Saturday, October 24, 2009

Did You Know?

Purebred horses don't have sex.

Well, thoroughbred racehorses do. This is euphemistically referred to as "live cover," but of course what it really means is that the boy horse gets on top of the girl horse and cheesy 70's guitar riffs play and 11 months later there's a little baby horsey that makes everybody say "awwwww" and then goes on to win a whole bunch of races.

But there are different breeds of horses for far more purposes than simply racing, although I feel I'm using the term "purpose" rather loosely here. There are cutting horses, reining horses, halter horses, etc.; horses which are very specifically and carefully bred to a number of different disciplines that don't really serve any practical use or even entertainment value on any large scale - just hobbies, really, for a small, closed circle of extremely wealthy individuals. It does seem to be a fairly comfortable life for the horses at least. If you don't mind celibacy.

We had a tour Thursday of a reining-horse ranch, given by the ranch's breeding manager, a calm, competent professional whose job I rather emphatically would not want. However, as it turned out later, her job is not quite as dirty as I first thought it was, when she talked about how the stallions do not "live cover" the mares, but that, um, "collections" are taken, and the mares are artificially inseminated. And since the mares whose genes are most desirable are show mares, to be kept in prime condition, the embryos are flushed out after a couple of weeks and implanted in some lesser, sucky mares that nobody cares about.

She led us at last into the breeding barn, with foaling stalls, rows of stalls for the babies (who are born in spring, so these were empty now) and a large, barrel-shaped object on poles. "What I do," she told us, "is, every other day, January through July, lead the stud stallion around through the mares to get him all warmed up and ready to go; then he gets up on this thing here" (indicating the barrel-shaped object) "and it has a receptacle for collecting the semen."

That's right, folks - at its last stop before disbanding and returning home, my tour group was looking at a sex doll for horses. And it struck me as a very great pity that we were visiting out of season, because if we'd gotten to see a demonstration, we could have said our tour had a happy ending!!!

This wildly inappropriate observation was kept to myself, but judging from the snickers and giggles among my group, I wasn't the only one thinking along those lines. It had been a very long week. We were tired.

I drove back to Austin with my friend and coworker Mary, who is one of the staff at our visitor center in Austin - one of the people for whom I occasionally fill in at lunchtime. Mary is possibly the funniest person I've ever met - joyful, sweet, outgoing, and full of hilarious stories she's picked up over the years. It is of course inevitable that two women in a car for three and a half hours will talk about sex - especially considering what we'd just seen.

"I used to work with this guy named Bill who was gay," Mary told me, "several years ago. Well, we had a little limited storage space for travel literature in a funny little closet under the stairs on the bottom floor of the headquarters building downtown. We kept the literature on a few shelves right in the front part of the closet, but if you shined a flashlight in there, you could see the space went back, around the corner, to who-knows-where. It was dark and really creepy. We called it Spider Corner. One time I noticed a box sort of around the corner, just the edge of it in sight, and I took a broom handle and pulled it out and found a whole bunch of copies of this cookbook from 1968, wrapped in plastic. Everybody in the building was all excited and they just went like hotcakes - man, I wish I'd kept one! And who knows what else might be back there? But nobody would ever go in, it was much too scary.

"Well, our boss at the time, he didn't know Bill was gay, and he was always asking him, 'Why don't you have a girlfriend? You seem like a guy with a lot on the ball. Why don't you get married?' So finally, to get him to stop, I told him, 'You know, Bill is gay,' but he turned out to be kind of homophobic and that really bothered him, so he decided he was going to 'cure' Bill. 'Look at that girl, she's awfully pretty,' he'd say. 'You should ask her out, she'd get you set up!'"

"Wow. He sure wouldn't be able to get away with that now," I remarked.

"I know, right?!" said Mary. "Talk about inappropriate! The boss really thought if Bill met the right girl, that he'd turn straight! So he kept trying to get him to date girls.

"So one day after one of these conversations, Bill comes up to me," she went on, "and he said, 'A vagina... a vagina, Mary...'" (in a horrified tone), "'oh, my God, Mary, a vagina... That's just like Spider Corner!!!'"

The only drawback of driving back to Austin for three and a half hours with Mary is that your sides and your throat hurt from laughing so much.

But it sure is educational!

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