The Belmont Stakes was just run, and Big Brown did not win. The heavy favorite, the horse spent most of the race in third, and faded significantly down the stretch. So once again, there will be no Triple Crown winner in horse racing for at least another year.
Horse racing has never fascinated me the way it does so many people. Mostly, I believe this is because I’ve never been able to make the great leap necessary in personifying horses as great athletes. To be sure, thoroughbreds are remarkable specimens within their species, but I’ve always been a little put off when people talk about them as if they are human.
There was a photo of Big Brown in the paper today. In it, the horse had remarkably expressive eyes. Some could call it a ‘steely gaze’. I contrasted that with some footage I’d seen during the sports segment of the news the night before when the horse was in its stable, tossing its head back and forth and bearing its gigantic set of teeth. The look last night was the complete opposite of the emotionally heavy photo from the paper. Instead of appearing to be a thoughtful being, aware of the moment of which it was about to be a part, the horse came off as a braying yokel, yuk-yukking it up when cameras happened to be present. In short, it looked just like what it was: a dumb animal.
None of us will ever know what goes through an animal’s mind, but a person can be rest assured that it is not as complicated as human emotion and reasoning. Attaching our humanness and complexity to an animal just seems to me to be an exercise in futility.
I have no issue with racing horses. Of all the vestigial remains of our once deep symbiotic relationship with horses, racing is the only one, because of its uniqueness, that has retained relevance as we have moved to a machine driven civilization. It survives because it is a competition, ancient enough to be regarded as an art among sporting events. We have auto racing, sure, but the horses still run because racing is a luxury, and has no bearing on the daily comings and goings of society. Where things are practical, like lugging home groceries or traveling, the horse has disappeared.
That’s not really a shame. I don’t believe many of us romanticize horses to the point that we’d be willing to forego hours long cross-country travel by plane for the months long horse-driven alternative. So maybe the thick affectations that are placed upon horses by human projectors are merely nostalgia for a time when horses were a part of daily life for more than just a small minority of us. If that’s the case, then no harm done. Remember, though, that if one looks into a horse’s eyes and sees a soul, what one is really seeing are themselves reflected back to them in those big, glassy orbs.