In the movie Black Beauty, there is a scene when after running through a storm all night, Beauty (the horse) is taken care of by the inexperienced stable boy Joe. Beauty is in his stall, wet and steaming. Joe refuses to cover Beauty with a blanket thinking he is too hot, and then proceeds to give him cold water to drink. The next day, Beauty is found lying down and in pain.
Cold Water Myth
This scene may confuse general audiences and horse owners because it implies the cold water - "felt like a kick in the guts" - is what made Beauty sick. It's still a commonly held belief that if you give a horse ice cold water, especially after a heavy workout, it will colic. However, this is untrue. It's not that the water being cold will make horses sick, it's that horses do not generally like to drink ice cold water. Drinking cold water is uncomfortable on a horse's stomach making the horse tend not to want to drink much even if it's thirsty. People then draw to the conclusion that cold water makes horses sick when actually the sickness is likely brought on by the lack of enough fluids in the horses' systems. During very cold winter months, horses are in greater danger of becoming dehydrated because they won't drink as much water if it's nearly frozen, which can lead to colic, hypothermia, and other illness.
Hypothermia and Dehydration
This movie is based off a novel by the same name by Ann Sewell, and she describes more of Beauty's symptoms. Here is an excerpt from the book after the hard ride: I was glad to get home, my legs shook under me, and I could only stand and pant. I had not a dry hair on my body, the water ran down my legs, and I steamed all over....He [Joe] rubbed my legs and my chest, but he did not put my warm cloth on me; he thought I was so hot I would not like it. He then gave me a pail full of water to drink; it was cold and very good, and I drank it all; then he gave me some hay and some corn, and thinking he had done right, he went away. Soon I began to shake and tremble, and turned deadly cold, my legs ached, my loins ached, by chest ached, and I felt sore all over.
After a horse goes through a strenuous workout, it needs to be walked to help dissipate the excess heat produced by its muscles. Sweating and breathing both release heat from the body to help the horse's core temperature return to normal. If the stored heat is not properly released, it can become trapped in the horse's muscles and its core which can lead to colic and "tying up" aka rhabdomyolysis - a condition of muscle stiffness, pain, and trembling. At the same time, when a horse is being cooled down, it needs to replace all those lost fluids. Dehydration reduces blood flow to the muscles and organs, which can cause the core temperature to drop and make the horse hypothermic.
Proper Cool Down and Hydration
Two things that Joe did incorrectly with Beauty is he did not cool him down properly and he did not hydrate him enough. If your horse has had a hard workout, let it walk until it's breathing normally and not sweating. Also, let it drink. Make sure the water is a comfortable temperature (not ice cold) so the horse will want to drink enough. Keeping a horse from water while cooling it down may make it more difficult for its body to circulate blood properly and return back to a normal core temperature. Also, after only the horse is properly cooled and dry can a rug be placed on it. Trapped sweat can make the horse cold later on and also lead to skin problems.
It seems to be a divisive issue in the equitation community on when to let a horse drink after a hard work out. If you own a horse, what do you do after a hard work out? Do you let your horse drink water immediately or do you wait?
Let's explore the Grand National Steeplechase featured at the end of the 1944 movie National Velvet starring Mickey Rooney as Mi Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown. Here is a clip of the race from the movie: National Velvet Grand National.
First, here are some fun facts about the film.
1. Mickey Rooney was young once. Yes, this surprised to me, too.
2. The horse actor who played "The Pie" was named King Charles, and he was a first cousin to the famous thoroughbred racer Seabiscuit. Man O'War was their grandsire.
3. King Charles was gifted to Elizabeth Taylor after filming. They had developed a strong bond while making National Velvet that MGM decided to gift him to her on her 13th birthday. She kept him for the remainder of his life.
In the movie, The Pie is entered in the Grand National Steeplechase, one of the most exciting horse races in the world. The race was founded and designed by William Lynn and first raced in 1836. The race became official in 1839 in Liverpool, England where it is still raced today.
The circular course consists of 16 fences, but 30 jumps as the first 14 fences are jumped over twice. The total race distance is 4.5 miles long.
Notable fences on the course are fences 6 & 22 known as "Becher's Brook," fences 8 & 24 known as "The Canal Turn," and fence 15 known as "The Chair."
At Becher's Brook, the horse jumps up 5', but then lands 6' 10" down. With the longer fall, jockeys need to lean far back in their saddles to keep their seats.
At the Canal Turn, the horses jump over 5', but then need to immediately turn 90 degrees to the left. This turn has been known to confuse horses as some of them have wanted to keep running straight and not turn. There used to be a ditch before this jump, but it was removed in 1928.
The Chair is the tallest fence standing at 5' 3" with a 6' ditch on the take off side. The ground is also 6" higher on the landing side. It is also the only jump in the race's entire history to have claimed a jockey's life in 1862.
In the movie, Mi and Velvet cannot find a jockey to ride "The Pie," so Velvet decides she will race him even though she knows her and The Pie would be disqualified once the officials found out she was a girl. It was not until the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 passed that made it possible for female jockeys to compete. The first female jockey rode in the 1977 race, and the first one to complete the race was in 1982. The female jockey who had placed the best is Katie Walsh in 2012 placing in 3rd.
Here is a video of the actual 1962 Grand National Steeplechase that shows how intense this race is: 1962 Grand National
Have any of you been to the Grand National Steeplechase? What was your experience?
I am Amy. I love movies, TV, and horses. I grew up with horses and taught kids how to ride during my summer breaks from school. Now I am a country girl living in a city hoping to someday move back into a rural area and own a horse again.