Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Can There Exist a Compassionate Horse Racing Fan?

Thank you, jo anne, for taking the time to read and comment on my recent post that involved the declining attendance and handle at racetracks. Your passion for the care and welfare of horses is greatly appreciated.

From what I gleaned in your comments, both here and in the Paulick Report, you have a disdain for horse racing fans and have collectively lumped them into an uncaring, unfeeling group of individuals that would prefer to drug, beat, abuse, and finally consume, a horse just to make a few bucks. Well, you've inspired me to step into the Great Abyss of Controversy to share a few of my thoughts regarding your cause.

I'm with you.

Yes, I'm a horse racing enthusiast and I care greatly for the well-being of all racehorses. I think we should get rid of drugs in horse racing, use pink fuzzy slippers instead of whips, and demand that all kill buyers hold hands and fall off the edge of the Earth. And while I'm at it, we should outlaw puppy mills, stop global warming, and end world hunger.

I'm not a horse owner, but I know a number of them, and they genuinely care about the welfare of their animals; they can yammer on endlessly about their horse's personality you'd think that the horse should be booked as a guest on Letterman. Frankly, I'm always delighted to listen to their anecdotes. But it's just as devastating to lose a horse to injury as it is to disease or ailment, including old age. And as you know, horses are not only injured racing and training, but they can do serious harm to themselves in a paddock or when they're turned out.

Your comments also got me thinking about other horses that work for a living. Should we protest the Amish because they use horses to pull buggies and heavy wagons when they could be driving a Prius?

A trainer I know once shared with me some thoughts about racing horses and the allusion of universal mistreatment, "Animals are here for our pleasure, but it's our duty to ensure that we love them and care for them in the greatest manner humanly possible, including after their racing days are over." Kind of spiritual, huh. And she meant it, too - setting up her own horse rescue and rehabilitation operation.

Now, I'm not naïve enough to believe that all trainers and/or owners take good care of their racehorses; I'm sure there is mistreatment, just as there are people who kick their dogs or, worse, kick their children. But we can continue to be vocal and vehement about demanding safety and integrity in the sport, and call for the industry to take a firm stand against horse slaughter. That's an "agenda" we should all agree upon.


su-ann said...

Nice post :-)

I believe that owners choose horses they purchase and horses don't choose their owners.

Therefore, as a horse owner, the well-being of the horse should be held with high priority.

If a horse does not perform well, the owner should not punish the horse because the very fact is that the horse did not choose to belong to the owner, it's the owner's choice to purchase the horse.

Having said that, horses are not machines, they're living beings. They have off-days and how can one place so much expectation on a horse in an industry that thrives on luck, chance and uncertainty? Races are won by horses that cost no more than AUD $1250 (eg. Takeover Target), yet some horses are purchased for millions and remain unraced.

It seems hardly fair to punish a horse for the decision made by the buyer and I believe that one should never purchase anything they're unable or unwilling to maintain or take care of.

I'm an avid horse racing/breeding fan and I love horses.

teresa said...

Brava, Sue. Thanks for saying so eloquently what so many of us feel.

I often wonder whether those who post so stridently about horse welfare and racing do so before sitting down to a meal of a hamburger while wearing leather shoes?

Or maybe all of them are synthetic-wearing vegans. Probably, right?

Fred J. said...

We are all animals and the world is based on the strongest animals "winning" the war of survival. In the jungle, the Lions tend to win the war, killing most other wild animals. In civilized countries, the "human animal" wins the war of survival. Hence we kill cows, bull, pigs, chicken and yes, even horses every day, mostly for food purposes. For entertainment purposes, we also whip the hell out of horses and bet too-for yes money-because we like money and we again win the War.

Sad, perhaps, but so very true. I just ran 5 miles this morning and burned enough calories to now enjoy some nice bacon with my eggs!

Sorry Jo anne but We win.

John said...

Nice post, you could probably make a living as a speechwriter if you get tired of those test tubes and beakers.

Beakers, that would be a good name for a horse! I think there was a muppet by the name, now that I think of it!

I suspect you are going to get more comments like the one from Fred and I will be back to read them.

You know me, I love a can of worms although I admit I would never eat a worm, certainly not with my eggs.

Robby said...

I enjoyed reading your post which I found by going to I own small percentages in a handful of horses and I am always worried about their welfare. I'm not in the ownership game to make a bunch of money but just to enjoy watching my horses race on tv and at the track.

It's always heartbreaking to see horses breakdown on the track to me but I think we all accept that's part of the game. That being said there are lots of changes that need to be made in the industry that can limit the number of breakdowns and to ensure that horses have a comfortable life after racing. I think we are at the "recognition" phase right now and hopefully moving into the "progress" stage soon.

Anonymous said...

I also agree with much of your post. What I find frustrating, in dealing with people such as jo anne, is the insistance that racing be held not just to a higher standard, but to a standard of perfection. Far too often I hear that racing will only be acceptable when zero racehorses die. Without a realistic view of the situation, nor any room for negotiation these people are best kept on 'ignore'.

Unknown said...

For “Anonymous” and others: On every item that I have remarked upon here and in much more detail in the Paulick Blog, I have used the racing industry’s own public statements, Congressional testimony, and research papers to state my claims. Your frustration is misplaced:

In reference to the number of fatalities in Thoroughbred racing, veterinarian C. Wayne McIlwraith, director of equine orthopedic research at Colorado State University stated, “We want this figure to be zero”. So take your frustration out on Dr. McIlwraith if his statement is an impossibility.

As to racing and training deaths, after over 100 years of racing no one has figured out how to simply count the number of horses that are injured or die in training or racing? Apparently not and here’s what others in racing have to say about that: “Nobody really knows how big of a problem it is, said Rick Arthur, California’s equine medical director. “They just know it’s a big problem”. Writer Alan Ferguson complained: “The largest snag in determining if more breakdowns are occurring is the lack of publicized records and statistics to compare totals from year to year”.

In her Final Turn commentary for The Blood-Horse, Dr. Patricia Hogan, a veterinary surgeon and AAEP member and racehorse owner stated: “We ask the public to embrace our sport, follow the careers of our stars, even join track fan clubs for the very elite performers, and yet we have no plausible explanation for the shocking paradox that exists concerning the lack of care and the eventual demise of the poor performers. It is becoming painfully obvious that the irony has not been lost upon the general public.”

And further she states: “Veterinarians who work with any of the racetrack retirement programs can tell you that the physical condition of many of those horses “donated” (a clear misuse of the word) render second careers or even adoption as pets next to impossible. Yet, these horses were actually racing often just days prior to entering these programs—how is that able to happen”.

So per the racing industry, in addition to the unknown training and racing injuries and deaths, the unknown number that limp into rescues unsound for even walk/trot use, the unknown number euthanized in rescues across the country, in addition to those unknown figures, Dr. Hogan stated that an amount equal to one-half of the average annual foal crop then goes to slaughter each year.

So “Anonymous”, I will use your own words back to you: “Without a realistic view of the situation, nor any room for negotiation these people are best kept on 'ignore'." You wish to “ignore” what the racing industry itself is saying that I merely repeated. Please, people, start educating yourself because until you do, responding to your vague and off-subject remarks is not worth my time.

Incidentally, unlike suebroux, I own multiple horses and have bred and owned racehorses and I’m sorry if suebroux is in a bit of a snit because many people on the Paulick Blog pointed out much more serious reasons for declining handle none of which had to do with her explanation of increased entry and food prices and not being able to chat with a former track employee.

In fact, I am also not sure how this blog title became changed from its original title, "Handle is Declining and I'm the Cause" to "Can There Exist a Compassionate Horse Racing Fan?"
But here's a closing thought for horse racing fans: The financial burden for the rehabilitation and retirement of these horses must fall solely upon the YOU, the fans, those who wager and those whose employment is dependent on Thoroughbred racing and NOT on the non-race public.

Anonymous said...


ljk said...

OK jo anne, so if WE, the racing fans, will have to take care of all racehorses, does that mean that YOU the "non-race public" will take on the responsibility for rehabilitation of every other domesticated horse? You act like only racehorses get injured or sent to slaughter.

Also, can WE, the racing fans, take the credit for all the positive gains that have been made in the treatment of ALL horses, including yours, through veterinary research funded by the racing industry?

JoyceM said...

Handle is declining in large part due to the fact that the public is sickened by watching horses die on the track due to catastrophic injuries.

Over the past few years the public has become much more aware of the dark side of racing. Every time an Eight Belles is euthanized on the track or a jockey is suspended for taking his/her anger out on the horse, or a trainer is suspended for doping, more race fans turn away and rightfully so.

True fans do not accept death as part of the sport. Neither do true horsemen/women. Yes, horses get injured/die due to a variety of circumstances whether on the track or off. That does not mean that we should turn a blind eye toward the abuse inflicted on so many racehorses which includes the slaughter of some 17,000 TB's each year.

Horses are consistently raced with known injuries masked by a variety of legal and illegal drugs. Race day vet exams? A waste of time at most tracks and not even performed at many. Unless the horse is head bobbing lame or already on three legs, the vet will allow them to run.

For every one horse that is injured or killed on race day, dozens of others were lost in training. No intelligent person can consider this acceptable.

To claim that because humans are (usually) at the top of the food chain is reason enough to maim and torture animals is stupidity at best. Those with this attitude also think dog fighting is acceptable as well.

With regard to veterinary advances being made due to racing, this to is absurd as the focus is on how to keep making money be it by correcting an injury and sending the horse back to the track, or keeping the horse alive to breed it, NOT on how to build a stronger horse. In order to scientifically evaluate how to make and keep horses sound and running, data regarding injuries and deaths would need to be accumulated and published along with the performing of necropsy on each horse euthanized. The racing industry does not want this to happen as it will be the end of racing should the information be obtained by the general public.

With regard to Amish horses, you should spend some time in Amish counry and then go to the New Holland and Sugar Creek auctions. See first hand what this 'loving' community does to their horses, dogs, cats, etc. The Menonite community treats animals in a manner very much like the Amish.

Until the racing industry holds itself to a standard of perfection, handle and attendance will continue to decline, as it should.

DawnM said...

The financial burden for the rehabilitation and retirement of these horses must fall solely upon YOU, the fans, those who wager and those whose employment is dependent on Thoroughbred racing and NOT on the non-race public."
Well said Jo Anne and thank you for sharing with us excellent quotes from respected veterinarians who see the damage day in and day out first hand.
I would add that the breeders and owners in particular, and to some extent veterinarians, drug companies, blacksmiths, and jockeys should also contribute to the repairing, rehabbing, retiring and humane euthanasia as needed of horses they breed, race and profit from.

ASH said...

I dont know if this helps in either way with the disscussion but in the last few weeks two race meetings have been abandoned. One was due to water supply problems that meant that the horses werent getting enough water, one was because the ambulance and emergency vet couldnt follow the racing due to the road being flooded. This shows both times the horses saftey and jockeys saftey came first.

Teresa said...

For the anti-horse racing contingent who for some reason are frequenting a website devoted to horse racing:

You might consider your tone as you try to convey your dismay at what you see as the problems of horse racing, and as you try to persuade others to your point of view.

Insulting and yelling at people are generally not particularly effective techniques of persuasion.

I also wonder whether you put the same energy into making sure that cows, poultry, and pigs do not suffer for our eating and apparel pleasure. The lives and deaths of those poor animals are far worse than those of most race horses.

SaratogaSpa said...

Teresa makes a good point. I think I read somewhere that 500,000 cows are slaughtered every day. Yet I see very little "save the cow" outcries.

Horses by comparison in the thoroughbred community are treated very humanely and quite often loved by those in charge of them

Unknown said...

I have bred, owned and raced horses and I am quite qualified to post on horse racing blogs.

We are not discussing issues like cows, pigs, and hens because that is off topic for the subject matter of this blog. I am sure there are such blogs where you may place comments on those topics if you wish.

The comment: "Horses by comparison in the thoroughbred community are treated very humanely and quite often loved by those in charge of them". Horses are NOT classified as food animals by the USDA so this comparison is inappropriate. What percentage does "quite often" mean?
What does "thoroughbred community" mean? Does it refer to JUST racing which is the subject matter? If "thoroughbred community" means horse racing, the statistics regarding that comment do not bear this out. Please refer to my previous post of 7-9-09.

As "Anonymous" (who continues to hide his/her identity) stated previous, he/she believes I have an "agenda" and that is right. That is the purpose of a blog -- to let people state their opinions on a particular topic. My agenda is fact based on my direct experience for many years in Thoroughbred racing and through information the industry itself has stated.

Teresa said...

Last I knew, the way animals were classified by a government agency had little effect on their ability to feel pain and stress. My point is that to rail against the treatment of horses because they are treated inhumanely, while taking advantage of the benefits of other animals (meat, shoes, belts, a leather couch) who also suffer, is hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

racing fans I have come to find are among the sweetest and cutest fans around. but you guys don't want to hear that.

ANY sport involving animals is going to have some degree of abuse. ANYTHING at ALL involving animals is going to have some degree of abuse. That's because there are bad people out there. Did your parents fail to mention that to you at any point? It's going to happen. I don't want it to happen, if I saw it happening I would stop/report it. It's not like arguing with a bunch of blog writers/readers is going to change ANYTHING at all. Just gets everyone frustrated and ruffled.

Horseracing has thousands of workers who put in 365 days a year, no holidays, waking up at 3 and 4 in the morning to feed and train their horses. Their lives depends on the lives of their horses. They can't really afford to mistreat them. They don't walk around the shedrow muttering about how they wish all their horses would die already. They're in the industry because they love it. They've sacrificed a lot to be able to muck out stalls and fit girths for a living. It's not glamorous, it's not always fun and you don't always win.

And no one is happy when a horse breaks down. On the rare occasion we'd see a track van go by, you'd feel that pit in your stomach when you loose something or someone. That emotion doesn't skip over people.

Those horses live better than some people and are treated better than other horses that spoiled little girls convince their parents to buy them...and then lose interest and sell them off with little thought for the horse or it's future.

Get over it, go join PETA and stop eating animal byproducts. Until you're 100% free of any animal cruelty in your life, then you can come back and fill us in. That includes killin' insects with your car. Thanks.