Tuesday, October 24, 2006

body language of a horse

Part Two: Straight From the Horse's Mouth

The horse may not be the most articulate animal on earth. Theirs is a very simple language of nickers, neighs, squeals and snorts - but these few sounds that they make can tell us what mood they are in. All in all there are five mains sounds which horses regularly reproduce:

The Greeting Nicker - "This is a low-pitched, guttural sound with a pulsating quality that is employed as a friendly 'come here' signal." A horse makes this sound when it is greeting another horse or a human friend (particularly when someone they know is bringing them food)
The Neigh - This sound starts out as a squeal and then ends as a nicker. "It is the longest and loudest of horse calls, lasting an average of 1.5 seconds and being audible over a half mile away." The neigh is the horses' way of audibly distinguishing between eachother. One horse will neigh and another will respond with an "identification" neigh. If you listen closely to each neigh, you will notice that they are all slightly different. It is even possible to tell a male from a female horse by the little grunt that the stallion adds at the end of its call.
The Snort - The snort is the first of the horse's two "defensive signals." It is usually made when a horse is curious about something, yet afraid at the same time. "The snort is a powerful exhalation of air through the nose, with the mouth held shut. It lasts between 0.8 and 0.9 seconds and has an audible fluttering pulse created by the vibrations in the nostrils."
The Squeal - The squeal is the second of the horse's two defensive signals. It is performed by a horse that is "fed up" with the situation. (Generally, it is a protest against something that the horse finds annoying.)
Now we have two sections covered: ear movements and vocal communication. The next time you're watching horses in the paddock area, pay attention to these two details. A horse's mood can be an important clue as to whether or not they are ready and willing to run.


10 Steps to Successful Handicapping

1. Establish your bankroll. This should be "investment" capital and not money that is needed to sustain your daily lifestyle. Don't under-capitalize yourself but, on the other hand, don't go crazy either. Your bankroll should be an amount your comfortable with.

2. Determine the percentage of your bankroll you are willing to invest on any particular race. Two percent is a reasonable amount.

3. In your initial overview of a race, attempt to determine whether the favorite is "solid", "vulnerable" or "false". Don't waste time on races where the favorite looks tough and concentrate on those events where the chalk can be erased. Try to limit yourself to six-to-eight truly-playable races on a typical day if investigating both the northern and southern circuits. Three-to-five is a good number if concentrating on one track but this number can go up or down based on the opportunities available.

4. Employing whatever handicapping methods you prefer, establish the order of preference for your contenders. Make a "value" line to help in your ultimate on-track decisions.

5. Use your imagination. Attempt to visualize how a race will be run and don't be afraid to go against the flow. If you can't get a clear picture of what's going to happen beforehand, you probably don't have a good idea on which horses to bet on.

6. Plan your day. Eliminate the un-playable races and sketch out a battle plan on paper with potential win bets, singles, exotic wagers, etc. In other words, have an idea of what you are going to do before you go to the track.

7. Once you're in the thick of the action, stick to your guns. Let the toteboard determine your final moves and not the guy at the bar who heard from his trainer that such-and-such a trainer really likes his horse in the 5th. It's your money and you should make it or lose it on the basis of your own opinions.

8. Don't press when you lose or increase your wagers when you win. Protect your bankroll and don't be overly aggressive. Remember that there will be plenty more opportunities the next day and the day after and the day after that. Winning or losing on one individual day really doesn't mean a thing. Only the long term matters.

9. Be flexible enough to change your thinking if evidence warrants. Perhaps a strong bias has appeared. Maybe your top selection is grossly overbet. Be prepared to move on to your second or third choices if that's where the 'value' happens to be. If your top choice is simply 'overbet' in the win pool and you have no strong secondary options, look for ways to exploit the short-priced horse in the exotics.

10. Have fun. Keep your composure and keep your sense of humor. Both are weapons that can help you overcome adversity and succeed at a game that is difficult, but not impossible, to beat.

horse body language

Horse Body Language - Part 1
Part One: The Ears

Next time you're standing at the paddock area of your favorite track, take a look at the horses' ears. You will notice that they are constantly shifting this way and that, trying to focus in on something that holds their interest. An inexperienced handicapper will usually dismiss these movements or not even notice them at all. Big mistake - a horse's ear posture can be very significant.

"When a horse's ears are in 'neutral,' they are held loosely upward with their openings pointing forward and outward." This is often referred to as the "ready" position, because the horse is relaxed, but its ears can instantly rotate to face a questionable sound and examine it carefully. If a sound gets to the point where it is worrisome to the horse, it will "prick" its ears so that they are erect and facing directly toward the sound. Eventually the horse may turn its head, or its entire body to face the strange noise. (Pricked ears are not always a sign of uneasiness - they can also mean that the horse is very alert or interested in something).

Laid-back horses will sometimes display what Desmond Morris refers to as "airplane ears." This signals that the horse is submissive, depressed, or very tired. (Not a good sign in a racehorse!) When you see a horse on a racetrack with slightly drooped ears which are pointing backward, it simply means that the horse is paying close attention to the jockey. (In this situation the horse is submitting to the jockey's will and often may be a bit scared of the situation.

Flicking ears tell us that the horse is distressed. "A horse with flicking ears may well be on the verge of bolting in terror." In this position, the ears are erect and nervously "flicking" back and fourth.

When a horse flattens its ears back so that they almost disappear from view, watch out! These "pinned" ears mean that the horse is very angry. This instinct comes from way back when horses were wild. When they were in danger due to another horse or a predator, they would pin back their ears to protect them from being harmed.

A horse's ears can even tell us if they have been drugged. If a horse has been given a depressant, it's ears will display little or no activity and usually droop down sideways. Under normal circumstances, their ears would be "constantly moving to pick up new sounds. Mobile ears, turning this way and that, are, by their very activity, signals of shifting attention and interest."

We will be taking horse body language one step at a time. Practice identifying the above "ear signals" this week. Next week, we'll go into what horses can signal with their necks and tails, as well as some of their limited vocabulary. (neigh!)

handicapping tips for horse racing

1. Use a checklist.
There's a lot of information to process. Use a checklist to make sure you've covered all that's important.

2. Learn from every loss.
No matter how proficient a handicapper becomes losing races will happen much more often than winning. What a great opportunity to improve our game, not to mention pattern recognition skills.

3. Do not take a loss personal.
A lot of the time you will make an excellent bet but the outcome will be bad---good bet, bad outcome---don't beat yourself up. It's the nature of the game.

4. Remain dedicated to your handicapping approach.
If you researched it then stay with it. Nothing is more disgusting than watching a winner go by because you changed your game plan---and knew better!

5. Check your objectives.
What are your strengths and weaknesses? What is an overlay? Where the hell are you going?

6. Plan your bets and follow through on your plans.
Is the number 3 horse a prime bet or just a contender? What odds do you need on the contenders? Know it and do it!

7. Make commitments and keep them.
Handicapping the races can be a tedious process. Before you go to the track make the commitment to handicap the card no matter what...every single day.

8. Make a commitment and take the plunge.
This one is connected to a couple of the guidelines above. If you decide to play a horse at a certain price then take the plunge. Be brave.

9. Once you decide---act!
Later on I plan to write an article about an old nemesis I call Uncle Bob. He can play some pretty sorry tricks on you in the head department. Till then just remember when you decide to act on a bet then do it. Don't let Uncle Bob change your mind.

10. Do your homework.
The truth is this, as I see it: No tout can deliver you to the Promised Land, only hard work along with some good information can do that. If you want to succeed then you've got to do it yourself.

11. Avoid emotion.
You've got to be ready for the next event. If your panties are still wadded up over losing the last race then you've made this difficult game even more difficult. Let it go. Be ready for the next race.

12. Develop winning attitudes.
Use affirmations. Meditate. Sing campfire songs. Whatever. Stay in a positive state. This game can be cruel, why add to the chaos with a piss poor attitude?

13. Don't lose sight of your goals.
Set realistic goals. Say it again! Set REALISTIC goals. And when you've done that don't let them out of your sight, no matter what.

The confession. In the beginning I wrote that these guidelines are good things to practice. And they are truly good. But even after all these years of handicapping the races I'm still working on them. So be kind to yourself and just stay at it. That's the most important thing anyway. Stay at it.

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