Valentine’s Day Hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day, horsey friends and book friends! You’re my favorite overlap on the Venn Diagram of my obsessions.

I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolates or flowers, or anything, because I’m a snooty kind of person about holidays in general… I need a better reason to buy things or demand things than “this aisle at Target is even more red than usual,” but there are some traditions no one should turn their nose up at. I am, of course, referring to candy hearts! Which are disgusting in real life! But are fun to turn into memes!

equestrian valentine's day hearts

Happy Valentine’s Day, you crazy horsepeople!

The other tradition is tomorrow’s half-off candy sugarthon. There better be some Reese’s Hearts left over at Walgreens!! (I will make this a healthy tradition this year by riding my bike there. Maybe.)

It’s true a big chunk of my disregard for all commercial holidays comes from my non-holiday-celebrating youth (I belonged to one of those religions at the time), but any chance I had at being a normal American consumer was also stymied by my status as an equestrian. Holidays? What holidays? Every day is the same when you have horses to feed and stalls to muck.

Back when I was riding in the New York City Parks Department, one of my colleagues was upset because my partner and I took the horses out on a short patrol of Central Park on Christmas Day.

“But the horses need to go out and stretch their legs,” I argued. “Why would I skip riding just because it’s a holiday?”

In actuality I should have skipped riding because it was about twenty-two degrees and windy that Christmas Day, but we managed to do a turn around the lower park loop without losing any of our extremities. And the horses seemed to enjoy themselves.

But the food element of any holiday is something all equestrians can get behind, so three cheers for chocolate hearts, and I’ll see you in the check-out line tomorrow, my arms overflowing with sweetness.

Thanks everyone for making 2019 such a special year so far! You all deserve a fantastic Valentine’s Day – and as much chocolate as you can carry tomorrow.

Lots of love,

Natalie

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The Hidden Benefits of Betting on Horse Racing

Do you bet on horse racing?

There’s a sizable portion of the equestrian market who don’t ever bet on horse racing, even if they do enjoy the sport itself. But you might be missing out on more than the excitement of shouting home your winning horse. You’re also missing the opportunity to contribute to an equine industry that has a tremendous impact on the health and well-being of all horses, from Shetlands to Shires.

This is a sponsored post. However, all opinions are my own.

Horse racing benefits all breeds and disciplines of horses with funding for medical breakthroughs.

Horse racing benefits all breeds and disciplines of horses with funding for medical breakthroughs.

That’s because so many of our scientific advancements in veterinary health come from the racing industry. Universities such as UC Davis set up labs to research orthopedics, or nutrition, or a myriad of other veterinary research opportunities that directly affect racehorses and indirectly, as research filters in commercial products, to show and pleasure horses. Racehorse-based studies inform everything from the footing in our arenas to the drug testing at our horse shows. Research labs such as the Equine Science Center at Rutgers University include racehorse-specific study programs — Rutgers’ operates the Equine Exercise Physiology Laboratory — and on their website state, “The work of the Equine Science Center has a measurable and direct impact on all users of horses in the state of New Jersey, irrespective of discipline and breed.”

Show horses enjoy advancements in sports medicine found through racing-funded studies.

Show horses enjoy advancements in sports medicine found through racing-funded studies.

So let’s talk about the backbone of horse racing revenue: betting. The horse racing betting industry is worth billions in the economy, and it’s from wagering revenues that we see race purses, and it’s high race purses that can attract big financial backing for horsemen, resulting in better breeding, better training, and better horses.

Going to the races and placing a bet is easily the most exciting way to bet on horses, but if you’re like me, you can get just as much excitement from watching racing at home. (Maybe more — if you’ve done the schlep between the paddock and the rail a few too many times, you know the true meaning of exhausted feet.) In this case you can use an online betting app or website like William Hill. Horse racing betting at William Hill is just one of the opportunities the site offers, but I think we all know it’s the most interesting!

william_hill_logo

When I bet on horse racing I’m getting more than just excitement out of it — I’m getting the satisfaction of supporting horsemen who pour their lives into their horses’ wellbeing, and supporting the future veterinary advances which keep all our horses healthy and happy. If you’ve been with me online long enough, you know I’ve spent time in every aspect of the racing industry, from breeding to training centers to exercise riding and grooming horses at major racetracks. If you have questions about racing, or how things are done at the racetrack, please ask! I’m happy to answer them! You can also find a collection of writing I did at the racetrack over on Retired Racehorse Blog.

Pictures from Pimlico

A few quick pics from the road, as we are in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes! 

  
We had an amazing spot on the inside rail, thanks to a table in the Turfside Terrace. It made for intimate looks at the turf races.

  Black-eyed Susans – orange juice with vodka and Maker’s Mark? Something like that. These were served from a pre-made jug but they were still delicious so that says something about a successful recipe! The awesome glasses were only $10 with the drink – that’s a very economical price for such an iconic souvenir.

  
The start of the Black-Eyed Susan  Stakes. Everything was pink. Even the starting gate.

  
I brought along Ambition for the book signing event and sold out! Turning For Home was popular too. I was so lucky to be with Eliza McGraw, author of the new racing history Here Comes Exterminator! We had so much fun meeting fans and doing a little celebrity-spotting (trainers and jockeys edition).

  Crossing the course after the racing day ended. It was such a beautiful day of thoroughbreds and sport!

Preakness Week Book Signing Event at Pimlico

Are you ready for the Preakness Stakes?

If you’re in Maryland this weekend, add Pimlico Racecourse to your plans on Friday. That’s because it’s Black-Eyed Susan Day, a celebration of all things Maryland horse-racing. There’ll be barn tours, giveaways, live racing (the Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, plus more!) and book signing events with some equestrian authors… like me!

Turning For Home coverI’ll be signing copies of my horse racing and Thoroughbred retirement novel Turning For Home, the recent finalist for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award. I’ll also have a few copies of my eventing novel, Ambition, on hand for anyone who wants them. You can also feel free to bring along any other titles by me you’d like signed!

I’d love to meet readers and talk horses and books with you, so please come out!

There will be several other authors there as well: Eliza McGraw will be signing Here Comes Exterminator!  and Joanne Beusch will be signing Brightly Shining: The Horse No One Wanted.

Find the horse books by the grandstand from 12 PM – 2 PM! Proceeds from our books will benefit the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and Maryland Komen.

Preakness Day Credentials and book award stickers!

Preakness Day Credentials and book award stickers!

We’ll also be at the races on Preakness Day. This is my first time at Pimlico, and my first Preakness! After four or five Belmont Stakes, I figure it’s time to diversify my Triple Crown portfolio. No word yet on when I’ll be adding the Kentucky Derby to the mix.

Follow me on Twitter (@nataliekreinert) and Facebook — I’ll be live-tweeting from the races for as long as my phone signal and battery hold out!

The Barn Behind “Show Barn Blues”

I was sorting through some photos on my computer (because I have too many, and it’s destroying my processing speed) when I realized I had a full stash of photos from the equestrian center that inspired Show Barn Blues. Since I went to a lot of trouble to describe the barn and grounds, I thought it might be fun to share them here.

These were taken by a gentleman who wanted to practice using his new camera. I’m not sure he had any horse knowledge, but he got some compelling shots nonetheless. One day a few weeks after I gave him permission to wander the grounds taking photos, he dropped off a CD of the photos, and I’ve had them ever since. There aren’t many exterior shots, but I think this gives you an idea of where it all started.

A Thoroughbred gazes down the aisle

The stalls with grills that opened were very desirable. This was one of the few OTTBs at the barn; I loved him. Forgot his name though. His back window would look out on the grass between the barn and the covered arena; not sure why it was closed here.

Looking down the barn aisle.

One of the aisles. Notice there are two aisles back-to-back, with a center aisle cutting the barn in half. If you squint you can see a high-up window above the stalls – that would be the apartments and Grace’s office. At the end of the aisle are the outdoor arenas. If this pair turns to their left, they’ll be heading to the covered arena. If they turned to the right, they’d pass the wash-stalls before entering the other aisle. The dress code was very formal here; instructors wore boots and breeches every day. This particular instructor had a background much like Kennedy’s – she rode in a now-closed dinner show attraction.

Wash-stalls in the center of the barn

The wash-stalls in the center of the barn, where school horses waited their turn. Someone should have knotted up these reins better!

Determined young rider.

A determined young rider who is probably now an adult riding in the dressage arena (the chains must be down for some reason). Behind is the covered arena with the usual weekend crowd of parents watching lessons.

Owner riding.

An owner out in the jumping arena on her horse. Behind her, a section of the barn not included in my books: the tack shop and lounge. In the books, the barn ends before the arenas, and the second-floor deck looks out over them.

The jumping arena

A riding instructor out in the jumping arena. If you rode out there at night, you could watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks just a little ways beyond those pine trees in the distance. That was typically also where the sky grew dark before approaching storms. The county highway is just beyond the fence but blocked by shrubbery. Across the street is, indeed, luxury homes, although at the time it was a watermelon field.

Horse at equestrian center

I think this is Splash. I used his name in Pride, maybe Show Barn Blues as well. He was a popular school horse for advanced riders. In the background, the covered walkway to the covered arena, and he’s standing in the end barn entrance.

With just a few changes, this is the barn in my mind when I work on book set at Seabreeze Equestrian Center. Does it look anything like you imagined?

48 Hours in The Bluegrass: Part 1

Were we in Kentucky for 48 hours? We stayed three nights, so that isn’t quite right. But we only had two full days to take in the Bluegrass region — and believe me, it wasn’t enough.

We went to Lexington for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award reception, held at Castleton Lyons, a stunning Thoroughbred farm which is home to stallions Gio Ponti and Justin Phillip. (Since we saw Gio Ponti race several times, we were especially excited to meet him in person! Horse star struck!)

Keeneland's Walking Ring from the Phoenix Room

Keeneland’s Walking Ring from the Phoenix Room

My novel Turning For Home was a finalist for the award, along with two other books about horse racing. This was basically an awesome excuse to finally visit Lexington! We had driven through once years before and stopped at Kentucky Horse Park, where I walked on the cross-country course and found Ralph Hill’s name on the huge chalkboard of competitors from the year before (I was his groom at the time), but that was it. Now we had a little time to explore.

First: Keeneland Racecourse. Just driving to this racetrack was amazing, because outside its gates are the fabled white fences and cupolas of Calumet Farm. Drive through the grand old entrance and the grounds are exquisite, green rolling hills dotted with old trees. There’s even a library. A library. At a racetrack. I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of my heaven.

Sadly there wasn’t time on this trip to visit the library. We took a quick look around the paddock and walking ring (beautiful, like a palace, which is what racehorses deserve) and watched a race from the apron, and then we hustled upstairs to the Phoenix Room for lunch hosted by Castleton Lyons. The Phoenix Room overlooks the walking ring next to the paddock, which is lovely. There were lots of desserts, which was even more lovely. (I really like desserts.)

After lunch we had time for another race before hustling to get ready for the award reception, which was held above the stallion barn at Castleton Lyons.

 

Castleton Lyons - just another perfect breeding farm in Lexington

Castleton Lyons – just another perfect breeding farm in Lexington

At the award reception I was expected to stand in front of people and speak, something that my introverted little soul can’t quite cope with. Luckily I had two things: a little Jameson for courage, and whole lot of passion for my subject. Once I stood up and started talking about why I had written Turning For Home, everything was fine. I’m not sure what I said — something about retiring racehorses, something about how Thoroughbreds were the greatest athletes in the world, something about how much we love our horses, despite the way certain activists would like to portray Thoroughbred breeders and owners — but people applauded, which was nice.

My face on the wall at the book award reception.

My face on the wall at the book award reception.

The honors of the evening went to John Carter, author of Warriors on Horseback, a non-fiction book about jockeys. It’s impossible to feel any regret over not winning because John was Skyping in from England, and after he won, his wife brought his dachshund on-screen and waved its little paw at all of us in Kentucky. It was adorable. Totally worth letting John win this round!

After the award was announced, there was some more “mingling,” which is when I stood very quietly by a table and tried not to look like I was going to have a panic attack. The second half of the reception was much better than the first, though, because now people knew who I was, and wanted to come up and chat with me about the book, encourage me to write more and try again for the big prize in another year, and talk about off-track Thoroughbreds, and their own retirement stories.

It was really lovely to talk with some of the owners about how deeply they identified with my words. There are good horse-people in racing who are vilified with no warrant at all, simply because there are some bad people in the sport who don’t take care of their horses. It’s akin to painting every single show-jumper, or dressage trainer, or trail horse rider, with the same black brush because a former jumper or dressage horse or trail horse was found starving at an auction–and yet that doesn’t happen. That kind of pointless name-calling and groundless accusation is reserved for the horse racing business, and it’s ridiculous. It’s not just ridiculous, it’s genuinely hurtful for people who love their horses.

Anyway, back to the event.

The Castleton Lyons stallion barn has an amazing entryway with memorabilia devoted to Gio Ponti and Justin Phillips.

Including these beauties:

Eclipse Awards

Gio Ponti’s Eclipse Awards – first ones I’ve seen in person!

 

Absolutely lovely to see. I love the art and science of Thoroughbred breeding, possibly more than anything else in the world of horses. I’m hoping to visit Kentucky in the fall and make the rounds of stallion shows at the various farms — if I don’t make it back this year, I may have to do it in Ocala instead.

The whole night wound up with a late dinner. If you can imagine a lot of racing journalists sitting around eating cheesecake and drinking wine while talking Derby prospects, that was pretty much the evening. For a girl who doesn’t go to parties because she might have to talk to someone, listening to the conversation was pretty great.

That was the first half of our 48 hours in the Bluegrass. I’ll write up the second half later — it includes a visit to Three Chimneys, where I met Will Take Charge!

Book Award News

Well, for the second year, I have a novel up for the Dr. Tony Ryan Book Award!

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00016]I couldn’t be more proud of Turning For Home, the fourth novel in the Alex and Alexander series. Set in horse racing like the other novels in the series, Turning For Home deals more with retirement issues, including the dangers that rabid animal-rights activists can pose for horse owners, whether they’re guilty of horse abuse or not. The book features some racing, but it looks more at retraining an off-track Thoroughbred, and even features a Most Wanted Thoroughbred-style competition.

Because of these themes, I wasn’t really sure how the award judges would view Turning For Home. Would it be too horse-show oriented for a racing panel? Would they see the animal-rights activists as a little too negative for a prize meant to celebrate horse racing?

I was thrilled to bits to see that I was wrong. Here’s what the press release says about Turning For Home: 

This year’s second novel, Turning for Home touches upon a currently red-hot topic: re-training ex-racehorses. Author Reinert was a semi-finalist in 2014 with Other People’s Horses. In Turning for Home a Thoroughbred once schooled by protagonist Alex is found starving, and though she is faultless, Alex becomes a target of animal rights activists. The story follows her leave of absence from racing to re-school the horse for a new career … and to fight for her own reputation.

So, a semi-finalist once again — I couldn’t ask for more, really. I’m so excited at the way responsible racehorse retirement has become a front-and-central issue being addressed across the equestrian industry, from sport horse trainers to racehorse breeders, and everyone the horse will meet in between. When I started writing Retired Racehorse Blog more than six years ago, this big wave was a little ripple. Well, keep splashing, people!

The rest of the semi-finalist list is really, really good this year, including a novel called If Wishes Were Horses, a book on jockey craft and a book on jockey heroes, and a documentary-style book collecting stories from racetracks across the country. This is a “I’m just happy to be nominated” moment, for sure. You can see the rest of the list here at Paulick Report.

In other news, I went to the Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, March 12. I cried the first time the horses went by the clubhouse. Yes, it’s been a very long time since I went to the races. The next time I pick days off, I’m choosing days that are good for racing at Tampa. Monday/Tuesday are terrible days off if you want to go enjoy some pony-time. Here’s champion Tepin having a moment in the paddock, right before she set a track record in the Hillsborough Stakes:

 

Tepin in paddock, Tampa Bay Downs

Mares will be mares.

We made sure we were at the paddock just where she’d be walking and she did not disappoint. There was an ardent fan a few feet away from us who kept calling her “The Queen.” I read a line in a historical novel once, something like “the English love their queens.” You could say the same of us in horse racing: we love a good colt but man oh man do we love our fillies and mares.

Here’s another typical racing scene I had to capture. The hoses for spraying down the horses after the race are right in front of the clubhouse area at Tampa, so you can listen to the grooms and admire the horses while the winner is being photographed off in the winner’s circle:

Shower at Tampa Bay Downs

Shower before the walk home.

I haven’t been paying much attention to the Triple Crown prep this year, with so much work on my plate, and I can’t even remember who won the Tampa Bay Derby — awful, I know! But I think a lot of us came away thinking more of the commanding style of Tepin winning the Hillsborough more than anything. When you see an Eclipse Award-winning mare come out and pound out a track record, it tends to put three-year-old colts in perspective. You’re still just little boys, my friends. But your time will come!

That’s all for now. Have you read any of the other book award nominees? Which one’s your pick for the big win?