"Reflections," the oral history series that has brought together a broad mix of breeders, consignors, veterinarians, and farm managers of the past 50 years, continues this week with the second installment from six long-time farm managers. We hope these articles are as fascinating for our readers as they have been for the editorial staff members of The Blood-Horse who had the opportunity to witness the exchanges among the different groups. One recurring theme from panelists is that much in this industry has changed. What was a passionate hobby for wealthy businessmen turned sportsmen is now more of a business pursuit for many. The commercial market now dominates where private breeding operations once did. Stallions are handled differently, with books of mares three or four times the size they used to be. Foals are raised and trained with accelerated methods. Year-round racing, rich purses for 2-year-olds, unsoundness in the stallion barns, and medication are looked upon as factors in the overall weakening of the breed, most of our panelists perceive. It would be nice to say comments from participants also should prompt some modern-day horsemen to pause and consider whether the tried-and-true ways of the past, developed through generations, might not be such a bad path to follow. Unfortunately, the economics of the business make that a pipe dream. Technology and modern medicine have improved conception rates, helping more mares get in foal (with the exception of the recent mare reproductive loss syndrome), and allow stallions to breed more mares with fewer live covers per mare. Feed programs, supplements, and exercise regimens used by commercial breeders have made our yearlings bigger and more muscled, something the buying public apparently wants.
Is the industry better off with these so-called advancements? There is enough dissension on the answer to that question to suggest industry leaders take a serious look at the breed and commission a study to determine, if indeed Thoroughbreds of today are inferior to their ancestors, what has led to the decline.