Seabiscuit, An American Legend

Hillenbrand, Laura

Random House, 2001

p. 27

“In his course from meadows and rangeland to back roads and bullrings, Tom Smith had cultivated an almost mystical communion with horses. He knew their minds and how to sway them. He knew their bodies how they telegraphed emotion and sensation, and his hands were a tonic for their pains. In his era, racing was a business made rigid by tradition and imitation, superstition and wives’ tales. Even mainstream trainers would drop pennies in mares’ water buckets to halt estrus, or exhaust themselves trying to get a mane that fell to the left-a bad omen-to fall to right. But Smith was a radical departure from conventional trainers. He followed no formulas, no regimens, no superstitious rituals. The wisdom he harbored was frontier-tested. He approached each horse as a distinct individual and followed his own lights and experience to care for it. Horses blossomed in his care. Perhaps Smith spoke so infrequently because he was listening so hard. Horses speak with the smallest of motions; Smith heard and saw every one of them . . . Sometimes he would become so absorbed in watching a horse that he wouldn’t move for hours. At times he wouldn’t leave the horses, not even to go over to the grandstand to watch the races, for weeks on end. He built ingenious training devices out of whatever was lying around, brewed up homemade liniments, prepared his horses in exactly the way they said he shouldn’t. He carried a stopwatch, but left it in his pocket; he had an uncanny ability to judge a horse’s pace by sight, and he resented any distraction that might make him miss a nuance of movement. ‘I’d rather depend on my eye than on one of those newfangled timepieces,’ he said. ‘They take your attention off your horse. I got a watch and it works, too, but the eye is better.’”