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I never pay no attention to who wins. I never go to the race track unless I have something running or sometimes for a real good race." Meshach "Mish" Tenney, Swaps's trainer, was talking. "Never bet," he continued. "Never do care to see other horses run. What good will it do me if I do know how they run? I can't tell my horses about the other ones. The only thing you can do for a race horse is control him. Get him fit and get him out the gate fast. What the others do has nothing to do with how good your horse is going to do."
Tenney strapped on his leather blacksmith's apron. He stood under the shed row of barn No. 57 in the Hollywood Park stable area. A moment before the loudspeaker had crackled urgently with a description of the fourth race. Tenney ignored the interruption.
"We do lots of things different from other stables. We don't walk our horses after a gallop on the track. We ride 'em at a walk around the track and paddock. That schools them and also gives them a cooling-out process. Then when they get back to the barn we let them take a good drink of water. When a horse is not hot, you can let him drink all he wants.
"Some stables feed their horses three times a day. We do it twice—at 4 in the morning and then in the afternoon at 3. I don't see no advantage to feeding more'n twice a day. Fact is, I suppose you could feed only once a day.
"Everything is on the floor. I think it helps a horse to eat or do anything else with his head down. It improves his circulation."
Tenney braced the left forefoot of a colt named Terrang between his legs and began to pare the hoofnail.
"What we like to do when we train yearlings is go into their stall on our cow ponies. We put the pony head-side-by-head with the horse and crowd him against the stall. We put the reins on him and then we take him out in the lane and gallop him. All the time he's goin', our pony's right head-to-head with him. That way every move you make with him, you educate his mouth to the reins. If he stampedes, you can stampede with him—even if he takes a quarter of a mile to settle down. You're in a position to catch him up every time till he's educated.
"Then you can lean over him, slap him on the back, shoo flies off'n him, everything you can think of to gentle him. You get him so used to a man across his back that by the time a kid gets on him and goes to kicking him to make him go, it ain't much different.
"Anytime you hear anyone can't handle a horse, you just make the brag you can handle him. Then put a pony in front of him and he'll stand as gentle as you want him."
Tenney squinted over to stall No. 18 where Swaps stood munching his oats. "It ain't always horses are that easy to gentle. Swaps here. The day he won his 2-year-old stakes last year, we were pretty sure we weren't going to get him shod, he was so wild. Fact is, he was a little on the lazy side far as work went as a 2-year-old.