Horses & Human Runners Are Not so Different
"It’s such an intense pain. It starts in your gut and then fans out to your extremities. Your quads, your shoulders. By the end, it just feels like your whole body is on fire.” - Alan Webb
By Tim Layden, Sports Illustrated
LOUISVILLE – There will come a moment, early Saturday evening in the 144th running of the Kentucky Derby, when just a few horses remain in contention for the roses, the trophy and a big pile of money to be distributed among some humans afterward. Most of the field of 20 will have been thinned off due to lack of sufficient talent or disadvantageous competitive circumstances. Those remaining horses will be urged toward the wire by their jockeys, who will furiously shake their reins or raise their whips. The crowd will roar with such passion that the Churchill Downs grandstand will tremble. It is a moment of intense emotion, some of it—but not nearly all of it—concentrated on mutual tickets clutched in sweaty hands.
And in this intense moment, my mind will briefly drift off to a quiet corner and wonder in silence: What does this effort feel like to the horse?
Don’t fret. This is a not a story about the ethics of thoroughbred horse racing, which is a discussion always worth having, just not right here. It is a story about athletes, both human and equine, and the ways in which one species’ accomplishments are consumed differently from the others’, when perhaps they are very much alike. It is about the extraordinary effort involved in running two minutes—give or take—at maximum effort, a brutal dance along the line that separates physiological limits from competitive will.
And okay, it’s also about the quirky curiosity of a sports journalist who was once a runner and has written far too many words about both human and equine runners for any one person. But people paid me to do it, so here we are.
It’s impossible to pinpoint when I first became fascinated with learning something—anything—about what a horse feels while racing. But two moments stand out.
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