Sunday, May 4, 2008

Derby Horse Eight Belles; Ethics/Morals of Horseracing

Read the NY Times story Race Illustrates Brutal Side of Sport by William C. Rhoden. Here are the first few paragraphs of that story:

Why do we keep giving thoroughbred horse racing a pass? Is it the tradition? The millions upon millions invested in the betting?

Why isn’t there more pressure to put the sport of kings under the umbrella of animal cruelty?

The sport is at least as inhumane as greyhound racing and only a couple of steps removed from animal fighting.

Is it the fact that horse racing is imbedded in the American fabric? And the Triple Crown is a nationally televised spectacle? Or is it the fact that death on the track is rarely seen by a mainstream television audience?

Another interesting article, and one that definitely looks at both sides of the sport, is a Jim Squires post on the NY Times blog The Rail: Horse Lover's View from Inside the Industry. Mr. Squires, an obvious lover of the sport, defends horse racing but also considers the many criticisms of it, and brings up some serious issues for us to think about, such as track conditions, veterinary care, owners vs. trainers, individual horse's spirit, conscientious breeding, and gambling.

Another story worth reading: Is Horse Racing Breeding Itself to Death? by Sally Jenkins at The Washington Post. Ms. Jenkins speaks to the moral crisis in racing, due in part to the current breeding of horses for spirit and physical stamina, and larger chests yet seeming increased skeletal frailty. A line from that story: Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them. And another: 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.

Many of these same articles have mentioned a similar - though less noticed - accident just the day before the Derby: a colt named Chelokee dislocated an ankle at Kentucky Oaks and has only a 50% chance of survival. Regardless, the injury has ended the horse's career and we just hope the poor animal doesn't wind up as dog food (though it's been suggested that he might spend his days as stud service).

On another note about equine sports, check out the excellent blog Teachings of the Horse, specifically the post Too Much, Too Fast, Too Hard. In this post, author Victoria Cummings muses on the equestrian sport of Eventing, and the tragedies - and reasons for them - in that sport of late.

For a more immediate reaction to this Derby incident, with links to NBC Sports and ESPN stories, read yesterday's post Eight Belles - Derby Horse Euthanized on Track.


  1. Oh! It's so hard for me to read this stuff. Don't get me wrong, I don't turn a blind eye to it. Ever since I first read "Black Beauty" as a child, I have had sympathy for the ill-treated equine.
    I cannot but think that if women had been the first to tame horses they would never have subjected them to use for sport apart from riding them for work, or pleasure.
    It is, in the main, men who can pick up a rifle and stalk a deer, and it is generally men who can flog an animal to make it go faster or pull more weight.
    I'm not saying we don't need men, but if we were the ones in charge - it might be a better world all around. (Funny - I'm not really what I consider a feminist, but that just seems to make sense.)

    Having said that, I'm not exactly pro-Hillary either. (I wonder what her view is on horses?)


  2. With another race ahead of us and too many tragedies behind us, I can only hope the public will soon view this for what it is ... animal cruelty.

    Even though I seldom write on my website about the things that pain me most in the horse world, it was impossible to remain silent over Eight Belles. Not that the others that have met the same fate were not just as important, but because ... enough is enough.

    Living quite near the Del Mar Race Track, I am sickeningly aware of the numbers that don't leave the field.

    I do believe and have to believe that the day will come when the whip is abandoned and babies are no longer forced to run when they should be still romping in the fields.

    My fervent hope is that the public will abandon this form of greed and go for the races held inside the Indian casinos or some like form of worthlessness.

    Perhaps there will be fewer horses bred for the wrong purpose, more horses bred for all the right reasons and horses will have the opportunity of living out their lives under the care of responsible owners.

    Thanks for your thorough reporting.
    Let's hope the end is in sight.


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