A Peek into Runkle's PTSD

I had the amazing opportunity to hang around the backside of Thoroughbred racing this past weekend

not that kind of backside :P

this kind of backside!!
 The Virginia Hunt Gold Cup was on Saturday, actually at the same place the Great Meadow Nations Cup is held. Who knew!

hedge as seen at the nations cup. with a freakin' car for scale.

watched all the races from that structure. who knew!
Runkle's old home has been incredibly kind to me. I expressed interest in going to a race with them, not really knowing what that entailed, and his old trainer was all about bringing me. I was so curious to see what a normal 'day in the life' is for a Thoroughbred so I could piece together Runkle's extreme PTSD when we go to shows. I also wanted the insight as I have a feeling this OTTB thing is going to be for life with me. I do likie the Thoroughbreds.

Anyway. the horses were loaded up by 5AM on a giant horse van. We had six with us, and I kind of figured out why Runkle is such a mug about getting on a normal two horse bumper pull. He's used to spacious stalls, side ramps, and the farm even has a little chute so the horses don't have to climb a steep ramp to get on. Spoiled.

Basically a limo.
I guess I fell asleep once we piled in and headed out because I woke up in Maryland and the sun was finally up. Me, the driver, and our boss for the day sat in the cab. The other grooms rode in the back!! With the horses!!!

Upon arriving at Great Meadow we unloaded the horses and put them up in their barn/tent/home-away-from-home. It was windy as all get out, so much so that some of the poles in the barn were being lifted off the ground. Every time a particularly strong gust whipped through all the horses would have a little buck and romp around the stalls. Everyone stayed in stabling. In fact, there was one farm that had their horses on the trailer a lot of the day and people were commenting on how weird it was.

So much excite.
Hm, so Runkle's probably not used to being forced to sit around on the trailer all day. Good to know.

It all happened kind of fast once we unloaded, and a lot of words were thrown around (pre race prep stuff? Lasix? Were the horses having corrective eye surgery?) I didn't understand the race lingo or what was the norm so I just tried to follow what I was being told and make sure the right horses had water and the ones that weren't supposed to have hay didn't. And that Aflutter had his bucket on (he's not allowed to eat before he runs because it makes him cough).

Aflutter getting saddled
There was a vetting very similar to the jogs for an FEI event except much more utilitarian. And also, given the 30mph gusts, a bit more like people trying to fly kites than actually jog horses. One horse had to be jogged down and back three times because he kept leaping so hard the vet couldn't get a read on his gait.

After watching them jog, the vet ran their hands down each horse's legs and lifted them to inspect their tendons before giving the stamp of approval. Then the groom would fly the kite back to his stall.

Flutter demonstrating appropriate jog technique

fancy prancing!
Before the race, each horse was groomed impeccably. Several horses had different leg bandage configurations. The most they usually had was vet wrap on their hind legs and a rundown patch on their fetlock. Coordinating electrical tape topped off the wrap job. I was kind of amazed all they put on the horse's legs is vet wrap. Apparently they get the equivalent of rugburn on the underside of their fetlock, so the vet wrap just protects that. Otherwise they'd be barelegged! Isn't that mental!?

Bridle complete with tongue tie, ready for action!
Considering the amount of armor I used to put on Lexy just to run training level (we even had pastern wraps behind) it seemed a little crazy that they wrap the equivalent of tissue on the horse's legs and send them on their way. The main goal seemed to be don't interfere with the way the horse's leg works by inhibiting tendons or joints with wraps and boots. And I didn't see any evidence from any horse that they interfered at all.

The trainer would bring the jockey's tack down and saddle the horse him or herself, occasionally with another trainer to help. As each horse was brought down a race official would check the tattoo number. Then they were brought down to the paddock where they walked until the jockeys came.

Red walking out of stabling.
Red getting his tattoo checked.
When the call came to mount up, the horses stood in open ended stalls for the jockeys to mount up. I use the term 'stood' kind of loosely. Another loop or two around the paddock and the field master would blow the horn and after parting words from the trainer the groom would lead the horse and jockey down to the track.

Red gets his rider! Good luck Red!
Walking to the track
Nationbuilder in the paddock
Then, you know, the race would happen. Pretty self explanatory, it's the part we all see.

There's Red! #10.

Water crossing at the Steeplethon
After the race the groom gathered up the horse from the track. The jockey pulled his tack off to get weighed in and the horse was brought back to the barn area to be hosed and cooled out. That is, with the exception of the winning horse who is ridden into the winners circle with all of his connections for the picture. Unfortunately we didn't have any winners this weekend :(

There was one race, picture included above, called the Steeplethon. This was like a cross country course on heroin. There weren't just hedges, but also solid timber fences and a stone wall. And it even included a run through water!!! The course didn't run straight counter-clockwise in a circle but wound over and around the field including two changes of direction and charging up and down a couple rolling hills. I wish I had had my nice camera; when they hit the water the spray was amazing. As the horses were allowed to warm up before the race everyone went and schooled it. Some of the horses had never run through water before.

so official
He was there to 'calm' the horses. his name is tiger.
soda can for scale
Anyway, after the race once the horse was cooled out his legs got poulticed and wrapped and he's done for the day. He gets to hang out in his stall until his compatriots are done as well.

All The Way Jose
The day wound up and we packed everything back on the van, shoving buckets and Rubbermaid tubs into the nose of the truck and quickly chucking the horses in. And we didn't have to clean stabling. I asked someone about this and he said "wait, you have to do that at events? If you had to do that at races I wouldn't go."


So what did I learn?

A lot. But nothing that would give me a shortcut to getting Runkle over his fears of being at a horseshow. Except maybe that it might help to just tack him up immediately and ride him around. But even then, he's just going to need time and cookies and probably some lunging.

Aflutter ready to leave at the asscrack of dawn
Lawnmower looking for snacks.
I also learned that I really really love Thoroughbreds. They're so cute and try so hard. I'm sold for life.

Thank you so much to Keri & Ashwell for having me, Bailey & Rafa for being really patient as I asked about forty thousand questions. Actually maybe I retract my thank you from Rafa because he spent the day hazing me. Thank you to Shayla for keeping me company and eating all the cookies with me, and Carl for ... being Carl and letting me follow him around because I had no idea where I was allowed to go :P


  1. Sounds like a really unique and fun experience!

    1. it was fun. I'm not huge into racing - I watch the triple crown races and the breeders cup but being able to see the amount of care that goes into the horses first hand was enlightening.

  2. That's so cool! I got to shadow a racetrack vet in college and that was pretty awesome, but this sounds even better

    1. oooh id be REALLY interested to see that. i saw some of the track vets wandering around and one had to take blood or give a shot or something and i have never seen anyone find a vein so fast. it was incredible!!

  3. Replies
    1. soooo different from what i'm used to. altho i imagine it's a bit more like say, buck davidson or sally cousins who's got 7 horses in any event.

  4. Replies
    1. def!! the wind definitely kept things interesting :P

  5. That sounds like an amazing experience!

    1. it totally was. the seasons almost over but maybe next year i can tag along again!

  6. I didn't know Runkle came from Sheppard's! Sounds like you had a fun day!

  7. This is so interesting! And so different from what I've seen at Saratoga. Not that either is better or worse, but definitely different! That race you mentioned through the water sounds CRAZY!!

  8. What a cool excursion! I've never seen racehorses use tent stabling before & that steeplethon thing sounds epic.

  9. omg that Steeplethon sounds fucking insane. but like. in the best way possible. now i'm kicking myself for not making it down to watch!!! i love all the pictures tho and the full behind-the-scenes scoop. it really is a whole different lifestyle for those ponies...

  10. Omg the Steeplethon!!!! That looks amazing!!!

  11. What an awesome experience. That Steeplethon sounds really cool to watch too.

  12. That sounds so cool! Love all the pictures!


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