He still loves his mad dashes along Tesuque Creek, and this morning executed a four-foot leap over where it was flowing widest with spring melt. But he slows down a little between the dashes and has learned to wait to see what another dog signals before he approaches.
The thoroughbred stallions I saw a week ago at a farm in Kentucky seemed to have reached a period of calm, as well. Led into the arena by grooms whose silent faces contained all kinds of hidden thoughts about the crowd of gawkers assembled to look at their babies, the stallions stood quietly while our guide described them, only now and then trying to mouth a groom’s hand holding a halter. I didn’t have a chance to ask if each groom is assigned a certain horse, but from the way the stallions behaved, it seemed as though there was a bond established during months of careful handling.
After they had been led back to their stalls—“Feed me, breed me, and leave me alone” their motto, according to our guide—we went into the breeding arena, surrounded by special stalls. There we had the most detailed and comprehensive description of what it takes to produce a thoroughbred foal I could possibly imagine (some of the young girls in the crowd looked dismayed)—as exciting as all deeply-informed accounts that introduce us to a hidden world.
We were shown the paraphernalia required for breeding; Kentucky thoroughbred tradition doesn’t allow for artificial insemination. A leather cloak covers the mare’s back to protect her from the stallion’s bites when he mounts, a twitch—a stick with rope on the end—is used to control her by twisting the rope around her upper lip—well, you get the idea. Whatever rules the desires of mares is, it seems, more unpredictable than what rules the desire of stallions, urged on by the activities of a plain looking stallion called The Teaser.
“Don’t feel sorry for The Teaser,” our guide told us, though it seemed to me more likely we might feel sorry for the mares. “He gets everything the thoroughbreds get—special food, a daily bath, turn out in a beautiful green field.”
Later we saw the spring’s crop of foals, most born last January, browsing with their dams in the adjacent fields. Having been handled from birth, the foals are very friendly and come to the fence to be stroked.
“The sport of kings,” as it is called in Kentucky, requires a king’s ransom to pursue. The stables at this farm were as beautiful as colonial mansions, with their arches, white paint, and green trim. The workers live in a special subdivision with amenities like basketball courts and a gate that’s shut at night. Benevolent paternity is always the same. I remember the coal towns in Eastern Kentucky, shacks with running water, then a rarity, and a grocery store where the miners’ wives bought overpriced supplies with script.
Back home in Santa Fe, we watched the Kentucky Derby on television, for the first time in decades, and again I was surprised by the outpouring of public enthusiasm as the crowd tramped through mud and ruined their hats in the rain. How hard it is to rouse that degree of enthusiasm for more important goals like financing public pre-kindergarten: a vote failed here because we well-off, educated white people thought we could force those others we don’t know to pay a tax on sugary drinks. We should as soon advise the thoroughbred mare of her natural rights.
The white iris are blooming but seven of our Koi have disappeared from the pond. I suspect their trusting natures have betrayed them. They rush up to the edge of the pond when anything approaches, hoping for food, their one desire, which exposes them to the cleverly fishing bear.
Natural selection, I guess. The craftier, more suspicious Koi (if such exist) may be the ones still basking in the pond.