The Heart of a Horse

Karen Krizanovich sent me a piece by Ann Hornaday from the Washington Post about the use of sound effects in film soundtracks, with particular reference to the new Disney film about the great American racehorse Secretariat:

“… as the chestnut colt — called Big Red through most of the movie — makes his way from the Kentucky Derby to the Preakness to the Belmont Stakes, discerning audiences can make out something beyond the roar of the crowd and thundering hooves: the sound of Secretariat’s heart beating.

Wallace hit on the idea of making the heartbeat part of the sound design of ‘Secretariat’ when he discovered that the horse’s real-life jockey, Ron Turcotte, had ridden a horse whose heart had burst during a race, killing the animal and seriously injuring Turcotte. ‘It occurred to me that we could hear that reality in a subtle way,’ Wallace says. ‘That horses’ hearts do burst and that Secretariat was going so hard, so fast, that there was a real concern.’

The sound team recorded actual horses’ hearts and also put microphones under their noses to pick up the sound of their breathing. Some of the hoof- and heartbeats were augmented with the sound of a Japanese taiko drum, which meshed with Nick Glennie-Smith’s musical score to create a seamless, stirring whole.”

Perhaps the film makers didn’t know that the real Secretariat was famous for literally having an enormous heart: at 22lbs, more than twice the size of a standard thoroughbred heart (which would weigh in at 9lbs). The great eighteenth century racehorse, Eclipse, had a 14lb heart. One of his descendents was a mare called Pocahontas who happens to appear in Secretariat’s pedigree.

In 1997 a journalist called Marianna Haun published a book called The X Factor laying out her theory that the gene for a giant heart was transmitted via the female line, and Secretariat was indebted to Pocahontas for his cardiac powerhouse, and she, in turn, traced her great heart gene all the way back to an ancestor in the very earliest days of the thoroughbred called simply Royal Mare. More fascinating details here for pedigree nerds. Haun has worked with the University of Kentucky on a breeding programme exploring the Royal Mare’s influence.

Here’s the real Big Red doing his stuff in the Belmont in 1973:


A Spindles' Farm survivor takes it easy at Redwings Horse Sanctuary

  • Sealskin will no longer be used for sporran manufacture. It’ll be ponyskin instead.
  • Anthropologie has a very pretty catalogue full of very pretty clothes and a whole heap of pretty horses.
  • A South African pony called Bertie kicked a pit bull in the head after it attacked his nads.
  • Champion racemare Sariska has been retired after deciding, once more, that she would rather not run today thank you in the Prix Vermeille in Paris.
  • I’m finding polo championship websites pretty atrocious to negotiate, but I think this means that the all-female England team came third in the European Championships in Vienna last week.
  • Competitors are arriving in Kentucky for the World Equestrian Games which kick off with reining on the 25th September. Dressage superstar and fan of “”low, round and deep“”, Anky Van Grunsven, will represent Holland in the western event.
  • Does ranty equine welfare blogger Fugly Horse of the Day practise what she preaches? Accusations in posts and comments on Fugly Horse of the Day Review suggest not. If you want to investigate, do go read through, but the “review” blog doesn’t gather up the details and put them in one place for ease of reading, so it may take you a while.
  • Horse bones are among a collection discovered at an Iron Age site in Sutton. Archaeologists think they may have been sacrifices.  Interesting, as I’m not sure from my own reading that there were many equine sacrifices in ancient Britain – horses were a scarce resource and expensive to feed – though I could be wrong.
  • The last son of Secretariat to stand at stud, Tinner’s Way, has retired.
  • AND FINALLY – I am delighted to see that the traditional practice of little girls taking ponies into houses is being upheld.