Thursday August 5, 2021; Case Note No. 12
Hello again, it's me, Ms. AAngyl. I am posting a day later than usual. Whatever; we've all been busy. So much has transpired on Earth in the past nine days that it's hard to know where to begin. On the global stage, the ongoing games of the Tokyo 2020 XXXII Olympiad continued throughout this window of time, with many of my Equine friends delivering magnificent performances in the segments of Eventing known as Cross Country and Show Jumping. In fact, we heard a first hand report from Swiss Eventer Jet Set, and had a huge Homecoming celebration for him, with Feldschlosslen beer and oatcakes all around, after he flew over the last water jump and joined us on Sunday. Jet, you're going to love eventing with us on a newly-designed course, on the grounds of your new "little castle in the fields!"
There was also a nice bookending event, in the Eventing competition for Individuals. In this equestrian sport, women were first allowed to compete on an equal basis with male competitors in the Olympic games held in Tokyo in 1964. This year, 56 or 57 years later, (depending on how you count it LOL) at the Tokyo 2020 games, the Gold medal has been claimed by a youthful 11-year-old bay mare with a wide blaze and three white stockings named Amande De B'Neville ("Mandy"), who partnered late in training with Julia Krajewski, her female team mate representing Germany. Well done, Julia and Almond! Cracking good work!!
In another form of sport riding, during the past weekend my charge Margaret joined a large group of friends who are motorcycling enthusiasts, at a resort in Baddeck, on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. After a lakeside breakfast Saturday morning, she and many of the riders went on an all day mission on their "bikes," to admire and honour the millions of Trees and the sparkling Lake and Ocean waters that grace the world famous Cabot Trail that encircles the northern half of the island. Of course I went with them, hovering like an unseen drone over their orange motorcycle, inspiring her to record the magnificent sights with ease, from the comfort of her director's chair seat in the motorcycle's sidecar.
On Sunday morning the weather was fine, and the motorcyclists departed bright and early for their home destinations, located all over the province. Margaret had driven to the event in her truck, Big Silver II, and had some time to spare before checking out of the resort. From a previous stay during Celtic Colours in 2010, she remembered the lovely chapel on the grounds of the resort. Funds for its creation were donated in a bequest from an elderly Canadian hockey executive who had convalesced there near the end of his Earthly life. On Saturday when she tried it, she had found the door to the chapel locked. But when she returned on Sunday, it was open. I met her there, and scored a little unicorn magic of my own, with some Dancing Rainbow Light, with assists from the Sun, the Stained Glass Window, and some Gentle Breezes that were artfully blowing through the leaves of Trees planted close to the chapel.
From the tranquility and beauty of that scene, we picked up the pace and made our way cross country, via Trans-Canada Hwy/NS-105W, to Inverness Raceway, arriving by the 1:00 p.m. post time of the first race. Which brings me to the title of this week's blog. While of this Earth, I was quite the fashionista, for example, heartily embracing the introduction of Swarovski crystals among the types of beads and coloured trim allowed on the brow bands of bridles during international Dressage competitions. Of course, of course, if you have been following the news, you may be aware that a topic of lively debate during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics has been the choice of uniforms required to be worn during competitions by some of the human female athletes. For my part, I continue to keep a close eye on all manner of fashions, but my particular focus is on clothing choices for Equines serving in professional sporting capacities.
Regardless of the athletic discipline, I am a strong proponent of Equine Chic in work attire, which combines elegance and harmony with comfort and practicality suited to the job. In light of this, I inspired Margaret to go to the races on Sunday for a special assignment I took on, at the request of some fashionable friends of mine who are Standardbred pacers. These hard-working horses solicited my advice on how to choose winning looks for their often weekly performances at the local harness races.
Although my father was a world class fine harness horse, I never had the experience of racing in harness, either while trotting or pacing. (All horses can naturally walk, trot, and canter. "Pacing" is a special gait in which horses simultaneously move the front and hind legs on the same side of their bodies. In order to perform this gait, a horse needs a mutation in DMRT3, the so-called "gait-keeper" gene. DMRT3 is expressed in spinal cord neurons arranged in locomotor networks that function to control and coordinate the movement of the front and hind limbs.) Some talented Standardbred pacers can really rock this gait while pulling a driver in a cart. Seen from the front as they approach, they appear to merrily swing or sweep their legs from side to side as they pull their carts forward (carts in this sport also being known as "bikes").
Never having previous Earthly experience as a pacing harness horse, I had to do some research about what they wear. Given the complexities of harness race outfits for pacers, and the manner in which the various sartorial elements are selected, it turned out to be a bit of a tall order. But I learned a lot in the process, and came up with some general tips for the fashion-conscious pacer. For purposes of illustration, I have included some photos of my friends modelling outfits they wore at recent appearances at the track. I will refer to them by the large numbers shown on the coloured "saddle pads" seen on their backs.
For a horse to appear well-dressed, the first consideration, of course, of course, is the coat colour in question. In this sport, that's pretty easy. The vast majority of Standardbred pacers, at least those seen regularly at tracks in Cape Breton, are bays i.e., horses with hair that is some shade of "fiddle brown," contrasted with a black mane and tail and "black points" on the lower legs and ears. Thus, my comments here are manely tailored to great looks for bays.
A winning look on the track, and at the grandstand, is all about harmony, balance, and flow. Horse #1 made a smart choice, choosing every element of his elaborate white harness to complement his white bike/cart. The full set of harness seen here includes a striking white overcheck, bridle, reins and breast collar, paired with fashionable white hopples (also called hobbles) to accentuate his well-toned legs, the hopples being suspended from matching white hopple hangers. This stunning look is completed with matching white tape around his knee and shin boots, and this seasoned muscular gelding pulls it all off, very well.
Because competing in this sport requires a partnership with a human (who may be under the mistaken impression that he or she is in charge of all of the decision-making), it is important for a horse to be aware of, and consider in advance, the preferred colour choices of the person most likely to drive its cart during the race. Naturally, this is easier to predict if the driver is also the horse's owner and/or trainer. But often a horse will be driven in the race by a professional, so it pays to know their colour choices as well. Each driver wears a recognizable uniform consisting of a short-sleeved jersey and pants in a unique colour combination, referred to as his or her "silks." The colours of silks chosen by the drivers are based on personal preference, and in some cases have historical significance in this age-old sport, relating, for example, to the colours worn by a grandparent who was also a driver, back in his racing days. Wisely, Horse #1 teamed up with a popular driver who wears blue-white-yellow silks, for a pleasing overall look that complements him, and his white harness and cart.
Horse #2 has also chosen her wardrobe with a keen eye for style. This elegant young mare is outfitted in a simple yet pleasing combination of mainly black harness elements, paired white hopple hangers, with no contrasting colour wrapped around her slim legs. She pulls a cart with black shafts and attractive blue wheels, which coordinates nicely with the blue-white silks worn by the driver. Her look is fortuitously completed by a coordinating saddle pad in royal blue, the colour designated for the horse who is assigned to Start Position 2 on the track.
Veering further into the deep blue yonkers is Horse #3, a free-spirited young gelding who chose to wear black hopples with an attractive set of royal blue harness that contrasts nicely with the bright copper of his coat colour. He pairs this look with a royal blue cart with white wheels, driven by a man who sports blue-white-gold silks. An unexpected touch of turquoise at the girth adds an extra pop of colour.
Seemingly out of the horse's control is the colour of the saddle pad it must wear during the race, as part of its outfit. This is determined by a draw that occurs several days before the scheduled race. Viewed at the starting gate from the inside rail outward, horses in Positions 1 through 8 respectively wear saddle pads of the following colours: Red, Blue, White, Green, Black, Yellow, Pink, and Gray. The starting position is shown both by the designated colour, and also by the larger number on the pad. (The smaller pad number designates the particular Race Number the team is entered into, of the six to eight races that are typically run per racing session.) Horse #4 came to the race wearing a set of harness in basic black and pulling a Red cart, with his only touch of colour being a blue breast collar. This six-year-old gelding jazzed up his look with the addition of his Green, Position 4, saddle pad. (Alternatively, perhaps he feels that the colours he wears don't matter at all LOL.)
Conventional wisdom is that Starting Positions 1-3 are most favourable for winning a race. Thus, if a horse has a desire to win on a particular night, it would do well to envision receiving the Red, Blue or White saddle pad in the draw, and dress accordingly. On the other hand, since the horses all take turns at winning anyway, they can also use any higher position numbers they receive as an opportunity to really show their true colours. A bold and skillful demonstration of that approach is shown by dashing young Horse #6, a 3-year-old gelding who drew the Yellow saddle pad associated with Position 6. Seizing the opportunity to stand out when positioned closest to the crowd, he came dressed to the nines in a full set of green harness with matching leg wraps, pulling a white cart manned by a driver sporting yellow-white-green silks. Very snappy!
To minimize distractions created by sounds and sights during the races, pacing harness horses are permitted to wear additional gear on their heads, including removable ear plugs, and blinkers (also known as blinders), which are designed to restrict their visual fields to varying degrees. Blinders come in several configurations (regular, open cup and closed cup). Some are attached to the bridle, whereas others are a component of separate hoods that cover the eyes and are fastened around the horse's head. I have no comment about the relative virtues of each type of blinders for harness horse racing. But if you want my opinion about the aesthetics of the style shown below, I have to be honest and say, "It's probably not your best look..."
That's enough for now about harness wear for pacers. No report of fashion news in Cape Breton over the past week would be complete without a bird's eye view of the Scarecrows of Isle Madame pageant, going on all summer in Donald & Rosemary's vegetable garden in D'Escousse. Beachie and Breezie, you've got style!