I am reminded, as news reaches me of one friend returning from far-flung ski slopes with parts of his body not entirely attached to other parts, and another recovering in hospital after having his spine rebuilt to correct a cycling smash, that as human beings (and I use that phrase loosely as far as some of my friends are concerned) we are just not suited to certain things. However much we practice, strapping either two sticks or two wheels to ourselves before plummeting down a mountain seems an eccentric and somewhat foolhardy pastime.
I am not immune from the absurdity. I have skied and I have cycled. We have all driven cars, sat at desks, watched television, and taken part in distortions of what falls under the banner of natural human activity, if you take a long-term and evolutionary view of things. The more we do them, the more usual they become and the better we become at them, but that does not dismiss the truth that we were not designed to have sticks or wheels beneath our feet, nor metal boxes around or in front of us. Eventually, something breaks.
After decades of doing what I used to call ‘rowing’ on a machine, and inspired by the continued efforts of my eldest, in a fit of new-year-positivity I recently joined a local club and discovered the joys of attempting to row on real water. It has been both persistently frustrating and fleetingly exhilarating as I discovered that the two disciplines are chalk and cheese. I suppose I really should have realised that the piston motion of an ergo is a world away from the forces acting around a pivot, not to mention the exquisitely unattainable perfections of manipulating a blade in moving water. I am just lucky that, despite an obviously deteriorating mind and body, I am pursuing a challenge where I am unlikely to crush vertebrae or snap shoulder ligaments.
How does this all relate to a horse racing blog (you may rightfully ask)? Well (he said, scrambling for an answer), there really is nothing more natural for a horse than to run. Darwinian theory has perfected an animal that congregates in packs and moves fast across open spaces and occasional obstacles.
In that sense horse racing, although resolutely niche in the modern scheme of things, is one of the most historic and natural sports on this planet. Cycling and skiing seem contrived in comparison because they are a perversion of the natural state of things. Name some others:- football, rugby, cricket, golf….. These are all relative youngsters compared to the timeless and simple thrill of watching horses running with each other, and none of them existed if you were to just rewind slightly along the timeline of our existence. Of course, rules and jockeys and equipment and betting – these are all relatively new additions to horse racing, and very worthy and necessary ones, but they do not detract from the essence of the spectacle and the purity of the competition that is essentially unchanged over millions of years.
Don’t get me wrong – I have played all of the sports in that list above, enjoyed most, and admired others that do them far better than myself. I have thoroughly enjoyed my brief flirtation with what is real rowing, and recognise the artificial version as being of significant benefit to my physical and mental wellbeing over the last twenty years. All of these latter-day pursuits are worthy and entertaining. Yet the one sport that continues to draw my attention more than any other is the one I have never played or performed, and probably never will.
I have always struggled to fully comprehend the hold it has over me, this passion in which I can never relate to its participants. Perhaps it has taken 44 years of my life, and the even greater manufactured contrivance of writing a blog, to finally understand why I love horse racing – at its core is an act as natural and beautiful as the rising of the sun and the falling of the rain.