Focus on horse safety

Barring a successful run at a Triple Crown, the middle of June isn’t usually a particularly hot time in the world of Thoroughbred racing. Yes, we’ve got some good races on the calendar, and even some Grade I’s, but mostly, mid-June is a time to take a deep breath, recover from the Triple Crown races, and get ready for summer racing.

Not so this year. Congress has done its part by scheduling its hearings into racing safety for this Thursday, and now Jeffrey McMurray of the Associated Press has put racing safety—or lack thereof—right back into public consciousness.

Even those of us most devoted to this sport will have a hard time finding any good news in the article. Among the points it makes:

  • In general, more than three race horses die every day in this country.
  • Not all tracks keep detailed and thorough records about equine fatalities, and some tracks don’t keep any at all.
  • Dr. Larry Bramlage notes that current data suggests that horses are breaking down with greater frequency than in the past.

Some of this is not necessarily news, but it is nonetheless distressing, even agonizing, for those of us who love both horses and racing.

As I have noted here before, I turned away from racing for a long time because I couldn’t stand it anymore: I couldn’t stand to see horses breaking down; I couldn’t convince myself that racing is humane; I couldn’t justify humans making profit off of an industry that puts horses in harm’s way.

For a decade, I was a vegetarian because the horrors of factory farming and the inhumane conditions faced by cows, pigs, and chickens became intolerable to me.

Now, I eat meat and I go to the races (frequently simultaneously), but both rapprochements require a certain amount of denial on my part, and the willingness to concentrate more on the pleasures of these pursuits than on the disturbing elements of both.

I’m not one of those people who believe that animals deserve to live without any influence of humans; I think it’s OK for humans to eat animals and for humans to wear animals, though even that stance has some inconsistencies—leather shoes are acceptable, fur absolutely not.

I don’t think it’s great that race horses spend most of their time in a stall, and that they are sometimes made to race when they don’t want to, and that injured horses are put in dangerous situations for the sake of a profit, but I do think that by and large, race horses lead lives that are far better than almost any animal whose flesh makes it to our dinner plates, or whose hide covers our feet. Anyone outraged at horse racing really should start with trying to reform the way that animals are raised and slaughtered for our consumption in this country. How come Congress doesn’t care about the suffering of the millions of animals each year that live and die horrifically so that we can eat them?

Whatever relationship we have with animals should be predicated on the basic fact that they shouldn’t be made to suffer for our benefit; my decisions to eat meat and to watch racing bring with them a responsibility to take care of the animals of whose delights I partake. In the last few months, I’ve had conversations with more than one serious enthusiast in which we have questioned how we can continue to follow a sport that regularly unnerves and saddens us. I suspect that we will all continue to hang in there, unable to tear ourselves away from the beauty and the excitement and the joy of being around horse racing.

And I hope that our continued participation will obligate us to work towards making racing as safe as it can be for horses. Last week, Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, director of Colorado State University’s Equine Orthopaedic Research Center of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences (there’s a mouthful), wrote a guest commentary in the Denver Post (thanks, Equidaily, for pointing me to it) in which he discusses four steps that racing needs to take in order to increase equine safety. Members of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, which will question members of the racing industry this week, should read his article and be prepared to ask those called to testify how his suggestions might be enacted.

Jeffrey McMurray’s article about equine fatality puts forth some hard truths that make me uncomfortable, and while I am certain that this week’s hearings will bring forth some of the blistering commentary that ensued following the death of Eight Belles, I would like to be hopeful, like my fellow Thoroughbred Bloggers Alliance writer Frank at That’s Amore Stable, that such scrutiny offers us an opportunity to enact and support the kind of change that most of us who love this game would like to see.

And in a complete other note, wouldn’t it be great if The Rail were still around to offer varying perspectives and insights on these topics? Joe and Melissa—bring it back! Racing needs the exposure that you gave it by offering a forum for insight and information. It’s not too late…

And on yet another note, here you go, Anonymous Commenter. I’d much prefer that you identify yourself, but you pointed me in the direction of the McMurray article, and for that, thanks.

2 thoughts on “Focus on horse safety

  1. Once again, you’ve been able to give voice to many of my own feelings about animals, horses, racing, etc. I eat meat (although more sparingly than I used to), wear leather (never fur), and love to watch the TBs run. And am angered and saddened every time I hear of a breakdown, be it the caliber of Eight Belles, or a virtual unknown on some small-town track.I have no easy answers or rememdies. I just try my best to support those causes which promote humane treatment of all the animals. And humane treatment of humans too.

  2. If horse racing were the worst example of human relations with other species, Jesus would descend from the clouds on his white horse (120 Beyers no doubt) and exclaim, “My work here is done!”

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