Although Big Brown did not as expected win the Triple Crown, the races provided a focal point for discussion about the ethics of horse racing. Prompted by the very public death of Eight Belles on the track at Churchill Downs, the nation and the thoroughbred industry have gotten deeper into discussion of the safety and welfare of the horses involved in racing than ever before. Monday’s edition of NPR’s Diane Rehm Show was dedicated to the topic and Keith Dane, The HSUS’s director of Equine Protection, was a guest on the show (you can listen to an archived recording here).
Blog readers have also sounded off over the past few weeks, and some of your comments follow.
Horses have a life span of 20-30 years. When horses are dying at the age of 3 years old while racing it just confirms that there are major issues that need changes immediately. I am a horsewoman and Thoroughbred owner. Currently, I see some horse owners taking very personally the recent scrutiny of horse racing. Welcome the scrutiny—it is long-awaited. We need to do more to improve practices in the racing industry, breeding, eventing, etc. Put egos aside and do what is best for horses. We need to ensure safe practices. Eight Belles, Barbaro, George Washington, Pine Island and the many other horses who go unmentioned that die every day at the backstretch—it is horrific and grotesque and immoral. The racing industry/Thoroughbred owners need to be more proactive and responsible—make the changes soon. Racing fans—men and women—are already disheartened. If changes are not made the fans will leave entirely—understandably so. —Cassidy
Hey maybe I am off point here, but if two jockeys a day were killed on the track would it not be an epidemic? The horses are the athletes of THIS sport; it is called horse racing after all. They should be getting the same consideration as the humans in the sport. I would also like to point out the statistic of two horses a day being euthanized does NOT include the horses that are removed from the track and are later euthanized or sent to a kill auction. Maybe we can get the numbers on that and people will finally wake up to what is really going on. —Laura Boothby
Thank you for taking interest and offering guidance to the racing industry. I have been a fan of horse racing but find myself afraid to watch the races and see such tragic events unfold. Please suggest that every racetrack and state racing authority support a local horse rescue organization and allow them space on the race grounds for awareness and donations. None of them speak ill of racing, but play a vital role in caring for tired and retired Thoroughbreds. I will follow in hopes that HSUS will again make a national difference. —Jen
As always Wayne Pacelle has given us a thought-provoking and insightful look into a humane issue facing our society. As an animal shelter veterinarian I am concerned about the practices in horse racing and the trend to overbreed horses in general. It is about time that the horse industry has come to the forefront of speculation and is now gaining the scrutiny it deserves. I am offended by positions of organizations criticizing the abolition of horse slaughter in the United States and trying to divert responsibility from the individuals who breed without thought and consider these magnificent animals as disposable. —D. E. Campbell, DVM
I take issue with those who say that most trainers and owners in horse racing want the best for their horses. They want the best only insofar as the horse is making money. Horses in the racing industry do get care. But getting even the best of care and being loved are too very different things. Only the winners get care. The losers get slaughtered. —Craig DiBenedictis
I remember seeing the obvious pain of Barbaro as he limped awkwardly with his broken leg. For what? Horse racing is an outdated industry that is rife with abuses. At the very least they need stricter rules and impartial animal welfare workers to ensure that the horses are treated properly. —Sara N
Horse racing is brutal and inhumane, and I commend the HSUS for stepping in to help the horses. Many owners don’t care what happens to the horses after they race. If you spent time at the barns, at large university hospitals treating the race horses, listened to stories firsthand, or even saved a race horse yourself then you would know how sick the sport actually is and if you watched the recent documentary on HBO Sports you would see the reality of it. These poor young horses are locked up in a stall 23 hours of the day/seven days a week—that fact alone is brutal and inhumane in my opinion. The breeders, the owners, trainers and the vets should all be taken to task for all that goes wrong in the industry. Thoroughbreds love to run but what has happened in this industry is disgusting and horrifying. —Janet
I started riding when I was 4 years old. I’ve always loved horses and owned horses. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that these 3-year-olds racing for the Triple Crown are NOT like normal 3-year-old horses. They are huge, they seem fully developed. How do they develop so quickly at such a young age? Drugs? Do they give these horses steroids? Is their bone strength being bred out of them to gain a little speed? How many careers of Thoroughbreds end before they’ve hardly begun? Yes, the racing industry DOES need to be policed by an outside party. Keep up the vigilant stance! —Jean
As an HSUS member and also a horse racing enthusiast, I don’t think the sport is doing enough to correct its problems. The tracks and Thoroughbred associations do not work together for the common good of the sport and the horses. I would like to see The HSUS assist the Thoroughbred industry in correcting the problems. I don’t think horse racing is a brutal sport but I do feel there are problems within the sport that are root causes to the number of breakdowns. Synthetic surfaces may reduce the number of catastrophic breakdowns but there is so much more that needs to be done. The entire philosophy of the sport needs to change; it has become too much of a business. The number of horses bred needs to be reduced, with owner and breeder responsibility after racing days are over. Horses need to be bred for stamina and soundness, not just speed. The expectations on 2-year-olds need to change, training regiments need to change, programs need to offer longer races to encourage stamina and soundness, medication rules need to be standardized, enforced, and carry severe penalties for those that don’t follow the rules. Horses should not be allowed to race on any medication on race day. I have been a horse racing enthusiast for many years, but I must admit it is becoming more and more difficult to support the sport. —Susan
Wayne, thank you for helping the horses who cannot speak for themselves. Something must be done about the horse racing industry. They have gone too far. I don’t think I will ever forget Eight Belles’ glorious victory, followed by her horrific death. I will never watch another race. I am boycotting all sponsors. Let’s remember Eight Belles, and Barbaro, and all the others who have paid the price, and put an end to the abuse and exploitation. —Linda in San Antonio
Thank you very much for this article! Two- and 3-year-old horses are too young for strenuous mounted work. I have ridden and handled horses off the track, and it was obvious that they had been very badly used. —Sarah Gilmer
When will we see a change? Not until the money stops coming in. Spectators and gamblers are proliferating the problem. If must be outlawed. I am an owner of retired racing greyhounds. These gentle animals not only are raced to make money, then when the money stops they are often killed or sold to science. Disgusting. —Bethanie