lack of tricks that exist among my three my couch potatoes, who snoozed through the entire episode.

But I think I see where this is heading and I hope I am wrong.

There was a nagging little voice in my head that found itself wondering if the dogs were having a good time. Wasn't it stressful for them to be in such close quarters with so many other dogs? Was it fair to them to make them perform on command in front of lights and cameras? And was it "right" to make their humans push them to do things they might not want to do, all in the name of money?

I sincerely hope that this does not turn into a show that illustrates the extent to which people will go to win money, especially when those situations involve manipulating an animal. Is this about how far will people push their pets to win or about the extent to which pets are willing to go to please their masters? A fine line, to be sure, but I'm starting to feel a little uneasy about the entire premise.

I'm sure these pets and owners were incredibly well-screened (think of the liability) and that they are treated incredibly well, and the point may be that I would never want to put my pets in that kind of a situation (not that they would ever be qualified), it just seems that there is a better way to illustrate the human-animal bond than with money on the line. People will do unbelievable things to win money and I'd rather those things not have to do with their dogs.

I hope I'm wrong. Of course the only way I'm going to find out is to continue watching and that is, of course, exactly what the sponsors hope I do.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Another Jackson Champions His Horse

Do you think it is just a coincidence that the last name of two of the most horse-centric owners in the thoroughbred racing business today is Jackson?

We all know about Gretchen and Roy Jackson, owners of Barbaro, who did everything possible to try and save their 2006 Kentucky Derby winner after he suffered a catastrophic injury in the Preakness. But now Jess Jackson, owner of Curlin, has also stepped up to the plate, announcing that his 2007 Horse of the Year will continue his racing career without chemical enhancements.

According to an article in Thursday's New York Times, Jess Jackson ordered trainer Steve Asmussen to discontinue the use of steroids when he discovered in January that Curlin had been receiving shots of Winstrol, the same anabolic steroid that trainer Rick Dutrow admitted to administering to Big Brown. As Joe Drape notes, since the drug has been discontinued, Curlin has continued to win his last three races, including the $6 million Dubai World Cup in March.

On Saturday, Curlin will race for the first time on turf in the Grade I Man O' War stakes at Belmont Park, presumably as a prep for the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, scheduled for October in Paris over the same surface. Jess Jackson is on a mission to save the sport of racing by showcasing his extraordinary, drug-free 4 year old. "I want to show the industry that we can breed horses with stamina and durability and race them clean," Jackson notes.

Jackson made his disdain for drugs public last month when he testified before the Congressional sub-committee investigating horse racing. He asked for Congressional intervention in cleaning up the sport. "I'm against all performance enhancing drugs, or anything that masks or conceals designer drugs," says Jackson. "I have been for zero tolerance since the 1950s. We have to start bringing our horses down from all these chemicals."

So I don't know about you, but I will be rooting for Curlin come Saturday to make a good showing--certainly good enough for his owner and trainer to consider sending him head to head with Europe's finest in one of the world's most prestigious races.

It's good for the sport. It's good for the industry its good to see another Jackson take up the cause.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Help Wanted

John Pricci, over at, has written a brilliant commentary on the state of thoroughbred racing and included suggestions on how to save the sport. For starters he invites all the powers that be to convene at Saratoga this summer for the Travers and then lock thmeselves into the Gideon Putnam Hotel Conference Center until they create a National Racing Commission to oversee the sport.

He even has suggestions for the person to lead this Commission--"figureheads need not apply"--someone from outside the industry who is smart and knows the sport but has no vested interest in it. "Bill Clinton needs a job," he writes.

He may have intended that suggestion as tongue in cheek, but in my opinion it is nothing short of brilliant. Bill Clinton's beloved mother used to love to play the ponies so he has secondhand knowledge and interest in the sport. And there is no one better at the art of spin--which is exactly what the sport needs. A little glamour. A lot of charisma and some feel good stories to counteract all the dark scenarios that have graced the front pages of late.

Short of Bill Clinton, we need a celebrity with brains. Bo Derek loves horses. So do William Shatner and Willie Nelson. Not that I'm advocating any of them but we need to concentrate on the glory days of the sport and make a concerted effort not to return to those "thrilling days of yesteryear" but to bring those memories into the twenty first century.

I wonder if anyone is listening. I wonder if anyone can see beyond their own greed to care. I wonder if the sport will continue to spin on its axis until it spins itself into oblivion and takes with it all those people who do earn their livings on the backs of the sport.

I wonder if they should put a help wanted sign on Craigs List and see who applies...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Turn Back Time

Women of a certain age are going to be cheering loudly for American swimmer Dara Torres, who at age 41 (and the mother of a 2 year old) recently earned a place on the US Olympic Swim Team. Torres will be competing in her fifth Olympics--reason enough to make any forty plus female run that extra lap!

The New York Times ran a profile of her two weeks ago that detailed her exacting training regime. Because of her endorsements, Torres earns a hefty $100,000 that enables her to train with a posse of specialists including "stretchers" who stretch out her body every day for two hours. It is an interesting approach that relates to her skill as a sprinter. Apparently the idea is not to bulk up but to be lean and strong so as to move cleaner and faster through the water.

Torres devotes her entire life to training--some of the money also goes to pay for a nanny--and her friends, boyfriends and even competitors admit that her intensity is legendary. Yes, she is nuts and driven and devoted. And yes it is probably time to grow up and experience life outside of the pool--but there is a part of me that says, "You go girl" because who doesn't want to turn back time?

It is also interesting to ponder these Olympics in light of all the steroid violations that permeate the world of professional sports. Are we to believe that these amateur athletes are exempt from pumping themselves up with illegal cocktails of performance enhancing drugs? Are we to believe that national pride and honor come before endorsements and your face on the Wheaties box?

I don't know. I would like to think that some integrity still exists and when I look at Torres' incredible body I would like to believe that it hasn't been injected with performance enhancing substances, but who knows?

You tell me. Has your impression of the Olympics been tarnished by all this talk of drugs or do you still believe there are some "pure" athletes out there, at the elite level, who are making it without chemicals?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Of Poppy Seeds and Chapstick

So Maggi Moss, Steve Asmussen's lawyer and one of his top owners has responded to a column by John Clay in the Lexington Herald-Leader that essentially said a 15 day suspension for a drug violation was not enough to deter trainers from using drugs on their horses.

Her basic defense, as I see it is as follows: "Do you really want someone ruled off that might be innocent or have a case of contamination. Is that the United States we want to live in?"

Residence questions aside, the contamination Ms. Moss refers to pertains to the substance lidocaine which is the drug that was detected in the filly Timber Trick, who broke her maiden at Lone Star Park in Texas on May 10 and then tested positive for the anesthetic. Ms. Moss notes that if "a trainer or his assistant used lip balm, hand cream or any of the over 1000 substances in stores that have metabolites of lidocaine in them and then groomed a horse or gave it water and then passed that metabolite into the horse's system," the horse might test positive for the drug.

So like the elusive poppy seed which we all know triggers a positive reading on drug tests, chapstick apparently sets off the same bells and whistles. Interesting but it remains to be seen how much chapstick would need to pass from human to horse (via water which might dilute it) to trigger a positive. And it also remains to be seen if this has ever happened before.

True it seems unusual that a trainer would use lidocaine on a horse in a maiden race especially a trainer of Asmussen's stature, but stranger things have happened. The point here may be that horse racing is under such a microscope these days that any infraction, especially by high profile trainers, makes headlines, in fact big headlines.

My point is equally simple. Why add fuel to the fire? Ban drugs of all types and let the horses run if they are fit and rest until they get so. Rather than spend all types of money investing in new uniform drug tests across all states, simply save money by eliminating all drugs from racing once and for all.

Not as sexy as chapstick and poppy seeds, but sometimes simple really is best.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Covering Horse Racing

Maryjean Wall, a racing writer for 35 years at the Lexington Herald-Leader did a great Q & A on Talking Horses, a feature of last week. She spoke about her profession--which is dwindling--and of the future of the sport as well as some of the highlights of her career.

One excerpt I found especially heartening was the following about the role of horse stories in mainstream newspapers. "I will say that I think there still is room in newspapers for racing stories--of the right type," she said. "What I'm talking about here are human-interest feature stories."

I know she is right. The purists of the sport will always prefer the Racing Form over the New York Times, but when the New York Times covers all aspects of the sport, as it did so well during this recent Triple Crown series on its blog, The Rail as well as in print, then the public sits up and takes notice.

And face it, with a cast of characters like those who surrounded Big Brown, it made for some pretty interesting reading. I am sure people who never followed horse racing, followed the unraveling of the Big Brown empire. The trick however is to keep the momentum going--not necessarily for more stories about drugs and other vices (although vice is always more interesting than virtue) but for other heart warming and/or heart wrenching tales of the backstretch.

And believe me they are there. And in the Grandstand. And in the Clubhouse. And most certainly in the barns.

These are topics, that Wall notes "have wide appeal across the lines of horse racing into daily life." That is what is missing in all this bad press about racing. Stories with heart. And sadly, as Wall notes "the issue is not only one of attracting sports fans but of attracting fans period. And guess what? Racing has looked the other way for so long that it has missed, possibly forever, the opportunity of bringing in new generations of fans."

Case in point: the fact that race tracks do little to "produce leads" on human-interest stories and sell them to the sports departments at their local newspapers. As Wall notes, "We rarely ever heard from a race track with a good story idea. The tracks pump out reams of promotional copy about their upcoming stakes races or who won these races but they don't alert reporters to the types of stories that titillate editors and readers. It's one more example of horse racing shooting itself in the foot."

It's just one more way racing could indeed generate interest among the legions of people who love animals by making them and the people who care for them lovable.

Anyone want to read a good book proposal that does just that?

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Say it In Six

Now for something completely different and a chance to stretch those brain cells in a new direction. There's a book floating around called Not Quite What I Was Planning. The premise is simple: six word autobiographies from the famous, not so famous and even infamous.

Feel up to the task? Try and compose your memoir, tombstone, epigraph or life story in six words.

Here are some examples:

"Well I thought it was funny." Steven Colbert

"Despite disorders, jafroed jewboy gets girl.' Michael Eisner

"Thought I would have more impact." Kevin Clark

"Weight up! Weight down! Income rises!" Oprah Winfrey

"Fake news spawns very real fame." Jon Stewart

"Big bucks, big ego, Big Apple." Michael Bloomberg

As for me, well it is harder than it looks. I played with it a while and came up with:

"Raised husband, kids, dogs and words."

Probably still needs some tweaking. It seems to be a little easier to compose for others than for yourself.

How about Barbaro? "Won Derby, broke leg, changed lives." See if you can do better. Send me your suggestions and I'll post the best.

Just think of all those brain cells you are keeping supple!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Dog Dementia

Those of us who have had geriatric dogs know all about the losses that occur with old age. Lucy, our half golden, half lab who lived to 14, lost most of her hearing and a lot of her mobility. Thankfully, she did not loose her mental capacity or develop cognitive dysfunction syndrome or what is more commonly known as dementia.

Yes, dogs do get a form of the brain loss seen in humans of advanced years. They fail to recognize their "family" members, wander into corners or stare aimlessly into space and often mix up day and night, remaining awake and disoriented during the evening hours. Often they revert to their pre-housebroken days.

None of these symptoms are pleasant for the owners of dogs with this condition but thankfully, according to an article in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday, there are some drugs that may alleviate some of the symptoms. The drug Anipryl has been shown to alleviate at least one clinical sign of dementia in about 70% of dogs. The drug costs about $50 for a two month supply and side effects may include vomiting and diarrhea. It also takes about four to six weeks to kick in.

But if you are the "parent" of an aging pet, it is worth keeping this info in your back pocket. You never know if or when you might need it and $50 seems like a fairly small amount to pay for relief for your best friend.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Splash Dance

Happy Independence Day!!

Wherever you are, I hope you make a "splash" and enjoy the holiday much like two of my favorite "splash dancers," Phoebe (the darker one) and Sammy (the lighter one)!

Yes, they are almost identical in size and both love nothing more than to spend the day poolside, retrieving any and everything we toss in.

Amos likes to take a dip as well, but I haven't been able to get all three in the same picture.

Stay tuned. The summer is young.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Positive Spin

All is not well between trainer Rick Dutrow and co-president of IEAH, Michael Iavaronne. According to the New York Times on Tuesday, Iavaronne told an ESPN reporter on Monday that Dutrow "was on a a short leash."

Well yea. Especially after one half of the dynamic duo said their operation would be drug free by October 1 (that would be Iavaronne) and the other half got yet another drug violation (that would be Dutrow). Common guys, get on the same page. Clean up your acts or at least learn to spin it like you are trying.

As for the art of the spin, well there actually is something very positive associated with IEAH. The new $17 million equine medical facility near Belmont, that they built, funded and will manage, is slated to open in September and from all reports it is a project worth publicizing.

The state-of-the art-facility which will have stalls for 29 horses, was sorely needed in that neck of the woods. With two surgical suites and the latest in diagnostic equipment, the equine hospital will provide care for horses racing and training in North Jersey and New York. Before its inception, horses training or racing in that area requiring complex medical evaluations were shipped either to Penn or Cornell. This is a practical and more cost effective solution and hopefully will help save the lives of many thoroughbreds.

The Ruffian Equine Medical Center will also boast two superb surgeons on staff: Patty Hogan, who gained national exposure for saving Smarty Jones when he cracked his skull in a starting gate mishap as a 2 year old and James C. Hunt, an equally sought after race-track vet. A throat surgeon, also on staff, is to be announced shortly.

This is truly a good and charitable endeavor and one that IEAH should be pushing to the forefront, ahead of all other drug related, hoof related, trainer related issues and an opportune time seems to be with the imminent announcement of a throat surgeon.

Play to your strengths. Isn't that just common sense? Unless of course there is more to the management of this facility that meets the eye...Makes you wonder.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Perpetual Care for Equines

We all know that Leona Helmsley left a sizable sum in her will to provide for the care of her beloved pooch. Well, there is a bill in California that is making its way to Governor Schwarzenegger's desk that will enforce "horse trusts" established by horse owners in the state to provide for their equines.

SB685, sponsored by the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, repeals the current law, replacing it with this version that makes these horse trusts enforceable. It is a great thing for horse owners in the state who have the foresight to provide for their horses and it eliminates the issue of heirs who don't maintain their duties. According to the SPCA, this bill ensures that those whom the trust designates are protected and cared for as the owner intended. The California law provides for a human advocate for the equine beneficiary--in other words someone who has the best interests of the horse at heart--as well as a trustee who handles the money and a caretaker who provides for the horse's day to day care.

One way to fund these trusts has been through life insurance proceeds. According to James Harrison, a San Francisco attorney who specializes in these trusts, "A typical 20 year fixed term $200,000 policy for a healthy 40 year old woman costs roughly $200 a year in fixed premiums." This set up also establishes the care for the animal outside of the person's estate and makes it exempt from probate should that occur.

California would become the 38th state to establish these enforceable equine trusts. To see whether or not they exist in your state check out this website, where you will also find more information about the concept.

A little bit of foresight is indeed worth a lot of peace of mind.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Of Mice and Everest

Want to know how important it is for the World Anti-Doping Agency to develop a blood test to detect athletes who have illegally boosted their bloodstreams' capacities for transmitting oxygen (just one of the myriad ways they illicitly improve their performances)? Important enough to send a team of University of Pennsylvania researchers to the top of Mt. Everest with a cage of mice in their backpacks.

Gabriel Willman and Tejvir Khurana, two scientists at Penn recently made it almost to the summit of Mt. Everest with their mice in tow as part of their fascinating experiment to gauge the effects of the actual experience of high altitude on mice. They will compare the blood of mice who made the Everest climb with that of those who were exposed to "artificial" means of experiencing high altitude. This includes exposure to drugs, low-oxygen chambers and even genetic manipulation, techniques that have become increasingly popular with athletes.

Living at high altitudes has been shown to increase the body's number of red blood cells which leads to increased oxygenation capacity. Apparently no one seems to mind if athletes decide to move to higher ground to gain an edge on their competition. After all, this is a "natural" means of training and it is probably no coincidence that the US Olympic training camp is in Colorado Springs. But it is when the athletes try to duplicate these conditions artificially that strikes Khurana, an athlete himself, as unfair and potentially harmful. "For me, it's a very black-and-white issue that the playing field should be level," he told The Philadelphia Inquirer.

One way that athletes have tried to mimic higher altitudes is with something called low-oxygen tents and it remains to be seen whether or not they are as effective as the real thing. One of the things Khurana and Willman will be testing for is whether or not they can tell the difference between the blood of mice who have actually been at high altitudes and those who have tried to mimic the experience using a low-oxygen tent. The hope to have the answers in a few months.

The Everest expedition was not the first time that Khurana and Willman have climbed with mice. Last year they did experiments with fruit flies on top of Mount McKinley and in 2005 they took mice halfway up Mount Marmolejo in the Andes to study the effects of low oxygen levels on muscle function.

The lengths that science is willing to go to "level the playing field" is only as astounding as the lengths that athletes are willing to go to boost their performances. To think that scientists have to nearly summit Mt. Everest to keep abreast of the latest "doping" techniques is an indication that something is terribly wrong with the incentives that provoke world class athletes to break the rules in the first place.

And of course I'm wondering if we are suddenly going to see a stampede of horse trainers moving their operations to high altitudes...