The Grand National Post
Firstly I will nail my colours to the mast as it were. I don’t really like watching this race but I respect the tradition and the courage of the horses and riders. I also was Red Rum’s biggest fan as a kid so I support the race but I don’t exactly enjoy it. I’ll be at the Emirates Stadium tomorrow about that time, so I don’t suppose they’ll have split big screen to show it and I’ll be saved hiding upstairs as I have for the last few renewals!
These are my horses – State of Play, Rambling Minster and Darkness. The last-named will either float round on a silken thread or duck out in the first few. State of Play has the class and reminds me in stature and build of Rummy and Rambling Minster has been my National horse since Haydock.
Nonetheless I feel that the great expert on breeding of the thoroughbred, Federico Tesio, bears lengthy quotation here, lest we forget what we ask of these noble and generous beasts tomorrow.
We have ascertained that steeplechasers are incapable of passing on their skill over jumps, but we have yet to discover the cause of this phenomenon. Here is the explanation as it occurred to me.
One evening I had gone into the country to dine with a friend who owned a stable of steeplechasers. Near his villa three horses had been turned out in a fenced paddock – three steeplechasers, winners of many races over jumps. They were enjoying a month’s rest at the time, to restore their limbs and their spirits for further breathtaking feats over walls, rails and ditches.
When I arrived it was seven-o-clock, time for their evening meal. Sorry but I have a vision of equine fine dining here… The three famous acrobats of the turf were pacing nervously up and down by the paddock gate, waiting impatiently for a man to come and open it and take them to their stable where they knew their feed would be ready for them.
What was it, I wondered, that kept them from jumping that four foot gate? All three had won many races involving jumps of five feet and over, and this with the added burden of a man on their backs and with no incentive to justify their efforts. Yet there they were, hungry and impatient to get at their feed, waiting for a boy to come and open the gate for them.
I could only find one logical explanation: the act of jumping is contrary to the natural tendencies of the horse and is performed only under compulsion. If he is on his own a horse will avoid large obstacles and frequently even small ones. Of course one can teach a horse to jump out of a paddock over the gate at feeding time, but this would still be a form of compulsion. When a horse discovers that he cannot get at his oats unless he jumps a gate, he will undoubtedly jump it exactly on time every evening (provided, of course, that he is physically capable of doing so); but if he knows that a groom will eventually come to open the gate for him, he will with equal certainty await the man’s arrival and will not jump of his own accord.
A hungry lion will not hesitate to jump a six foot stockade to get at a calf. A cat will “gallop” away to escape danger, but he will seize the first opportunity to jump up on a window-sill or down into a cellar. Yet everyday we see loose horses galloping helplessly along a fence rather than jump it.
The physical build and mental qualities of the cat are well suited to jumping: a long, supple back, hocks close to the ground, springy feet, excellent eyesight and powers of concentration. Those of the horse, instead, are exactly the opposite: a short, rather rigid back, hocks well off the ground, hard feet and poor eyesight.
In motion the horse has four gaits: the walk, the trot, the canter and the all-out gallop. This last is the final recourse, even of trotters, in the face of danger. Jumping is a form of acrobatics imposed on the horse by man. It is without natural origin and it is for this reason that the aptitude cannot be passed on to his offspring. A child learns to walk without a teacher, but 50 generations of acrobats will never give birth to a child who can perform on a trapeze without being taught.
So we conclude that only natural characteristics can be inherited, not those acquired artificially and under pressure. Horses are incapable of passing on the ability to perform feats of jumping because high jumping is an artificial and unnatural trick.
Federico Tesio “Breeding the Racehorse”