|From a 1997 Hoof Beats interview...|
SOME OF AMERICA'S greatest horsemen say that Carter Duer is America's greatest horseman. Such superlatives, of course, are always subject to speculation, but what is not subject to speculation is the fact that Carter can fit a yearling for sale as well as any man in our sport.
It's not surprising that Carter is so skilled in the area of yearling preparation, because he learned under a master horseman in Bill Brown during the 1960s, when he worked for Brown at Castleton Farm.
Too often breeders think they can bring a yearling in a week or two before a sale, bathe it, run a brush over it a few times, and have a sleek product to sell. Nothing could be further from the truth. Carter--and all practical horsemen--know that.
Yearling preparation begins from the moment the foal is born. The first 18 months of that horse's life are geared toward making it look good for the couple of minutes it's in the sales ring, and to give it the foundation to go on and beat someone on the track. Carter shared his methods of yearling preparation in a Hoof Beats interview with Dean Hoffman in July 1997.
Hoof Beats: When do you wean, and what method do you use?
Carter Duer: Generally during October, after the Lexington sales and before Harrisburg. Before we wean, I try to group foals of the same sex together so that they'll get accustomed to each other before they arc weaned. I held-wean by simply taking a few mares at a time away from the foals until just the foals arc left in the field. It usually takes about a week to wean all the foals. but I have found this to be less traumatic for the foals.
After the Harrisburg sale, I group the weanlings into fields of about 12 or I5 weanlings, because most of my fields are about -30 acres. Each field has a shed, and you don 't want more than about IS weanlings using the same shed. Those groups of colts and fillies will stay together until we get them up for sale preparation.
HB: When is that?
Duer: Around the first of July , I try to start keeping them inside during the day and out at night. By doing this, I can keep the yearlings from gelling sunburned. Brown yearlings are the worst when they get sunburned ; their coats will bleach right out and almost look like buckskin. Once they get to that point, it' s tough to get rid of that sunburned hair. It's important to remember that preparing horse s for a sa le doesn't begin a month or two before the sale. It really begins from the time they're born, or even before they're born, when you' re making the mating. Once that foal is born, you've got to take care of it all the time until the moment it goes into the sales ring. You cannot allow your care to lapse. If you do, it will show up somewhere.
HB: From the time of foaling , how often are you trimming feet?
Duer: It depends on the individual and the time of year. In the winter a horse won' t grow much foot , but in the spring they start grow ing feet. Then, in the summer, when it's dry, they don 't grow much feet. On an average, we're trimming feet about every four to six weeks.
Duer: We tube-worm every month, and we alterna te products-Strongid C, Ivermectin, Eqvalan-to prevent them from building resistance to a ce rta in products. We also run a feca l count several times through the year to make sure our program is working. A proper worming program is very important.
HB: Some farms have raised yearlings in individual paddocks to prevent them from getting kicked and bumped around and having a lot of knots on them at sale time. Have you ever done that ?
Duer: No, not unless there was something wrong with a yearl ing and you've got to keep him by him self. Even if you only have two or three yearlings in a group, it's better than raising him alone. I know how frustrating bumps and cuts can be, but it is much better for the yearlings to be together. Horses are very social crea tures and need con tact with
one another. Of course, I realize that if you have a yearling who has the potential to bring a
lot of money at the sale, it's easier to put him in a paddock alone and not worry about him getting bumped and br ised by roughhousing with the other yearlings.
I remember when Jenna' s Beach Boy was a yearling at my farm. He was in a field with Stand Forever, Dontgetinmyway, and Tattler 's Torpedo. They were always playing rough. Dontgetinmyway was a little bitty fellow, but he was the boss of the field. Jenna went through his adolescence with hematomas on his chest and big knees. He took some blows from the others.
HB: Dontgetinmyway went on to win the Woodrow Wilson the next summer. But Jenna became an even greater racehorse . Do you think there is any truth to the old belief that a colt who is "boss of the paddock" will be the boss on the track, too?
Duer: Not always. But I can give you one example of a colt who was the complete boss of his group. In 1975, we had a field of colts at Castleton in front of the off ice. One of the
colts in there was Striking Image, who was from the first crop by Strike Out. Striking Image would never associate with the other colt s in that field . They would all be in a group on one side of the field and he 'd be on the ot her side. When the feed truck went in the field, the group of yearlings would rush up to the shed to eat, as is normal. Striking Image may have been on the ot her side of the field, but he was never in a hurry. He'd saunter over there at his own pace . But when Striking Image walked into the shed, the others would walk out.
There was no kicking, no squealing, no baring of teeth. When Striking Image got through eating, he'd walk out of the shed. Then the others would walk in. There was never any disturbance in that field. Striking Image never had a mark on him. He couldn't care less where the other yearlings were. He was the most dominant yearling I've ever seen, and he
went on the next summer to be the first 1:55 2-yea r-old in the sport's history.
Striking Image was a much better horse than what people remember. By contrast, just a year earlier, we had raised Alert Bret at Castleton, and he was one of the wimpiest yearlings ever. He was bad-looki g, and you knew that if any yearling was getting shut out at the feed
trough, it was Alert Bret, And he went on the next year to be a world champion.
HB: Do some fillies establish themselves as the queen of the paddock?
Duer: Fillies are nastier. They give you more trouble than colts as far as injuries. When they start coming into heat, their dispositions get bad, and thcy can do some damage to each other. One recent example that I can recall was Stienam 's Place. She was always an aggressive filly, and very tough . She went on to win the Sweetheart Pace the next year.
HB: What about yo ur f eeding program?
Duer: I feed the same thing all the time. It 's a l4 -percent protein pelleted feed that 's made locally by McCauley Brothers, which is a top firm. Their feed is the best quality and always very consistent. When you're feeding them in sheds, you have to watch to see if some yearlings might need a little extra feed, and we 'll try to put them in a group so that they can catch up. If some of the yearlings get too heavy, I'll try to put them in a group that doesn 't get quite as much feed. You have to watch your yearlings and treat them individually, and adjust your feed program according to their needs.
HB: Do you feed any vitamins or supplements?
Duer: Generally not, but if I have a yearling who is not a good doer, and who isn't thrifty and looking as I think he should, I will use some Lixotinic , which is a liquid vitamin. I have also used Red Cell, another liquid vitamin. I should emphasize that the yearlings getting vitamins are special cases, because most of them do very well on the pellet that I feed.
HB: What about your preferences in hay?
Duer: The best I can get, whether that be clover or alfalfa. It isn't always easy to get good hay. Last winter I went to hay cubes becau se good hay is so scarce . Hay
went up to $180 to $225 a ton during the last year. Most of the hay I feed is from Ohio. I
don 't think you can grow good hay in Kentucky; there is just too much moisture here.
HB: How do you handle yearlings chewing on the tails of the others?
Duer: There isn 't much you can do about it. We used to put bone oil on their tails, but I don't know if you can get it these days. It was awfully smelly stuff, and I'm not sure it ever helped us. Generally you have one yearling in a field who's chewing on all the tails. The
simplest way to solve the problem is to figure out which yearling is causing the problem and take him out of the field. It's easy to figure out which yearling is the one chewing tails, because he 's the only one in the field with a long tail.
HB: How many yearlings per grooms is ideal for you?
Duer: I'd like to have one groom for every five yearl ings, but I haven't had that luxury very often in recent years. In the old days at Castleton, we had one groom for every four yearlings. We had plenty of help, and good help . But now we'll try anybody.
HB: How do you leach peopl e who haven't prepped yearlings bef ore?
Duer: I have a few good people that have been with me many years. They do a great job instructing the newer employee s. Everybody has a different approach to grooming, and as long as the end results are the same, I don't say too much. If a yearling is not coming along like I expect it to, then I would step in and make
The most important tools in grooming the coa t are currycombs, soft brushes, and rags. The yearlings raised on our farm are introduced to the grooming process at the time of weaning. We rotate groups throughout the winter, leaving them in the barn for about a week at a time to keep them used to grooming and staying up. We use this time to worm, vaccinate, trim,
and work on any bumps or problems that some of the individual shave obtained.
HB: What' s your first priority once you get your yearlings up around mid-July?
Duer: I put shoes on the yearlings in front. Just flat plates wiiII do. I just want to hold the
condition of the foot from July until sale time. We start putting clay in the yearlings' feet right away, too. That holds the moisture in the foot.
HB: Whal do you bed yo ur sa e yearlings on?
Duer: Sawdust or bark. Straw is too expensive, and it takes too much time to clean a stall bedded with straw. Also, if you sta rt to cut back the hay on a yearling, he 'll start eating his straw. Most of our stalls have asphalt floors, and it's much easier for a foot to dry out when the floor is asphalt as opposed to clay or stonedust. So if you have asphalt floors , it is important to mud the fe t every day. You have to keep moisture in your foot to enhance growth.
HB: When the weather turns cool in early September do you start using blankets on your yearlings?
Duer: We 're bound to have a frost sometime in September before the sale, and Mother Nature is telling them to start growing hair. Not every yearling will wear a blanket , but I will start using blankets around Sept. 10 or so for the yearlings to be sold in Kentucky. Also, around Sept. I, I'll put them under a lighting program from dusk to about midnight, and those extra hours of artificial daylight will prevent the hair from growing out.
HB: The cold wealher would he even more of a problem with yearlings sold at Harrisburg , wouldn' t it?
Duer: I start prepping the Harrisburg yearlings the same time as I do the Lexington sale yearlings. If you don't start with them early, they will get ahead of you and start growing longer hair. In fact, in recent years, I think that the yearlings I've taken to Harrisburg have looked better than my Lexington yearlings.
HB: Why do you use vacuum cleaners on your yearlings?
Duer: I didn 't use vacuums years ago, but they're good for sucking dead hair out of a yearling or just getting dirt out. I use vacuum cleaners a lot when we 're selling broodmares in a mixed sale. And I use it when we have turnouts at the farm, because the first thing a horse will do when he's turned out is go roll in the mud.
HB: What' s the best materia lfor a rub rag--terry cloth?
Duer: Actually, the best are those English rub -rags, but they're expensive. Most of the towels used on our farm corne from the house. When our bath towel s go bad, they end up at the barn. It takes a lot of good. old-fash ioned elbow grease and rags to produce that "sale shine." But, to reiterate--to have that shine on the outside, you have to have given proper care from birth. I'm talking about correct feeding and monthly worming. I do add flaxseed meal and corn oil to the evening feeding when the yearlings are brought in for sale prep. And the rub-rags bring oil to the surface. Products like baby oil or oiled rags are great for using just before you send a yearling into the sale ring, and we'll use them then, but I
don't want my grooms using any product like that weeks in advance of the sale. Using those external products too far in advance of the sale is one of the worst things yo u can do,
because any dirt will adhere to that product. That will j ust make the yearling look worse.
HB: How often do you bathe your yearlings?
Duer: Not that often. Mainly we bathe them more in the first co uple weeks of August, when we 're trying to loosen the dead hair. If yo u curry a yearling thoroughly, then bathe him and curry him again, the hair will just roll off a colt. Bathing takes away the shee n that you're striving for in a yearling. If you bathe a horse too often , you' ll dry up the hair and wind up with a dull coat. Bathing defeats the purpose of adding the oil to their feed. We use a little Orvus soap in their bath water. I've used it for years, and a little bit goes a long way.
HB: What about treating manes and tails?
Duer: We use the cheapest hair conditioner we can find . Sometimes we 'll get yearlings with brittle manes and tails, and we 'll mix an Avon product called Skin So Soft and water, and have it in a spray bottle.
HB: Back to the shoeing. You put shoes on them in July before you bring them in to prep them. How often are they reshod?
Duer: Every month. If I can get enough hoof growth, I'd like to have them shod three times before the sale. I want their feet to grow. I use Reducine, Venus of Turpentine, and a little DMSO around the coronary band to stimulate growth. The only thing I use on the hoof wall
is hoof oil. We oil a yearling 's hooves about every other day until we go to the sale. Then every time a yearling gets shown in the last week before the sale, his feet get oiled. That oil keeps their feet good because we don't mud their feet as often when they have to be shown a lot to buyers. Years ago, I made my own hoof oil by using fish oil, olive oil, and a little
kerosene to help it penetrate, but now I use the Reducine oil.
HB: How do you handle warts on yearlings?
Duer: Just cut them off. And rub mineral oil or Vaseline on them. A horse cannot get a health certificate to go to Canada if he has a wart, so rather than waiting for the warts to fall off, we help nature along by cutting them off.
HB: What type of exercise program do you have for your yearlings?
Duer: There are many methods for exercising horses . Some people use treadmills, golf carts, and/or ponies . More people are using round pens and lounge-lining them. But I try to stick as close to nature as possib e: we just turn them out. The ones that need more exercise we turn out more. If they tend to be lazy in the paddock , and I want some weight off them , we use shaker cans to keep them moving instead of eating grass. If I have a yearling I'm trying to put weight on, and all he does is run in the paddock, then he gets less time out. Again, you have to treat them individually. Horses change; you have to be flexible enough to change with them.
HB: A properly filled leather halter is a nice finishing touch for a yearling. Do you like to use Chiffney bits on yearlings?
Duer: We get our halters from Pinkston 's or Fennell 's here in Lexington. I never used a Chiffney bit on a horse in all the years I was at Castleton, but I do now. A Chiffney bit
distracts a yearling and keeps his attention; plus, you have a little more control of stud
colts if they get a little rough. When you sell at the Kentucky Standardbred Sale you're outside and there are a lot of distractions, so the Chiffney bit is very useful.
HB: Do you bandage your yearlings or tranquilize them when you ship them to the sales arena?
Duer: No, I don t like to tranquilize them. I don't usually wrap legs for the local sales. When we ship to Harrishurg, we might bandage some. By the time they've been handled for a couple months and shown to buyers, they are pretty good about riding on a truck. You occasionally have a problem gettng a yearling on or off the truck , but very seldom,
HB: Do buvers have a prejudice on color in yearlings? And what about size!
Duer: Every chestnut Stand ardbred that' ever been sold has been penalized because of his color. Harness horse trainers just don't like chestnuts that well. As far as size , buyers will penalize yearlings that fall into the extremes, Buyers don't like little yearlings, but I
think the great big yearlings are penalized even more. The modern trainers don't like
the big horses, while the older trainers preferred big horses.
HB: Do you think there is one mistake that is commonly made by people looking at yearlings? Doug Ackerman once told me that many buyers are so busy looking at the
individual part s of the yearling that they never take the time to stand back and look at the whole horse.
Duer: That's true, and that was told to you by one of the few people now who really know how to look at a yearling. Buyers are busy looking for the bad things and not for how all the parts of the horse fit together. A lot of the horsemen in the past were excellent judges of a horse. Billy Haughton and Glen Garnsey looked for the good in a yearling. If the good in a yearling outweighed the bad, they might bid on him . Joe O' Brien had a peculiar method . He would come late in the day, and all he wanted to do was to go into a stall by him self. He didn' t wanI you to hring one out. Joe never did a lot of touching. In fact, my opinion is, the better horsemen don' t do a lot of handling. If you see a guy come to look at a yearling, and he's not pinching and prodding a yearling, he 's the real horseman. I have to laugh when some o f these guys who don 't know what they 're doing pick up a foot and try to sight something. What 's th at going to tell them? And many of them pick up only one foot: apparently they forgot that a horse has four feel.
HB: How important are video tapes in showing a yearling?
Duer: A good video can help you and a poor one can hurt a yearling. Even if you just have an average video, it still helps because so few people come out to see a horse turned out.
HB: You've mentioned that Joe O' Brien just slipped into a stall to inspect a yearling and didn't want to see it out. How important is it to see a yearling move?
Duer: Everyone wants to see a yearling walk, but what a person learns from that is beyond me . Unless it' s a very, very obvious problem, I don 't think you can tell much about a yearling 's gait by watching him walk. When most horses walk, they will tip their foot to the inside. You 'll hear people say, "Oh, he 's going to hit his knees," That's ridiculous. That
yearling might handle his feet differently when he 's moving at speed. If you want to judge
how a yearling moves. you should see it running, trotting, or pacing. Then you can
make a better determination. I believe the importance of walking is overrated, and yet I have walked thousands and thousands of miles showing yearlings to buyers. If they ever learned
one thing from it, I sure don't know what it was.
lt's not so had if a buyer wants to see a yearling move in the aisle at the sale barn a little, but if you have to walk a yearling up and back eight or ten times, it 's a waste of time. If you get a yearling that attracts a lot or attention, he 's going to be in and out of his stall and up and down that aisle all day long. The the groom will go into the stall to show the yearling to someone, and the colt balks and doesn 't want to come out of his stall. So people say. "Oh, he 's sour." Well, anyone would be sour if put through that routine. Come to think of it. I' ve been involved in harness racing since I was a kid--and I' ve never seen a walking race on any
condition sheet. Race secretaries don't write walking races for horses. You get to see a lot more if you turn a yearling out in a paddock . With the yearlings thaI I sell, we're more than happy to turn them out for a buyer, In fact, I want buyers to see them turned out.
If you really want some idea of how a horse moves, see him turned out. Most of the good
horsemen want to see the yearlings turned out if possible.