Firenze Fire proved himself a fierce competitor in the Grade 1 Forego, reaching over to bite at Yaupon around the sixteenth pole. When this happens in a race, it’s called “savaging” and it’s kind of surprising that it doesn’t happen more often, given that many of the horses racing are stallions and they are in very close quarters.
Despite his aggressive behavior, Firenze Fire didn’t prevail in the stretch run; Yaupon won by a head.
Perhaps the most famous example of a racehorse “savaging” another horse is the 1980 Tremont Stakes when Great Prospector reached over and bit Golden Derby, the eventual winner.
The Paulick Report asked a few behavioral experts what might have caused this seemingly aggressive behavior. Here’s what they had to say.
Firenze Fire is the type of horse that is paying attention to the competitor horse in the sense of actually “racing” the other horse rather just running in response to the rider direction and training — a different motivational state, which is likely perceived among horses.Dr. Sue McDonnell, founding head of the Equine Behavior Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and Certified Animal Behaviorist
Biting with ears pinned back is a typical behavior of an intact horse or a gelding given steroids. If you walk down track shed rows, you can pretty much tell the stallions by the way the horses lay their ears back and charge at people with teeth bared or they do it only to horses being hot walked around the shed rows.Dr. Nicholas Dodman, program director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and diplomate of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
In this scenario I view it as more related to the manner of physical expression in what we at THT call a “close-space-fighter”, which means for us horses that have a tendency to exaggerate their physical expression during times of protracted competitive stresses.
It’s more a re-direction of focus than a fracture. The same amount of emotional energy that was housed in the forward competitive aspect gets shifted to what the horse views as a close space infraction.
Kerry Thomas, founder of the Thomas Herding Technique and THT Bloodstock
I have ridden a few horses who definitely did not like others coming into their personal space. I’ve also ridden a few that took competition quite seriously but I’d be pretty concerned if I was in such close quarters and had teeth coming at me.
What about you? Have you ridden horses that were aggressive?