Why August The First Is Every Horse's Birthday
Carrot cake. That, you imagine, is what will be munched in stables and paddocks across Australia today, August 1.
But why do all horses celebrate their birthdays on the same day of the year?
Much like kids in junior sport where there’s a cut-off date at some time in the year for the Under-11s or Under-12s or whatever, the standardised birthday is designed to sort horses into age divisions.
This is important, because horses compete only against other horses their own age group in many races.
For example, a “Derby” is a race for three-year-olds, whereas Sydney’s Golden Slipper is the world’s richest race for equine babies -- two-year-old horses.
The Melbourne Cup is a race for all ages, and you might be interested to know that all winners since 1941 have been aged between four and seven*.
So that's why there's one date. But why August 1? Well, that’s all about breeding.
Mares (mature female horses) are at their most fertile in spring, which starts in September in the Southern Hemisphere. Horses are pregnant for about 11 months. So all going well, the majority of foals are born in early August or soon afterwards.
For horse breeders, the trick is to get your horse born as soon as possible after August 1. That means that when it competes in age races, it will be as mature as possible.
So now you know.
So how many birthdays can the average horse expect to enjoy?
Well, the overall average is around 25 to 30 years, but it really does depend on the breed. Thoroughbred horses rarely make it past 30. One exception is beloved 1992 Melbourne Cup winner Subzero, famed for its countless school and hospital visits, who is 31 and fighting on despite a recent health scare.
But in a heartwarming story from the Gold Coast, the ABC reports that a local horse called "Calypso" turns 50 today. He is reportedly arthritic, blind, deaf and has no teeth -- feeding on a specially prepared mush -- but is essentially a happy horse.
Happy birthday, Calypso. And happy birthday horses everywhere. Everybody together now. For they are jolly good foal-ohs...
*And for the record, in the northern hemisphere, the horses’ birthday is January 1. That means that the winners of the last two Melbourne Cups, Rekindling (2017) and Cross Counter (2018) were four-year-olds by Australian standards, but were actually classed as three-year-olds in Europe.
Network 10 is the official broadcaster of the 2019 Melbourne Cup Carnival.