Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Forget Economic Recovery, What About Image?

Horse racing is my passion. As an equine artist, it's my precious muse. I worked almost thirty years in the industry beginning as a hot walker of course, making my way up the ranks to groom, pony girl, exercise rider, assistant trainer, trainer and owner/breeder - to real jobs in the racing office as program production coordinator, clerk of the course and placing judge. The first time I got on a horse in 1968 at Lincoln Downs almost created a national scandal. Race trackers know what I'm talking about.

I tell you this so you know from whence I speak. Horse racing is in a sad situation. Yes economically, but also from a self-induced bad rap. As I listened to the not so subtle snipes quipped during the Eclipse Awards on Monday night, one has to wonder what it will take to bring my beloved sport back to respectable legitimacy.

Let's see. Steroids. Milkshakes. Cobra venom. Eight Belles. Rick Dutrow. PETA. Questionable synthetic surfaces. Drug violations for Asmussen, Pletcher, O'Neil, Mullins et al. Our beloved Jack Van Berg told a congressional sub-commitee: “It’s chemical warfare out there." Ouch. Of course he's right but I'll tell you that EVERYONE is responsible. From the owners who place extreme pressure on the trainers to produce, to the vets who research the next undetectable in their basements, to racing management looking elsewhere. And all the shysters in between.

What does this mean to me as an artist? A good portion of clients purchasing my artwork are not associated with racing or even horse racing fans in particular. They tell me they love the action and color. Recently, their response to my latest paintings is (politely) : "I'm not into horse racing, do you have something available in foxhunting? (or hunter/jumper, dressage, polo, western, reining, driving, paso fino, arabs, pintos, farm scenes and all the rest)

As I diligently ply my trade - working long hours in the studio daily, finally making inroads with various race track marketing departments, creating the next innovative dynamic - how do I respond to all this? I'm a painter attempting to portray the beauty, power, speed, excitement and every other adjective to describe the extreme commanding force that is horse racing.


On a lighter note: my client informs me that her champion western show horse is legs only steering. Keep your hands still. The artist attempts to keep her hands still...

western horseThe added bulk is from advancing age, not steroids. Honest.

"His comment about the industry’s movement to eliminate drugs and become more transparent was well received." - quoted from Paulick's live blog regarding a statement made by Jess Jackson.


Jan Blawat said...

Sharon, for years I showed Tennessee Walking Horses, then rode them in competitive trail rides. Here in California we were constantly suffering because of the stupidity of trainers in Tennessee. Luckily for the breed, the horses have assets of their own that help them sell themselves. I still have TWH because I love them, but the breed hasn't been able to shake the bad image caused by the good old boys.

Maybe in this new era, greed will no longer be glorified and the horses can rest on their own laurels.

I think a big obstacle in trying to raise any kind of animal, though, is that so many people now have no experience with them. Many new developments have huge houses with no yard space. The houses are so close that if your pet hamster farts, your neighbor will hear it. Animals are being zoned out and regulated out. Too many folks have never even had a pet. Their understanding is flawed and they are subject to the tripe that PETA spews. Their expectations are also flawed, the ones who love animals and do get them often end up in trouble. This is especially true with horses.

Who knows what the future will bring? I just hope there continues to be a place for our horses and other animals in it.

Sharon Crute said...

Jan: Similarities abound in the racing business. Most trainers are "promoters" these days. They now "manage" a horse's career rather than actually involve themselves with any hands on care and training.

Thank you for stopping by and your blog is a hoot!