A Horse Is a Horse – Not a Female Athlete | Draft Day Suit

A Horse Is a Horse – Not a Female Athlete

The second-most-notable female athlete of 2009 according to the Associated Press was the first female to win one of the most celebrated contests in her sport and has a perfect record, winning all 14 of her major competitions.

She is also the youngest woman to receive the honor, and at five years of age has accomplished all that she ever will in her sport and so has gone off to retirement.

Isn’t she pretty?


Right. She’s a horse.

Zenyatta, the first female horse to win the Breeder’s Cup championship, came in second on the yearly list of 2009’s most accomplished female athletes.

Did I also mention that she. is. a. horse?

First place winner? Tennis star Serena Williams, who made headlines herself this year on the court not just for fantastic tennis but for saying she was going to kill a line judge. 7th place? Another horse, Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness Stakes. The list is curiously not available in its entirety online, but other athletes who are not horses on the list include tennis player Kim Clijsters in third, Lindsey Vonn, who won her second consecutive title in Alpine skiing’s World Cup, in fourth place and Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s MVP in fifth.

Look, I don’t know what’s going on over there at the Associated Press. I don’t know when an animal, who is trained and ridden by a male jockey to meet the challenge of being the fastest competitor in a race, became a true contender for a ranking like this.

And I like animals, enough to be concerned about the treatment of horses in racing situations, which is another post entirely (along with a post about how Serena Williams threatening to kill a line judge did not disqualify her from the AP honor either.) In fact, I like some animals better than many humans. That does not mean, however, that I believe animals should be rated on the same scale with people in terms of accomplishments generally reserved for, again, people.

How does Clijsters feel about coming in just behind Zenyatta? How do you compete with a person who’s not a person?

Some message boards are delighting in making jokes about Serena’s appearance and other references to women as horses, to which I can only say “nice, really nice.” One comment bemoaned the possibility of “feminists” getting upset because two horses took the place of two accomplished female athletes on a list of the best female athletes of the year.

This is in many glaring ways missing the point. Identified as feminist or not, it’s quite possible to find the inclusion of horses on this list odd if you consider that every other person on this list since it has been made has been, in fact, a person. And really, if it’s feminist to say that there is some commentary inherent in the inclusion of two animals on a list of the ten best female anything in a field where women are historically underrepresented and under-covered by the very media that made this list?

So be it.

And I’m even willing to take it a step beyond and say that no male racehorse – not Seabiscuit, not Secretariat, not Seattle Slew, not Spectacular Bid nor any other horse starting with an S that will help you win at Scattergories – has ever placed on the companion list of top ten male athletes, although Secretariat was ranked 81st on the AP’s list of top athletes of the 20th century.

Why now? Why two?

Mind you, Zenyatta’s jockey, Mike Smith, describes her in distinctly anthropomorphic terms:

What she’s done on the racetrack has proven how special she is. I’ve never been on something like this. It just doesn’t seem real. Whatever is in front of her, she seems to pass and do it with incredible ease, and in doing it, she has this personality…I think the fans appreciate the show she puts on. She’s so dramatic. She seems to give everyone a head start. She’s always come from last. And she’s been unbeaten coming from last. Do you know how hard that is passing every horse without getting stopped? She overcomes everything and does it with such grace and ease that it’s incredible.

And this all may be true, but she doesn’t do it without a lot of help from him. In fact, without him, she couldn’t do it at all.

Zenyatta is retired in California and as such could not be reached for comment.

Photo credit: Delmarscene.com

Ed. note: Zenyatta resides in California, not Kentucky, as previously stated. We regret the error.

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About the author
Laurie won her first writing award at her Maryland Catholic elementary school - an envelope of two-dollar bills from football-crazy nuns - in the second grade for a poem about the Washington Redskins. She still does not understand downs, so this just proves that she will write just about anything for the promise of money and minor glory. Try her. Her other interests include the WNBA, Dayton basketball (Go Flyers!,) tailgating, Capitals first-period goals, three-pointers and beer. She dislikes any former Patrick Division team, (especially the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers) overtime any time and serial retirers. She will someday have Capitals season tickets, attend an NFL game, and understand downs. Other writing happens at LaurieWrites and BlogHer. She still lives in - and loves - Maryland.

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13 Replies to A Horse Is a Horse – Not a Female Athlete

  1. Color me outraged. A horse is not a female athlete. A horse is an animal, female or otherwise, and she should not have been on the ballot.

    Nor should have Rachel at #8.

    Then again, I’m sure I’m not as pissed off as Kim Clijsters

  2. Commonsense has taken an extended vacation, if not left the building and never looked back. I tell my kids that good sportsmanship and appropriate conduct are integral for a player, regardless of the sport. Then my kids get to read Serena Williams name at the top of the list?! Lovely.

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I have never tuned in to watch equine parents interviewed on 60 Minutes and stated, “Well, our little foal always wanted to race. So we made sure we found a trainer for her, got her an agent and made sure she could pursue her dream to grow up and win the Preakness.”

    Or maybe those interviews are only conducted on Animal Planet.

  3. LoriHC says:

    Horses are amazing athletes. I do not, however, believe they belong on a list of *female* athletes with humans. As Laurie rightly points out, no *male* horse has ever been on a list of best male athletes, and there were certainly some spectacular male horses in our history.

  4. granolajoe says:

    LoriHC: Perhaps specifically no list of “male athletes,” but Secretariat, Man o’ War and Citation were on the list of the 100 Best Athletes of the 20th Century by ESPN http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ESPN_Sports_Century

    All of you who are trying to turn the deserved mention of these horses into a controversy should be ashamed of yourselves. That list was created to recognize ATHLETES, and if the horses achieved greater things than humans, then they deserve to be on it.

    The fact that you somehow feel offended or threatened by horses is pathetic.

  5. Headless Mom says:

    Craziness. As a woman, I’m offended!

  6. Eloise says:

    As a woman, this is fantastic and I just don’t understand the hoopla surrounding it. Perhaps as non-race fans you don’t understand what was accomplished this year by these two horses. We’d be considered lucky if one horse like that came around in our lifetimes and we were graced with two… in one year! They are incredible athletes and both deserve their spots on this list. And yes, other male horses have been given similar honors, but unfortunately there hasn’t been one in a long time. Secretariat was listed at 35th of the 100 Greatest Athletes of all Time by ESPN and 81th in the AP Top 100 Athletes of the 20th Century. He was also inducted to the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame. Horses are athletes and deserve respect and recognition. I don’t recall Serena ever playing a match where everyone present was cheering, yelling and jumping in support of her performance. The entire venue shook in support of Zenyatta. A female athlete.

    This accomplishment should lead the way for features on prominent women trainers, jockeys and owners who are paving the way for us in such a male dominated sport. Instead, you’re trying to give all the credit to Zenyatta and Rachel Alexandra’s trainers and jockeys. Just so you know, trainers and jockeys can only do so much. Running races is entirely dependent on the horse and these two girls dominated fields of males. It is very, VERY rare in horse racing.

    Zenyatta is not in Kentucky. She is in California at Hollywood Park. Perhaps you should check there for a comment.

  7. Eloise says:

    Sorry… 81st, not 81th. Lol

  8. LoriHC says:

    You know, I take it back. Horses are horses, not athletes. They’re doing what they’ve been bred to do. The *jockeys* on the other hand — now *there* are some athletes.

  9. Laurie says:

    Eloise and GranolaJoe – Thanks for the comments.

    I disagree that horses are athletes. That’s just my opinion. We do not quantify animals with humans in any other way in professional sports and I do not think it is a good precedent to set. I am also not a racing aficionado, which both of you seem to be based on your comments. I am honestly rather floored that you refer to her as a “girl.” She is a horse. We appear to have a difference of opinion. That happens.

    Regardless of my personal feelings about Serena’s performance, I would disagree that a crowd has never been enthralled by her performance. She is every bit the athletic powerhouse that this list recognizes.

    I’m not trying to turn anything into a controversy. I’m sharing an opinion.

    Also, Joe, I was specifically referring to lists made according to gender.

    Apologies for the error regarding Zenyatta’s whereabouts.

  10. You have to be human to win an Academy Award. I think you should have to be human to be on a list of top athletes. A seperate list should be maintained for the animal athletes. I think it’s only fair to each, as what horse in his or her right mind wants to be compared with a biped? Totally not a fair comparison.

  11. I don’t mean to take anything away from the athleticism of these animals, I think they are amazing.


    They get a different list.

    That is all.

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