The gates opened shortly before 8 a.m. and the sun began rising over a field, casting a lovely golden light upon their breeding shed, the mares coming and going, and the stallions entering the breeding shed one after another. It left no doubt the breeding season was in full swing, and all the activity was carried out with the precision of a carefully choreographed and thoroughly rehearsed dance. I had visited numerous farms before, but this was my first time seeing the busy pace of the breeding season and the way it seemed to create an equine version of rush hour on a busy highway.
Yet it also seemed apt to call it a dance; while I knew the steps of the process, I had not seen them all carried out before. The efficiency it took to never miss a beat drove home the practice this took, and that this was a dance I did not yet know well. But that was the purpose of my visit, to learn these steps; for I was here today as part of my internship with a breeding farm, instead of the racing fan that I usually found as my role during farm visits. While I had lightly worn the title of “future racing industry professional” during those visits, I had never been to any of them solely in that capacity and it was a paradigm shift.
I still saw things with a photographer’s eye, however; that may yet be the role I play in the racing industry when I am a professional. It showed me the nobility in the eyes of the mare waiting to be bred. She was from the farm where I interned, and so far I had only seen her in the stall with her young filly and outside at a distance, in her pasture.
I tried to capture the look in her eye; it was quite captivating, as were (to a lesser degree) the way the sun illuminated her and cast shadows upon the wall of the receiving barn. Presently we moved to the window, overlooking the floor of the breeding shed. Historic for its site as the conception of Triple Crown winner Affirmed, a reminder lingering in the plaque above the floor, you knew hopes and dreams of what might be lingered here, as they did in breeding sheds all across the Bluegrass on this first day of spring, where this year’s foals already ran across the fields, hopefully building stamina or speed and the will to run above all…
The mare was an absolute pro in the shed, and she neighed once as she left the shed. She quietly walked into the trailer, and our ways parted for the day.
Across the parking lot and on the other side of the shed, Wilburn was already being led into the shed and the dance continued…
I said a quick hello to Paddy O’Prado, at the side of his stall overlooking the driveway, (the racing fan side of my persona coming to the fore again) and drove down the tree-lined drive, knowing that this cold snap will break soon and these same trees will burst into bloom and soft green leaves, and they will race again at Keeneland. It’s not that way now, but as sure as the new foals racing on the grass and the busy flow of traffic to the breeding sheds, that too is one of spring’s surest signs in this region. The countdown begins….