Spring interns, Shakespeare, and the Road to the Horse

Saturday, February 14 was Valentine’s Day. It also was the beginning of our spring internship. There are four interns this semester: Nicole from Asbury University, Taylor from the University of Kentucky, Maggie from the University of Louisville, and Sharon from Eastern Kentucky University. Nicole and Taylor are doing the Training and Barn Management internship, Maggie and Sharon the Communications and Business one. They will be with us for eight to ten hours a week for the next twelve weeks. During that time they are going to work hard, but, I assure them, they will have fun, and they will learn too. That’s my pledge to them as it is to every intern who comes to the MMSC. As I do with every horse that comes into my program, I make a commitment to every intern—I want to know what they want to be when they grow up and how the MMSC can help them take worthy steps in that direction.  
Nicole, Taylor, Maggie, and Sharon are the MMSC spring 2015 interns

Their pledge is to support Team MMSC. Quit not when your work is done, but when EVERYONE’S WORK IS DONE. Never be idle. Never be negative, or catty, or undermining.  I have no time for those things, and therefore zero tolerance. They all learned that during their initial interviews. 

Now they are at orientation. They hear it again. Along with a lot of other things: The MMSC ethos (Quality, Excellence, Transparency, Honesty), the construct of the Horse Center Reschooling Program℠, a methodology I developed and brought to the MMSC, Susanna’s principles of Horsemanship, the MMSC “elevator speech,” MMSC rules, MMSC schedule, the MMSC ‘Word of the Day.’

“All roads lead to Rome,” I tell them. The girls look at me blankly. “Have any of you ever heard that expression before?” They give me slightly raised eyebrows and sheepish shrugs.

The Romans built over 250,000 miles of roads
 throughout their empire
So they get a brief history lesson about the Roman empire and Rome’s building of roads throughout its dominions so it could travel expeditiously and bring products and wealth back to the seat of power.

“So what I mean by that expression is that while each of you has different interests and reasons for doing an internship here and all of you will be working in different ways on different projects, you will all be working to serve the interests of the MMSC.”

They are given a contract to read and to sign, and a sheet with three goals that they would like to achieve for themselves whilst they are at the MMSC. They are asked to fill out a schedule with the hours that they promise to be at the Center.

“How many hours would you like?” they ask.  

“As many hours as you can give, and then some.” 

They all respond enthusiastically about how much they intend to be there.

“That’s good. Because I fully intend to get a pound of flesh from each of you!”

I look at each one and realize they have no idea what I mean.

“Has anyone every heard that expression before, ‘to extract a pound of flesh?”


“Has any one every heard of the play, The Merchant of Venice?”


“Hmmm. Do any of you know who William Shakespeare is?!”

At last their faces light up.

“A pound of flesh is a reference to a situation in The Merchant of Venice…but I am not going to tell why or what.” Instead I assign two of them the homework of coming back the next week with a synopsis of the play and an explanation of the pound of flesh.

I then send them out with Catherine, our Program Coordinator, to tour the International Museum of the Horse at the Kentucky Horse Park. 

“I want you to go to the museum so that you have an understanding of the inextricable link between horses and mankind. It’s great that you are coming to the MMSC to intern, but I want you always to think about the bigger picture. We are so much more than just a small Center. We are part of an industry, a tradition, a history. Come back in an hour and a half and each of you tell me three things that you learned there today. My hope is that this trip to the musuem will engender lots of scintillating conversation amongst you… Any one know what engender means? Hmmm, I see, that’s the MMSC word of the day!”

I laugh at myself and tell them that I am “draconian", a word that none of my interns from any season has ever known. So I digress briefly to tell them about Draco, the unforgiving Athenian lawmaker of the 7th century.

“I am draconian about a lot of things: Cleanliness in the barn, idle hands, no-show behaviors. Beware!”

So begins another internship class. It will be fun getting to know these four young ladies and to see if and how they rise to the occasion. 

The next day, I woke up and after feeding my own horses, breaking ice on their water trough, throwing them extra hay, readjusting their blankets, I decided to come in, make a fire (using the former Christmas tree as kindling!), and to challenge myself to rise to the occasion of reading The Merchant of Venice. I last read it in high school. I decided as I had asked the girls to look into it, that I had better do so too. After all, you gotta walk the talk, right?

Shylock wants his pound
 of flesh.
So I settle in by the blazing fire with a big cup of coffee and the complete works of William Shakespeare. It takes a few minutes to get into the rhythm of  the 400 year old English, but I’m there in no time. Antonio, a noble merchant from Venice borrows money from a Jewish money lender, Shylock, to help his best friend Bassanio win over the girl of his dreams, Portia. Shylock has an age-old vendetta against Antonio and insists if Antonio defaults on the loan that it be repaid with a “pound of flesh.”

The construct of the play is typically Shakespearean: Lovers who have a hard time getting together, “fools” who are the wisest members of the cast, and cross dressing women characters who are way smarter than the men. Pretty formulaic.  

What’s not formulaic are the ideas that explode from the pages: 

The sinuouy nature of the law. Religious intolerance. Inflexibility. Vengeance. Mercy.

As the French say, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” 

And so it is with human nature. 

I come away from the play thinking how litigious people were then and continue to be now, how clever lawyers could and do “spin” arguments.  I think about society today, all the forms of insurance we have to protect ourselves against liability claims, especially those of us who work with large, unpredictable animals, like horses.  

I think about antisemitism, about Shylock’s life long pent up rage about the discrimination he has endured, how unfair religious intolerance is, how deep the wounds it creates and how desctructive those become. Shylock’s anger twists him and becomes his downfall. I then take a leap and think about the perils of taking one’s rage out on horses, about what can happen if one doesn’t seek underlying motives for a horse’s behaviors. To be a good horse trainer, you have to practice compassion. 

It is not hard for me to extrapolate from the world around me lessons that can be learned to make me a better horsewoman. Horses are my Rome. Every day, no matter where life takes me, I am always looking for the road to the Horse.

I hope that the spring interns look for some of those roads while they are at the MMSC.

Cheery bye,

Why is engender highlighted?  

Because it is the Blog Word of the Day: 

 Help us reach our goal of 112,000 total blog visitors this year! Join our Word of the Day contest and you could be entered in a grand prize drawing to win a $500 horse credit at the MMSC or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte! Simply read the blog every Sunday and find the highlighted Word of the Day. Then write a sentence using the word and submit it to mmsc04@gmail.com for a chance to be entered to win! Please read the full contest details below before submitting an entry.
  • Blogs will be posted on Sundays. A chosen word will be highlighted within each blog post.
  • Sentences using the highlighted word must be emailed to mmsc04@gmail.com with the subject line “Word of the Day Contest”.
  • Entries may be submitted each week following a blog post from the posted time through Thursday at 5:00 pm.
  • Winners will be posted on the MMSC Facebook page each Friday following a blog post.
  • Entries must include the highlighted word of the day. The word of the day may be used in other parts of speech other than the one used in the blog, i.e. the highlighted word in the blog may be "malleability" but entrants may use the more common form "malleable" in their sentences.
  • Entries must also include the entrant’s full name (first and last) and email address.
  • Entrants may submit more than one sentence for consideration.
  • Sentences will be judged based on correct use of the word of the day, grammar and sentence structure, and creativity. 
  • Sentences will be judged by the MMSC staff, including MMSC Director Susanna Thomas, MMSC Barn and Media Manager Catherine Flowers, and MMSC Office Manager Lori Tobin.
  • Winners of each word of the day contest throughout the year will be entered in a grand prize drawing to win their choice of either a $500 horse credit toward an MMSC horse available for adoption or a Breyer model of Secretariat signed by Ron Turcotte. To use the $500 horse credit, the winner must become an approved adopter with the MMSC and follow all adoption policies and procedures.
  • The grand prize drawing will be held at the end of the year after Christmas and prior to New Year’s Eve.
  • Disclaimer: This contest does not have a connection with Blogspot or Facebook in any way and is not sponsored, supported, or organized by Blogspot or Facebook. The recipient of the information provided by you is not Blogspot or Facebook but the Maker's Mark Secretariat Center.