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So I asked Jane Smiley about Waterwheel

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  • So I asked Jane Smiley about Waterwheel

    Some of you may remember some discussion about Jane Smiley from about a month ago, regarding her mare Waterwheel that recently went to action and sold for $1000. The mare was one of two horses prominently featured in her book A Year at the Races, and Jane Smiley owned her dam and bred Waterwheel, then raced her as a two year old, resulting in the mare breaking down. In the book she wrote adoringly about the mare and even hired animal communicators to truly understand the horse's perspective. Ms. Smiley then bred her a couple of times before the mare went to auction. When people learned that the mare had gone to auction, there was a bit of a ruckus, and some people pointed out we should give her a chance to present her side of the story and find out if sh even owned her at the time she went to auction. I attempted to contact Ms. Smiley via her website, but she doesn't list any way to contact her.

    So Jane Smiley was on the local public radio station today promoting her new book, which apparently is not horsey but sounds like it has tons of sex, at least according to Jane. I was trailering my mare over for a lesson but I couldn't resist the opportunity to get her side of the story. So I called up the station and described my question, and they put me on as the second caller. The prior caller and the interviewer were gushing about what a fabulous writer she was and asking her what had inspired her to write A Thousand Acres, the book she won a Pulitzer for. I don't think she was expecting any challenging questions. I was quite polite and introduced myself as a fan who had read most of her books, and mentioned that I was also a horse person who had enjoyed Horse Heaven and A Year at the Races. I then asked her if it was true that the mare she spoke about with such deep affection in the book had been sold at auction for $1000, and if she had made any attempt to find a home for her in the horse community before sending her in foal to auction. A moment of shocked silence, followed by a fumbling and eventually arrogant response. She said Waterwheel was small and unsound, and that she was a broodmare. She said no one in the horse community would have wanted her, and that she thought she would get more money at the auction, but that the economy was poor this year. She said that if I knew anything about the TB racing world I would know that this was how things worked. Unfortunately they cut me off before I could respond, since I have spent some of time on the backside of a track and have rehabbed horses from the track. I know that not everyone may agree, but in my opinion responsible owners and breeders should not simply dump horses at low-end auctions, especially if there are alternatives. The one saving grace was that she said she has cut down to nine horses and will not be breeding racehorses anymore, since it's not economically feasible (What, you thought you would make money at this?).

  • #2
    a 501(c)3 organization helping 501(c)3 equine rescues


    • #3
      Responses like hers are part of the reason horse racing has such a bad reputation.
      Blog: My journey with two OTTB's


      • #4
        Don't you hate it when people confirm that they really ARE as bad as the gossip says?
        Every mighty oak was once a nut that stood its ground.

        Proud Closet Canterer! Member Riders with Fibromyalgia clique.


        • #5
          Good on you for calling her out. What a hypocrite! Not surprised the radio station disconnected you. Most folks today want fairy tales, not reality. You know the mentality, "Well, if you don't have anything nice to say..."


          • #6
            Color me not surprised. Yes, apparently her horses **are** just a business commodity to her ... despite what she says to sell books.

            Good on you for asking!


            • #7
              Way to go, vali! I'm sure she probably felt ambushed by your question and for that, I feel a bit sorry for her. But it was great that a reader got a chance to publicly point out the hypocrisy of her actions.


              • #8
                It is nice to get a chance to hear her side. Too bad her side was as bad as we thought

                Sort of sucks becuase I really liked her books and now I just can't feel the same about them.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by A.Roose View Post
                  Color me not surprised. Yes, apparently her horses **are** just a business commodity to her ... despite what she says to sell books.

                  Good on you for asking!
                  I second that! Good job calling her on it. Big Bad Liars of the world watch out, COTH Dogs will get you!
                  "Farriers are the hairdressers of the horse world. They know everything about everybody..."-Lildunhorse


                  • #10
                    Good job ... she'll be appearing in San Francisco tomorrow night (4/24)


                    Sorry I won't be there for the Q&A.


                    • #11
                      uhm guys... TB auctions are not like meat auctions. Meat buyers aren't even allowed to buy there. If you are selling or buying a TB its done via a TB auction 95% of the time. So she sold a horse. Big deal.


                      • #12
                        Kudos, vali. This hurts me to hear it, as I am a fan of her work. Sounds like she may have been drinking the kool-aid that some other thoroughbred people have been serving up, all along.


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Sandra6500 View Post
                          uhm guys... TB auctions are not like meat auctions. Meat buyers aren't even allowed to buy there. If you are selling or buying a TB its done via a TB auction 95% of the time. So she sold a horse. Big deal.
                          What world do you live in? Every time they have the Thoroughbred sale in Washington, the kill buyers get a bunch. If they do not bid on them in the sale, they buy the no saled ones in the barn.

                          BTW, we had a lady who called the new owner and apparently Waterwheel won the horse lottery and has a good home with someone who loves her and intends to keep her long term. No thanks to Ms. Smiley who put less effort into selling her than I put into selling my last car.

                          And Vali - kudos to you for putting her on the spot. Major applause here. Her fans should know that her words of love and devotion about her horses are targeted at selling books and putting money in her pocket, not based in truth.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Sandra6500 View Post
                            uhm guys... TB auctions are not like meat auctions. Meat buyers aren't even allowed to buy there. If you are selling or buying a TB its done via a TB auction 95% of the time. So she sold a horse. Big deal.
                            well, meat buyers aren't supposed to be buying horses anywhere in CA..... but dealers who sell to them are at many auctions. (and, yes, I realize that $1,000 put her above meat price for the moment - so she may be safe thru one more pregnancy.)

                            Count me as another one who got taken in by Smiley's description of how much she cared for the horse.


                            • #15
                              i had the "pleasure" of meeting jane smiley at a reception once. never bought any of her books after after that.


                              • #16
                                Meat buyers aren't allowed to buy at TB auctions?!?!?!?!

                                And where would that be? Certainly not in California. And, why do we need a Canter organization anyplace at all, I wonder, if that's the case? And, TBs are never run through New Holland or any other of the hell holes that depend upon the meat men to clean up the debris of the racetracks? Or are you talking about the rarified air at the yearling auctions?

                                I think most of us here could give you a list of stakes winners who have ended up at auctions, on the way to the slaughter house. I am sorry to hear that the rumor was true in her case. Maybe she ought to explain to Zito "how things work in the TB world".

                                Contact Jane Smiley, if you want to, through her publisher. (Good for you, Vali.)
                                Barbaro Cultist, Metabolic Nazi


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by catknsn View Post
                                  What world do you live in? Every time they have the Thoroughbred sale in Washington, the kill buyers get a bunch. If they do not bid on them in the sale, they buy the no saled ones in the barn.
                                  Okay, so this horse was sold in the sale so clearly not going for meat. We can't assume that the person in the original post would have sold her to the meaters if she hadn't sold there. Assuming that isn't fair.

                                  I do believe that people should hang on to their horses. It makes me sad (and quite frankly sick) when I see some of these farms dump their mares that have produced 10 foals and just can't get pregnant again. But I also understand taht horses are sold all the time. I don't think taking a horse to the Winter sale at the track is the worst thing.

                                  Taking horses to the sale in Enumclaw is a whole different story obviously.

                                  Canter horses, btw, do not come from auction at all for the most part. They get their horses directly from the trainers/owners.


                                  • #18
                                    About Barretts Sale:

                                    Just for reference:

                                    Waterwheel sold at the Barretts Sale which is the biggest thoroughbred sale on the west coast. She was consigned by Harris Farms which is also a very big TB breeding/training company that is part of Harris Beef. Anyone can buy at Barretts but it is generally TB owners and breeders. A lot of broodmares in foal. My mom has gone a few times, once she won the wrong horse by accident

                                    It is correct that it is illegal for horses to be transported out of CA for slaughter and has been that way for a while now. But there are still buyers I think at the Norco auction... haven't been there in a long time.

                                    ETA: The minimum bid is $1,000. So if a horse is bought by meet buyers, it is behind the scenes afterward, directly from owner and not through the sale.

                                    To me it looks like she was sold at an auction that is advertised to a crowd that would likely be interested in her. Barretts is a reputable very large TB auction and the January and October mixed sales are the biggest I think.

                                    TBs are sold through auctions. I don't think it is that uncommon. This isn't a ranch auction around the corner.

                                    Many times at a place like Harris Ranch (don't know if this actually happens at harris in particular though), people interested in their horses going to Barrets will come to the farm and they will bring all their sale horses out to trot out for quick inspection in the weeks before the sale. Could have been that the person who purchased her did this and "had her eye" on her weeks before the sale. I know many people who do this. They will see twenty or more horses at one farm in only a few hours.

                                    ETA: Here's a thread about the Barretts Sale

                                    Anyway just wanted to give you all some background.
                                    Last edited by Granada; Apr. 23, 2008, 07:39 PM.
                                    "Bold Words was classier than all his competition. Straighter knees and a slim, elegant neck." -Nan Mooney My Racing Heart


                                    • #19
                                      As I posted on the thread about Waterwheel on the racing forum ... yes, the KBs do go to the TB sales in California; they simply go to the barns and pick up the horses that no-saled. The $1,000 upset fee that Waterwheel went for is the minimum bid at a sale such as Barrett's (and, yes, I've bought and sold horses there, so I kinda know how it works ). Which means that Waterwheel had no reserve on her; she and the foal she was carrying went to the only person willing to give a thousand bucks for them, and luckily it sounds as though they indeed won the owner lottery, no thanks to Smiley.

                                      The Barrett's Winter Mixed Sale is very much a mixed bag; you get everything from yearlings that will never make the select sales, to horses still racing, to stallions and stallion prospects, to broodmares young and old. It can and often is -- especially given the current market -- the equivalent of a "dumping ground" for racing TBs, although there are several lower rung places they can fall, where they do go directly to the KBs. The whole reason the upset fee exists at California TB sales is because of the outcry several years ago when, during a previous market slump, the KBs were buying many, many horses out of the ring. That made for some ugly news stories.

                                      Anyone who thinks that cheap horses sold in California can't and don't head almost immediately south of the border to slaughter plants just hasn't been around long enough.

                                      As for Smiley, I think the reason many people are outraged is that she wrote about this horse and made money off her and talked about how much she looooooooved her. Her actions prove her a lying hypocrit, and that's what's ticking people off.
                                      Congratulate me! My CANTER cutie is an honor student at Goofball University!


                                      • #20
                                        Interesting how there ca be different views of the same thing. i heard your call and would have characterized her response completely differently. Surprised yes, but hardly arrogant. You also dont mention some additional points she made, namely that she knew that the new owner adored her and that she sold her because she felt that overbreeding is a problem and that she wanted to no longer contribute to it so she was removing the temptation.

                                        Since i dont know her from a hole in the wall i wouldnt pretend to know her motivation or situation, but i do think its a tad disingenuous for folks here to act like homes for small, hot, unsound mares are lying thick upon the ground. Anyone who claims otherwise isnt spending time out here in the real world.
                                        Phoenix Farm ~ Breeding-Training-Sales
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