The Other Woman

The way people rhapsodize about Rachel Alexandra, you’d think she was the only filly in racing.

ZenyattaBut there is another horse, another female equine in fact. One who could possibly make you forget all about little funny-face Rachel… Zenyatta. Named for an album by the Police, she belongs to the M in A&M records, and she is a rock star. She has a perfect record of 12 wins in 12 starts. Not bad.

However… as a horse owner, I take exception to calling Zenyatta the “perfect horse.” I watched “Z” win her 12th start Sunday, the Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del Mar,on TVG. (Which is still a novelty for me, having just acquired FIOS after a decade of non-cable TV viewing.) The TVG commentators were remarking on Zenyatta’s “strut” as she came into the saddling paddock. They enthused over her “game face,” her aggressive “winning attitude.” Or some such rot.

What I saw was—though stunningly beautiful—a rude, disrespectful mare with no ground manners! She kept thrusting her head over onto her handler, getting into his space. Oh, I know that move! I don’t care if you’re a $25,000 Arab or a $2.5 million Thoroughbred… it’s bad manners when a horse tries to push a human around.

One of the TVG guys said Zenyatta looked like a “Tennessee Walker,” the way she strutted. Well, I don’t know if the guy really knows what a Tennessee Walker looks like when they’re in high gear (they don’t quite look like that), but he was right in that Zen was not moving like a typical Thoroughbred. I’m sure you dressage fans would have recognized that Zenyatta was doing… the Spanish Walk!

Lusitano stallion doing the Spanish Walk

Lusitano stallion doing the Spanish Walk

Zenyatta doing her funny walk

Zenyatta doing her funny walk







For you non-dressage fans, the Spanish Walk is a walking gait where the forelegs are lifted in an exaggerated manner. Here is a video, for clarification (click the picture if the video’s not playing):


And below is a YouTube showing Zen’s funny walk in action. You can see her paw the ground (Pickle style!) and start to stiffen her forelegs about a quarter of the way through (at about 1:15). When she gets on to the track, she puts her head down and her legs slap the dirt like she’s doing some kind of swimming stroke (2:10). At one point (2:33) it looks like she’s ready to go into a nice sidepass, and at 2:48, I think she just wants to stop and piaffe for a while. Or maybe that’s a collected trot? All this in addition to winning races!

Zen’s Spanish Walk reminds me of another incident where a racehorse impersonated a dressage horse. Only this was haute école… one of the genuine “airs above the ground!”

This is Stephan’s Angel performing the croupade just before the Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico in 2004. Note how her body is perfectly parallel to the ground, hind legs tucked tightly under; I don’t think a Lipizzaner could do it better! Angel went on to finish second in the race. Another multi-talented Thoroughbred miss.

Stephans Angel in the air

Stephan's Angel doing the croupade

Lipizzan doing the croupade

Lipizzan doing the croupade

You see, all those directors of the Spanish Riding School were right when they said the movements of haute ecole were based on the horse’s natural actions.


2 responses to “The Other Woman

  1. Enjoyed the read !

  2. Amped up race horses do strange things. I spent my early life around barrel racers, crazy gymkana ponies and backwood match racers and I have seen horses do some amazing stunts before a race. One barrel racer would perform the courbette…..twice….before going in to run a perfect, fast pattern….every time.

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