Don't Pet Her, She's a Thoroughbred

Over the years, I've picked up on a rather common opinion amongst the race crowd that performance is closely tied to attitude.

Specifically, there's a widespread belief that the unrestrained behavior of a fiery young colt or a feisty little filly somehow presages racing potential. I see the logic -- the unruly foal is likely to be an energetic racer with a competitive spirit.

But I wonder how much of that is innate and how much can actually be cultivated.  The old nature / nurture argument.  Should handlers be careful not to gentle a fractious yearling for fear of breaking his strong will and thus his special running aptitude?  Should trainers attempt to make their naturally placid racers more aggressive off track, with the hope that the behavior will carry over to the big oval?

I was thinking about this last evening as I went through the feed routine for my own horses.  This year, I have two suckling fillies, and they're pretty much night and day. One is on the small side, rather timid, and tends to stick near mom. She quickly submits to whatever I ask of her -- she's never made a move to test the pecking order. 

The other filly is certain that the world was designed to revolve directly around her.  She is tall and elegant and physically stunning -- the first foal I've raised that I could see pictured in the trade journals as a session-topper at one of the sales. She's just over 3 months and has decided she's ready for independence (she returns to mom a few times throughout the day to milk, but otherwise runs with my yearling filly, far across the pasture from her dam).  She's well-behaved -- I won't tolerate anything else -- but every step along the way, I've had to convince her that the lessons I'm teaching are good ideas -- she takes nothing at face value.  And I'll admit, I believe she'll be the best racehorse of anything I've yet raised.

Some attitudes are legendary -- John Henry, Fair Play, Foolish Pleasure, among many others -- and are the epitome of "hot-blooded Thoroughbreds."  Other racehorses are known to be especially gentle and loving.

So -- is the whole "attitude" thing just a shed-row legend, or do difficult-to-handle Thoroughbreds really have something extra going for them?  Take a look at this week's poll or post your thoughts below.

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