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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704


Racing from Another Perspective: Experts' Statements about Racing by Holly Cheever, DVM


"Cruelty is an inherent part of the horse racing industry. Thousands of horses are produced annually, from which a few racers are chosen, the rest blown away like chaff in the wind. The big money is in racing the 2 and 3 year olds, for whom training begins at 1˝, before their bodies are fully developed and their growth plates have closed. Unnatural weight is put on their backs, concussive stress on their bones, and they are forced to submit to an overly strict training regimen. Nightmarish injuries like on-the-track fractures leave them finished by the age of 4–6, when they are barely mature. Decisions about their fate are made in the interest of the bottom line dollar, not their health. Injured animals are loaded up on drugs to run one more race.

"The unnatural stresses inherent in competing so aggressively and at such a young age also engender problems such as gastric ulceration and pulmonary (lung field) bleeding, not observed in horses worked at reasonable levels. These health and injury problems once again necessitate — economically — the use of drugs to maintain the horse’s racing value (but not well-being).

"Some horse-owners are either unwilling or unable to provide expensive veterinary care for a horse who may not be successful enough to earn his or her keep. Even when they provide veterinary care, they typically do not allow the horse sufficient time for recovery. Instead, they the send horse out to train or race on still-unhealed limbs. This purely economic motivation stands behind the racetrack saying 'A horse makes no money just standing in his stall.' Once they decide that the horse does not have, or had exhausted, his race-winning potential, they sell the horse to an equine auction, from where horses are either sent to a slaughterhouse that ships horsemeat to the European and Japanese market, or into a downward spiral of abuse at the hands of new owners who may think they would like a retired racehorse, but forget about horses’ longevity and the expense necessary to maintain them properly.

"Experience in the U.S. shows that the most expensive horses and the wealthiest owners race their horses at the most expensive racecourses, while less wealthy owners with less expensive horses race at marginal courses. The profit margin at these marginal venues, where the 'has-been’s' or the ones who never made it to the top are raced, is lower. At these places, where owners have fewer funds and the prizes are smaller, horse care is compromised even more and the cruelty is even more damaging and prevalent.

"The undeniable and inescapable problem with the thoroughbred industry is that thousands of foals must be produced in order to develop a few dozen good racers. The excess often meet with inhumane ends and similarly, when race horses are no longer money-earning winners, they too often end up neglected, abandoned, and starving at the hands of uncaring owners, with their final end being the slaughterhouse. For instance, a Kentucky Derby winner was slaughtered in Japan in 2004, despite his spectacular win a decade earlier. The distressing fate of the thousands of abused, neglected and abandoned horses in the United States is recognized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners — the world’s premiere equine veterinary organization — as its primary and most pressing problem.

"United States legislators, both state and federal, have attempted to constrain the industry’s economically-driven incentives and proven cruelty against horses through an elaborate set of statutes and regulations. Unfortunately, these attempts have largely failed. The industry continues to operate at the status quo, which includes drugging and other unacceptable practices. How will the Israeli people feel if the specter of numerous starved and abandoned horses — the result of unfettered greed — becomes a major blot on the nation’s honor? No moral country should allow this cruel industry to gain a foothold."

Dr. Holly Cheever was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Harvard University, and she was first in her 1980 graduating class at Cornell University Veterinary School.   Dr. Cheever wrote two chapters in the book Shelter Medicine for Veterinarians and Staff, published by Blackwell Press. The chapters include a guide to investigating animal abuse, especially equine abuse. She was a contributing author to How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in NY State — A Manual of Procedures.   She has won awards from the ASPCA and the HSUS (largest humane organizations in the U.S.) and from the New York State Troopers (New York State Police) for her work in cruelty investigations, prosecutions, and humane education. Dr. Cheever was voted Veterinarian of the Year by the New York State Humane Association, and she currently serves as their Vice President. Dr. Cheever teaches a course to New York State law officers (police, state troopers, animal control officers, and others) four times a year on how to investigate animal abuse. She has been around horses all her life, including race horses.

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