Last month we were thrilled to announce that we had reached a book deal with Kerry Thomas, a pioneering researcher in the field of Equine Athletic Psychology. Thomas began his research in the field of herd dynamics and horse psychology by studying wild horse herds in Wyoming and Montana, with the intent to use his independent studies in equine social structures in the development of therapy horses for children. It was during his early work that he determined that it was what he calls emotional conformation rather than physical conformation that governs herd dynamics. Thomas then spent 10 years streamlining his process of Emotional Conformation Profiling and applying it to the sport horse industry.
Thomas now focuses on the development of programs to advance the equine athlete in a given field, as well as identifying the mental blocks that derail the advancement of many sport horses. Although he works with all equestrian disciplines, Thomas’ ground-breaking theories and techniques have already made a significant impact on the Thoroughbred racing industry. He has worked with top racehorses, trainers, and owners in the United States, Europe, South America, Australia, and Hong Kong, and has developing interests in China via the Royal Nanjing Jockey Club and most recently in the Middle East.
On May 2, five days before the running of the 137th Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Confidential published an interview with Thomas, in which he provided emotional conformation profiles of all of the major contenders in this year’s race, based on video replays. Here’s what he said about the horses that finished in the top four:
Winner: Animal Kingdom
“He has a very very high herd dynamic in that he is always in self-control. His maiden win was a good learning race. It took a few seconds, but he learned to handle the rail. In the stretch run, he took over that space. Did you see that other horse get away?
“This horse’s mental capacity rises to the occasion, and he doesn’t miss a step. They could take this horse overseas. He could run 1 1/2 miles or longer. He has a very broad running style, but he remains controlled in any circumstance.
“[In the Grade 3 Spiral Stakes] he was pissed early, but he don’t care where he’s at. He’s gonna do his thing. The more time in motion, the stronger he gets. He can hover in a space and then launch past it. He was having fun running along side Decisive Moment, and then throws him away. Animal Kingdom’s only weakness is that he has a late release point. He threw Decisive Moment away at his leisure, but that could be a problem in the future, because we humans have this thing called a finish line.
“It will be a hell of a battle to watch if he and Dialed In hook up in the Derby. Those two have the most complete emotional conformation profiles in this race.”
“Here we have another stair climber. He moves from point in space to point in space.
“I don’t think he likes being by the rail, but he’s been stuck down there twice and still ran well.. He prefers motion inside of him. The reason a stair climber cannot use the rail for efficiency is that it’s an object that never goes away. A stair climber will see the rail, and think, ‘Damn, this object is in my space and I can’t get past it.
“In the Arkansas Derby, Nehro lost the race but he thinks he won. He was in the process of taking over Archarcharch’s space at the wire. Nehro gets into a nice gear when he’s able to be where he’s happy. You can see a very consistent pattern.
“He requires fairly close contact to influence space. He’s good at taking over the space close to him, and he does seek out targets, but he requires fairly close contact to influence them. Unlike Dialed In, Nehro seeks targets and goes around. Dialed In plows through. Nehro is the pickpocket. Dialed In is a big bully.
Third: Mucho Macho Man
“He became a completely different horse when they took the blinkers off. The Risen Star was the first race that was really him. This horse has a tremendous amount of potential. He manages his space very well. I think he has the ability to pick off horses and stair climb. He’s OK in a crowd and OK in space.
“I think he’s a little immature compared to his body size. He’s got a lot of improvement ahead of him.
“His loss in the Louisiana Derby … I think it was partly the shoe, but in the heat of the battle I don’t think that made the difference. This was a very, very good race for him. He competed. He has the mindset of a competitor and has a good solid emotional conformation. He has a tremendous amount of grit. He just has some learning to do.”
“He likes close contact. He likes to be engaged. His maiden win (where he re-rallied to win by three-quarters of a length) actually was never close. That was fun for him.
“A close-contact horse like this has no problems with large fields. This horse is a gamer. He has a really good presence. He can maintain pace while searching with his ears. Because of his close-contact propensity, releasing is not a strong point. A horse like this will have a hard time releasing and acelerating. They would rather slow down and run with a buddy as opposed to stair climb. That means if he’s not playing that game out front, he’ll play it in the middle, and then he’s not gonna matter in terms of the race.
“He should be near the front, but I would not let him get too much of a lead. His nose should be about to the [bottom] of the jockey in front of him. If he has too much space, he mentally begins to overcompensate.
“In the Florida Derby, he got engaged when Dialed In got right up on him. Dialed in is a bulldozer, and Shackleford didn’t have enough time to react. Once he got engaged, Dialed In had already put his nose on the wire. If the race was another quarter mile longer, it could have been different. Probably not, but who knows.”
We find Kerry Thomas’ work fascinating, and we feel it could make an exciting impact on how we breed, buy, and train the horses we compete in various equestrian sports. Watch for Thomas’ exciting new book on Emotional Conformation Profiling and equine athletic psychology in 2012. For updates on this title and other new and forthcoming equestrian books and DVDs, bookmark SNEAK PEEKS on the TSB website, subscribe to the TSB blog, and friend us on Facebook.