" A horse lives by the laws of their nature. Where they fit in to the herd, how they interpret their world, how they learn, how they're coached, how they
ultimately perform, is governed by the rules of that nature; it is wise to make an effort, to understand it." ~ Kerry M Thomas
Intro Piece ~ Kentucky Derby 2022
|Posted on June 6, 2022 at 9:55 AM|
*Each year for our Kentucky Derby Herd Dynamic Analysis I pen an intro-piece that is both intended as just that, an introduction to that years' profiles, and also represents my newest concepts and phylosophies on behavioral genetics and the psychology of the equine athlete. What follows is the introduction to our 2022 Derby Analysis. The full profiles can be found archived on Big Race Analysis section on the toolbar. On my YouTube channel linked on the home page, you can find some video commentary."
Thank you for being a part of this year’s Derby report. As always, we appreciate everyone, from those who are purchasing
this report for the first time, to those who have supported our product over the years. 2022 marks our twelfth Kentucky Derby
analysis. The journey has been one of discovery and progression as we march forward to advance our work. Thinking about
when we started and about where we are now makes me excited for what yet lies before us.
We continue to make unique discoveries the deeper we dive into the fascinating world of herd dynamics. We do it as our
business to provide forward-thinking services for the industry, but also to augment a deeper appreciation for the horses. There
may be few enigmas on the cover of the horse, but there is no shortage of mysteries dwelling within their psyche. As complex
as any sentient social being, the unique essence of the herd dynamic only reveals its secrets if you’re patient enough to peer
through their expression to understand the inflection.
Within the eye of a horse there can be found the truest reflection of ourselves. This is why we are drawn to them; it is intrinsic. I
know for me personally that among the things I saw looking back at me were a depth of reasons to stay on and push forward. If
you were here for last years’ derby introduction you will know what it is that I am referencing, a time of great sadness and loss
just weeks before the Kentucky Derby Analysis, had befallen me. It was a tough road as many of you have experienced, or are
experiencing, yourself. I can tell you that among the most important relationships you will ever have, is the one you have with
yourself. It is essential and its reflection can be found within the relationships of everything else around you.
I’m often asked what it is I learn the most when studying horses, and be there many, the individual’s intricate link and the
manner of its connection to the whole, is profound. Their innate ability to adapt and assimilate to the battle scars of life helped
me tremendously and reminded me that despite the pain I experienced, I had to think forward. I dusted off, put my hat back on
over the summer months and determined to live again, love again, embrace every moment of the unknown amount of time that
is left. It is possible to rediscover joy and the excitement of what’s next while remembering with respect what you once knew;
happiness is a choice.
The journey of life is a series of events, experiences marking time along the way, contributing to our own unique growth.
Experiences themselves do not define who we are, but the manner in which we negotiate them and their effect upon us is a
reflection of who we are. No experience in life, in my opinion at least, is trivial nor fleeting. All can be as enlightening as they can
be lingering, and almost all can have an associative effect on another.
This sets in motion, as the collection of experiences multiply over time, a growth pattern; which means that the manner in which
the next experience is interpreted is predicated upon the interpretation of the experience(s) before it. Separate incidents are
strung loosely together by the fabric of association and it is from the associative aspect that a memories’ timbre is rooted. Like a
song or a scent can take you back through time; a journey that carries with it the profound statement made at its inception, be it
positive or negative.
For me the sound of crickets and frogs/toads in the summer nights takes me back to 12-year-old me, spending time with my
family at the cabin up near Penn State. I may be 53, but when I close my eyes and hear them, I disappear into yesteryear with
ease. It serves as a comforting reminder that time itself, in some measure at least, can be removed by our imaginations, for only
the physical is subject to it, when our minds are set free.
Horse Profiling & Handicapping
Studying the collection of psychological ingredients in horses and how the assemblage of them is composed to manifest what I
often dub the “operating system” is the baseline for herd dynamic profiling.
Making an effort to postulate how a particular group of horses is likely to respond to a changing environment and the competitive
nature of their peers is a study in many parts. Few more important than identifying individual growth patterns and where an
individual is on their’s as compared to others they’re facing.
Handicapping with herd dynamics starts here. Handicapping races is different than handicapping horses inasmuch as in a
particular race you’re seeking to identify where a horse is in their physical and psychological growth pattern to project how well
they match up against another.
Handicapping a horse is the art of identifying and projecting the trajectory of those growth patterns. It is impossible to properly
ascertain any would-be competitor without considering them as both physical and mental athletes. Before you can surmise how
a particular horse may compare to peers in competition, you have to understand how that horse collaborates with his/herself. If
the mind-to-body fluency is disrupted under stress, competitive nature cannot manifest into competitive edge. This means that
you have more physical talent than you do mental stamina and grit, and you are left to determine which of these are most likely
Mind-to-body fluency is the smooth and sequential psychological translation of information, manifested into a controlled physical
response. The common equation for this is the sensory system, acting like radar, identifying environmental stimulus in one or
more of the sensory aspects which is necessarily funneled into the psycho-sensory (mind) for interpretation.
Physical response is administered based upon interpretation, the manner of which, be that controlled or reactive motion,
indicates the nature of interpretation. When information is not properly interpreted the horse will display erratic physical
movement(s), internalize emotional stress, or a mixture of both. When these things happen in competition it greatly affects both
physical pace as well as mental stamina.
To offset what I classify as interpretive disruptions, the horse has two main sources of remedy, both an extension of their
atavistic nature. First is their reliance upon the built-in herd dynamic characteristic of dependency/co-dependency within herd
structure, and second, interpretative disruptions are circumvented altogether through the associative aspect.
The sense of insecurity is the great emotional enemy of the psyche, and for the prey animal this can be quite hermetic. Prey
species find sanctity in harmony, peace in comfort. The herd animal sources them largely through their peers and environment.
When emotionally removed from this inherent herding tendency, the horse can become overwhelmed with a sense of
psychological confinement and exposure that can dramatically alter their personality. Isolated at too young of an age. the horse’s
normal growth pattern is at risk and greatly skewed by the lack of nurturing where interpretation is outsourced and experiences
cushioned through the watchful eyes of older horses.
When harmony and comfort become dependent on associations through an isolated psyche, strong addictions to them occur,
even to the point of emotional trauma. Many addictive behaviors that manifest later can be traced to a disruption or interruption,
of the nurturing process. A breakdown of the family structure can have great effect on psychological development. That is why I
always say, nurture the horse, develop the athlete.
The Kentucky Derby is more a total experience than it is a race, and trying to resolve the most likely “order of finish” can only
be surmised through the determination of the hierarchy tiers. In order for us to do this, we have to unravel the herd dynamic
makeup of each horse, identify who they were, who they are now, and where they’re likely headed. Herd Dynamics tell a tale
about the horse and their most likely trajectory based upon many accumulated and studied ingredients, chief among these is
naturally occurring, inherent psychological growth patterns.
Who the horse is now may or may not be the truest representation of their future selves. At this particular stage in their career
path the majority of horses have less races under their belt than they have ahead of them (at least I like to think so anyway),
which translates to a still developing psychological growth pattern for the greater number of participants.
It is true that we see varying degrees of mental aptitude from the very near completed painting to those just starting to fill in.
The Kentucky Derby evaluation process involves gaining a comprehensive understanding of the horses’ projected future while
studying a snapshot of the now. You have to compare the individual that they are to the individual they have potential to become.
As a total experience, obtaining a view of how the race itself is most likely to develop once the herd is in motion can only be
embraced by appreciating how this new and unique milieu will be acknowledged by the horses within it. Who among them are
best equipped to keep psychological time with the environmental changes they’re in? It matters not whether we are looking for
prospects at a horse sale or profiling for the derby, the horse must be considered both physically and mentally. The question has
to be asked, is there psychological athleticism enough to maximize physical talent?
Assimilation to sudden changes is the cornerstone of versatility. This can only be done effectively and in a controlled manner of
expression when the interpretative process is cycling at a faster pace than the rate of changes around them. The assimilative
processes identified in competition, along with their growth pattern, is a reflection of adaptability to situational chaos as a whole.
In condensed environments of stress such as a race, individual stimulus has to be interpreted relative to the rate of physical
motion of the interpreter, (this is also true during training, tasks must be mentally completed before moving to the next). To
efficiently maneuver through an environment of uniquely moving parts, the horse must physically harmonize pace while having
the ability of increasing psychological rhythm, when necessary, in order to maintain proper emotional energy distribution.
Multitasking is the navigation of multiple stimulus without losing physical efficiency. This aptitude is an earmark of a high
functioning sensory system and elevated herd dynamic.
The further removed the individual is from an obligation of outsourcing to their peers for their interpretations, the more elevated
they are within the structured hierarchy. One of the more difficult things for a herd animal to do is operate independently of that
nature. The mark of independence is a psychological rhythm that does not have to change to match the physical pace of others.
These horses are highly versatile because they’re mentally tactical. They are not left to assimilate to sudden changes after they
happen, they navigate the chaos in a strategic manner without over expressing. Reading the room properly allows you to keep
time with the changes in your surroundings.
Whether we’re evaluating total athleticism at an auction or determining an athlete’s probability of success in the Kentucky Derby,
the evaluation of independent nature is requisite to it. I care less about the pedigree or how physically awesome any horse is
before I determine how likely these factors are to be maximized in the heat of battle. Fast times at a two-year-old in training
sale, or stellar physicals at a yearling sale, mean little if in the end there are grave deficiencies between the ears. When you
make a decision to invest in a horse, you’re investing in the total animal, everything they are regulates everything they can
become. I want to “feel” the horse; I know what they are, I want to know “who” they are before I can get a sense of their inherent
Handicapping with the herd dynamics is not about studying what happens to a horse in a race, but understanding how they react
to what happens. There is often quite a difference between horses that are in the Kentucky Derby and a “derby horse”. Paying
attention to details in the horse’s career path such as sensory efficiency, mind-to-body fluency, expressions of stress and how
protracted time-in-motion (T.I.M.) demands affect mental stamina, go far in ascertaining how long a particular athlete can sustain
competitive edge. In shorter distance races the T.I.M. is obviously less, but that does not mean that mental fatigue is removed
from the equation.
The management of mental stamina is predicated upon the emotional density of stressful situations and how long they
last. Regardless of whether a race is 6 furlongs or 1 ¼ miles, these physical distances are psychologically fragmented into
disproportionate demands of mental focus and strain. Properly handicapping a horse requires a close look at how they mediate
each moment of elevated emotional strain, be it a quick disruption that takes but a second, several strides, or the protracted.
In addition to this, you have to make an effort to comprehend the actual intensity level of these stresses which, to reiterate
an important factor, means paying close attention to the reaction and/or recovery time. Each of these compartmentalized
competitive stresses can have a major impact on the psychological aptitude of the athlete, gnawing away at their emotional
energy, altering its distribution, curtailing the duration of competitive edge coming down the home stretch.
Comprehending the horse’s natural ability to mentally rate and identifying the characteristics of it, are important. There are great
benefits to be realized in a seemingly impervious psychology; an energy distribution that has an achievable cruise-control cycle
allows the horse to maximize conserved energy for purposeful responses. Competitive edge, generally associated with an IHD
shift, is not a tool that has but one use. In a high functioning herd dynamic, there is versatility within it and controlled ability to
access it in the necessary degrees required by the situation, nothing more, nothing less. Over expression within the body of the
race and you risk running short of mental stamina at the end, under-expressing and you risk, well, falling short.
Compartmentalizing your handicapping helps embrace the battles within the war. Comparing what the physical numbers show
to what your eyes are telling you, helps you better understand the level of fluency between mind & body. Tactical turn of foot
without a tactical mind, will lean upon the jockey for thoughtful execution. A tactical psychology with a heavier turn of foot asks
for positional assistance while allowing trust in the horse. Those with both tactical turn-of-foot and mentality only ask for the
humans to stay out of the way and ride with finesse and feel. Handicapping the collaborative relationship between horse & rider
is an important part of the equation; you have to understand the horse in order to do this accurately. It’s vital to not undervalue
the horse/human communicative aspect by over-valuing the rider’s accepted skillset. Matching human tendency to herd dynamic
traits are important in every such relationship from the race track to the dressage ring.
An appreciation for and an understanding of the horse in their entirety is essential, it’s not just the horses in a race that matter.
A horse is a horse all of the time. Their performance capacity is an extension of, not a separation from, who they are. Identifying
the characteristics of the individual and determining if they are inherently capable of sustaining the physical and emotional
demands of athleticism should always be considered regardless of discipline, lest a horse be placed into an environment they’re
not readily equipped to handle. Achievable goals are ones that align with total athletic ability.
There is “cost” and there is “value”; cost is what you’re willing to spend on the value you hope you’re getting. It’s wise to identify
the athletic strengths physically and mentally and ask how they’re likely to collaborate and which among those are more likely to
carry the day if there is disparity between them. These are key factors you should consider in your investment strategy be it for
handicapping or purchasing.
From my point of view, an understanding of herd dynamics can go far in bringing the horse back into horse racing. The horses
themselves are the greatest ambassadors the industry has, introducing who they are can supersede what they are, allowing
for a much broader reach. Connecting people with the athletes beyond their “profession” is an important step to sharing the
endearing beauty of these animals. Cultivating appreciation and interest in the sport not through the wallet, but through the
heart, is in my opinion, the way for a brighter future.
Each year during our comprehensive study which produces this product, I personally end up with a vast collection of scribbled
notes and thoughts about the herd dynamic makeup of each horse, information that is of course incorporated into the full
profiles of the athletes you have here. As I was thinking about ways to try and expose more people to the personality side of the
horses, I thought it would be fun and perhaps even helpful in fostering interest with at-large fans, who may only be race fans one
weekend a year, to have access to some “color commentary.”
I decided that I would take my notes and thoughts, condense them down to a few fun facts, add a touch of additional musings,
and create little herd dynamic capsules as a character summary. I look at these as being more like the fun “get to know the
player” information on the back of baseball cards. When I was a kid, I always loved reading that information, it made the players
seem more real to me. I wanted to offer an opportunity for making the horses as personally available as possible through the
herd dynamic lens by putting the capsules on our website blog.
The beauty of the horse we must never lose sight of, and if by taking a view from the hoof we can merge the passions of the
horse players and industry insiders with those who simply love horses, every equestrian industry just might benefit.
A very special thank you each year goes without saying to THT partner Pete Denk without whom this month-long undertaking
would not happen, let alone for the 12th time. I certainly appreciate everyone at Brisnet for all the hard work and time it takes on
their end and as always, a special nod of appreciation to our roots with Kentucky Confidential where this journey began.
And indeed, I can’t thank those of you enough who have supported our efforts now and through the years. Our goal is to provide
you with as much unique interesting information as we can about the horses in an effort to not only help your betting strategy but
also to perhaps enjoy them even a little more than you already do.
At THT Bloodstock we are a full-service international bloodstock company and we invite you to visit us at www.thtbloodstock.
com to learn more. Let us know how we can help you, reach your goals.
Herd dynamics, because if you’re not thinking forward, you’re already behind.
Kerry M Thomas, Founder
There are many key factors to understanding horses and appreciating their athletic aptitude,
below are some important things to keep in mind.
“The mental capacity of the equine, controls the physical output of the athlete.”
“I have always considered in nature that roughly 85% of herd animals are inherently dependent for 50 to 55 percent of their
environmental interpretations; translated into athletic performance this compromises total herd dynamic strength. This is not to
say they can’t achieve athletically. It does mean the larger body of work will be saddled with environmental requirements that
upper level, more independent minded peers, are less likely to assist with.”
“Only running in spots is a reflection of a disruption in growth patterns which is a reflection of interruptions in psychological
“The smoother the sensory sequences the more evenly distributed the emotional energy, even distribution conserves mental
stamina for the drive home.”
“Where equipment works in partnership with the physical horse, the rider works in partnership with the emotional horse.”
“The balance between mind and body affects the cadence between horse and environment, athletic expressions are in large part
emergent properties of these. When there are tendencies of personality that gnaw away accumulatively at total performance, the
reliance upon physical talent is heavier.”
“Herd Dynamics Matter; every horse, every discipline, everywhere.”