A Fierce Competitor

A fierce competitor

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?

2 thoughts on “A Fierce Competitor

  1. II was bitten by a TB in his stall (at a track) as I walked past with a colt I was hotwalking. I will confess that after that happened twice from the same horse, I punched him in the nose the third time he went for me. He NEVER tried it again!

    As for the savaging, yes, I’ve seen it. It’s usually during the intense competition of the race. TBs are so competitive and they try all sorts of things to get the other horse to back down or off. It doesn’t always come down to biting. If you see pictures of the Kentucky Derby with Easy Goer and Sunday Silence, Easy Goer and Sunday Silence were head to head in the stretch. Easy Goer clearly has his head turned towards SS, ears back, giving SS the stink eye. He was saying in the plainest body language ever, back off. SS paid him no mind whatsoever and went on to win the race.
    I can’t remember who the jockey was, but he should have given Easy Goer a solid smack with the whip to redirect his attention to the race, not the social dynamics.
    You see pictures of it with two colts/stallions at liberty, too.

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