Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Famous Farewells to Our Four-Legged Friends

With all the attention on the untimely and unexpected demise of Barbaro, Champion of Horses, I became a little curious as to the deaths of our other famous equine friends. Were they as mourned as Barbaro? Or did they die in relative obscurity, penniless and alone?

Unfortunately, as whenever creating a list, I had to think of subjects. How many famous horses have there been? I am not sure I can think of 10. There was Mr. Ed. But wasn't he a zebra? Alas, that is only an urban legend. So since a horse was a horse, of course of course, what happened to Mr. Ed? Was he sent off in Barbaro-esque fashion, to greeting cards and well-wishes, to near deified worship and national attention? Not quite. According to Wikipedia, Mr. Ed was put to sleep to little fanfare four years after the end of his show.

The end, however, was not as dismal for Trigger, horse of famous cowboy Roy Rogers. After appearing in over 90 films and 100 television shows, Trigger was mounted in a rearing position and now is on exhibit at the Roy Rogers - Dale Evans Museum in Branson, Missouri. Barbaro can only hope to be as lucky.

What about that horse from that movie with Bobcat Goldthwait? Unfortunately, Hot to Trot was considered so bad, the status of its equine co-star is difficult to locate. Even fails to mention the name of horse that played Don. The poor horse has probably watched the Barbaro love-fest while swigging whiskey and wondering what might have been. Damn that Bobcat Goldthwait.

So unless owned by a famous cowboy, it seems Hollywood horses are usually thrown to the curb like half-drunk hookers the morning after a night of debauchery. A shame.

What about military horses? Have they gone out with as much hoorah as Barbaro? There has to be some Civil War legend who prized his horse above all and gave it a proper farewell. Indeed there is. Quite a few actually. Winchester, for example, the horse of General Philip H. Sheridan, was stuffed and put on display in the Armed Forces History Hall at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian Institute has a whole page of various other horses with similar fates here. Good to know military horses, unlike their entertainment bretheren, get their due respect as their spirits cross over to Horse Heaven.

Of course, Barbaro was never a big-screen star nor did he ever lead a charge up San Juan Hill. He was a race horse, winner of only one of three major Triple Crown events. A one-trick pony, if you will. Therefore, let's compare him to his peers.

What about Secretariat? Surely one of the greatest horses to ever race went out with style. Yes, indeed. One of ESPN's greatest athletes of the 20th century, Secretariat was actually buried whole, one of the greatest honors to be given to a horse in death. A fitting end for the last Triple Crown winner and one of the most celebrated race horses of all time.

So winning race horses do get fond farewells. Some may even get inducted into the Horse Racing Hall of Fame. To wrap up, let's compare Barbaro to possibly the most famous American horse ever. A horse so famous they had to cast Spider-Man to ride him in the movie - the legendary Seabiscuit.

Seabiscuit was a national celebrity throughout the late 1930s and into the 1940s, garnering the attention of the masses. During this time, he won numerous races and was even named Horse of the Year. But after passing, was he given idol status? Is there a famous monument in his honor? Not quite. For all his fame, accomplishments, and prestige, Seabiscuit died seven years after the conclusion of his racing career and was buried in an undisclosed location by the family of his owner.

Is it fair to other horses that Barbaro, Champion of Horses, achieved an unprecedented level of attention for a horse that accomplished so little? Probably not. He won one major race. One race. Yet he received more love, adoration, greeting cards, and well-wishes than any horse in history and will probably get a burial fit for a king. Whatever. Just wake me when the Barbaro commemorative stamp is released. Oh, the irony.

- Jordi

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