One of the small ways that my research project seeks to enact a shift in thinking about horses is to make their presence visible. This means I will use their names, and gendered pronouns when referring to them, eg “he” or “she” instead of “it” (you will notice that “it” is commonly used when referring to racehorses). With my PhD research, I intend to give each of the once-were-horses objects that I will examine some sort of biography, situating them as animals. This tenet of respect is very important to me, and underpins much of what drove me to follow this line of inquiry in the first place.
So I’d certainly be remiss were I not to tell you about Fred, the ‘cover horse’ and pin-up boy for this blog!
Fred’s human companion (his ‘owner’) is my younger cousin, who’s just turned twenty and started university. Rather than leaving her horse behind on the family farm, though, Fred has joined her at uni. Before that, she had him with her at boarding school, and they have competed at dressage and show-jumping events across the Eastern states. She says, “[Fred] came to school with me and home in holidays and now to uni- I take him everywhere! I’ve spent more time with Fred in the last 4 years than with anyone else in my life -parents, friends, boyfriend – so he has become a very significant part of my life”.
Fred, whose show name is Fortis, is 16.1 hands high and ten years old. His sire (his father) is a warmblood, while his dam (his mother) is a thoroughbred. Warmblood horses are usually associated with dressage, and thoroughbreds are traditionally bred for racing. In fact, Fred’s mother is an ex-racehorse. I guess she’s one of the ones who got ‘lucky’, and was able to have a life as a brood mare after her racing career ended. I have heard a rumour that her sire won the Melbourne Cup once, but no names have been mentioned.
The photo that appears as this blog’s cover image was taken by my cousin near the south-coast town of Kiama, at sunset, where she took him for an event earlier this year. When I asked my cousin if she loved Fred, or if he was more like a tool to get her where she wanted to be, equestrian-wise, her answer was so heartfelt that I have to include it in it’s entirety:
I love him to pieces! When you spend so much time with them you definitely develop a strong bond. Equestrian obviously relies majorly on teamwork, so I guess you develop a bond through working as a team and giving back to them for what they have done for you. You can especially see it in cross country when it’s impossible even at the top level to get a perfect distance to every fence but even when you screw it up your horse (not all though!) will pull you out of trouble and do their best to jump it even though they should have stopped. After 4 years together I’ve come to learn Fred’s personality and character, which makes him different to just any horse.
I don’t know how long I will be able to keep him, since it is such an expensive sport that I can’t afford, and people tell me that I can always pick it up again after uni but (as much as I love riding and I will miss it incredibly) I don’t feel the need to pick it up later because I don’t want to just ride, I want to ride Fred! If I didn’t love him so much it would not be as hard to quit. They teach you so much in terms of responsibilities and taking the good with the bad and accepting failure since they have their bad days and their good ones, because no one is perfect, and you feel so proud when you both finally get it right! Fred is such a hard trier, and always listens, and learns relatively quickly what I’m teaching him. He has come so far from where he was when I got him and he has taught me a lot about how to ride better. Every time I even think about when the time comes to sell him, I cry!
Something that my cousin has articulated really well here is that, for her, it’s not just any horse, it’s Fred. Reading her words I was really struck by the sense that she has gotten to know him so well, and it is this that ‘makes him different to just any horse’ for her. I can’t help comparing this bonded and respectful relationship with, for example, what a racehorse is likely to experience; the difference between being a highly valued part of a team, and being a highly valuable asset. No-one has time to get to know a racehorse, as they are ridden by different jockeys at each race meet, trained by a stranger, and most likely owned by a syndicate, rather than a loving individual.
I think there’s more to explore here, but I don’t want my research agenda to hijack what is meant to be simply a post about Fred. So, there you have it – a little something about Fred. Putting a name to the face, so to speak.