Horse racing causes many joint and bone injuries, speed-enhancing drugs given, 1,000 horses die each year on American race tracks. Horses no longer able to race are sold for slaughter. A few may be kept for breeding, a dubious honor as they may be lame and kept indoors in barns until unable to breed; then they, too are slaughtered.
Who’s fighting it: IDA, AAPN (Asian Animal Protection Network), Fund4horses, CHAI (Concern for Helping Animals in Israel), PETA, LCA (Last Chance for Animals), Animal Aid (UK), Animals Australia, DawnWatch, DownBound, AnimalsAustralia, SHARK, All-Creatures.org, Live Export Shame, horseracingkills.com, WAF (World Animal Foundation), FAACE (Fight Against Animal Cruelty in Europe), Animals Australia, The New York Times, NY Daily News.
An Inappropriate “Sport”
Horses begin training or are already racing when they are too young, their skeletal system is still growing and unprepared to handle the pressures of running on a hard track at high speeds. Improved medical treatment and technological advancements have done little to remedy the plight of the racehorse. One study on injuries at racetracks concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him or her from finishing a race, while another estimates that 800 thoroughbreds die a year in North America because of injuries. Strained tendons or hairline fractures can be tough for veterinarians to diagnose and the damage may go from minor to irrevocable at the next race or workout. Horses do not handle surgery well, as they tend to be disoriented when coming out of anesthesia and may fight casts or slings, possibly causing further injury. Many are euthanized in order to save the owners further veterinary fees and other expenses on a horse who can’t race again.
Given the huge investment in a horse, reported one Kentucky paper, “simply sending one to pasture, injured or not, is not an option all owners are willing to consider.” Care for a single racehorse can cost as much as $50,000 per year. Magic Man stepped into an uneven section of a track and broke both front legs during a race at Saratoga Race Course; his owner had bought him for $900,000 dollars, yet the horse hadn’t earned any money yet and, unproven on the track, wasn’t worth much as a stud, so he was euthanized.
Trainers may take calculated risks by running a horse they know is injured. War Emblem, theracehorse who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2001, suffered from bone chips in one ankle and both knees. In spite of veterinary recommendations for surgery, which would have taken away from training and racing time, trainer Bob Baffert said, “Let the chips fall where they may,” and continued to race the horse. War Emblem lost the Belmont Stakes, changed hands twice, and was sent to Japan for breeding. Alone, painful and halfway arount the world from everything he ever knew and loved, he was diagnosed with “unwillingness to cover mares” at a breeding barn. He was slaughtered there for food, unthanked and unmarked, by people who view animals only as meat.
Bone chips, which occur in up to 50 percent of racehorses by some veterinary estimates, are “like taking two pieces of rock, rubbing them together and seeing pieces of sand rubbing off,” explains one veterinary orthopedic surgeon. The same trainer continued to race a 3-year-old thoroughbred after knee surgery; the horse had to be euthanized after breaking his shoulder during a workout.
Drugs and Deception
“Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,” commented one racing reporter. Many racehorses are turned into junkies by their trainers and sometimes by veterinarians, who provide drugs to keep horses on the track when they shouldn’t be racing.
Which drugs are legal and which are not varies from state to state, with Kentucky holding the reputation as most lenient. According to The Washington Post, every horse at the 2003 Kentucky Derby was given a shot of Lasix (which controls bleeding in the lungs), and most were probably given phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory). Those drugs, although legal, can also mask pain or make a horse run faster. Labs cannot detect all of the illegal drugs out there, of which there “could be thousands,” says the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Morphine, which can keep a horse from feeling any pain from an injury, was suspected in the case of Be My Royal, who won a race limping. Baffert has also been suspended for using morphine on a horse. One trainer was suspended for using an Ecstasy-type drug on five horses, and another has been kicked off of racetracks for using clenbuterol and, in one case, for having the leg of a euthanized horse cut off “for research.”
Sally Jenkins wrote in the Washington Post: “There is no turning away from this fact: Eight Belles killed herself finishing second. She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles for the pleasure of the crowd, the sheiks, oilmen, entrepreneurs, old money from the thousand-acre farms, the handicappers, men in bad sport coats with crumpled sheets full of betting hieroglyphics, the julep-swillers and the ladies in hats the size of boats, and the rest of the people who make up thoroughbred racing.
“But thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it. Twice since 2006, magnificent animals have suffered catastrophic injuries on live television in Triple Crown races, and there is no explaining that away. Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them. Barbaro and Eight Belles merely are the most famous horses who have fatally injured themselves.
“According to several estimates, there are 1.5 career-ending breakdowns for every 1,000 racing starts in the United States. That’s an average of two per day.” Animal Planet, a television station ostensibly promoting the welfare of nonhumans, has a show called “Jockeys”, glamorizing the horse-racing industry, which goes to show that they care more about viewer numbers and ratings than the animals they tell about.
Recent progress: the widespread use of steroids in race horses is finally becoming banned in some U.S. states, but this is just the tip of the iceberg, and doubtless steroid and other drug use will continue illegally behind the scenes. Also an Australian group is trying to ban the use of whips.
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