By MIKE WILLISCRAFT
In any industry, there are complete idiots.
Based on a straight percentage, look around you, you know if there are 20 people in a room, somebody will be a rule breaker. Maybe there'll be an alcoholic, a compulsive gambler, or, perhaps, a criminal.
For those who follow horse racing, or even those who don't, you may have seen some coverage from a serious accident at Woodbine Racetrack last week. One horse died and two jockeys were hurt, one seriously.
Afterwards, comments started being kicked around about horse racing being animal cruelty. Some horribly ill-informed, if not totally ignorant, people are calling for an outright ban of horse racing.
An overreaction? Ya think?
Now, this accident was on the Thoroughbred side. I have been involved on the Standardbred side of horse racing for more than 30 years.
I've know hundreds of owners and trainers in that span and I can guarantee you, 99.9 per cent of those animals are fussed over like nobody's business, and that is on the harness racing side, which is generally looked at as the poor country cousin to the Thoroughbred side, known as the sport of kings.
More recently, it might be better characterized as the sport of Arab sheiks, with the tens of millions of dollars they have poured into the industry.
Thoroughbred lifestyles are, generally, more posh, but on both sides of the ledger, horses are pampered more than anything else.
And that would be because it is in the best interest of the owners and trainers to have their trusty steeds in prime physical and mental condition.
There would be no benefit, because it is also an intensely competitive business, to abusing a horse to a state where it was malnourished, or lacked even a shred of confidence.
And don't think psychology does not play a part in horse racing, either. Yes, physical ability means a lot, but I have trained fast horses who just didn't want to win. I had to teach a competitive nature and draw it out.
One pacing filly, she was fast and crazy – only horse to drag me over a hubrail – and was lightning quick, but she liked to have horses in front of her for company. If she hit the lead too soon, the show would slow until horses came along side, then speed up to stay with them.
For a whole summer, I trained her with a retired stud, slowly, just to get her used to tucking in behind him and then pulling out in the stretch and blowing by. After a couple hundred of those scenarios, she seemed to wake up and went on to have a pretty good career ... but I digress.
The only thing that I would ban from horse racing are the idiots who are ruining the game and some horses as they seek a competitive edge via steroids, hormones and just about anything else that can give a living animal more endurance or speed.
I have no tolerance for it, and those overseeing the game don't either. The only problem is the technology to detect what a handful of trainers are using is not keeping up, but it's close.
Penalties are also catching up, whereas, in the past, they have been mere tokens.
It’s unfortunate that the sweeping characterization of an entire sport (industry) can be made merely to fan flames of concern at a tragic time. It is odd to see how much print and broadcast attention the sport gets when something like that accident happens, or when Eight Bells met her fate after the Kentucky Derby a couple of years ago, while super horses like Somebeachsomewhere last year and others before him are lucky to see one headline for a whole summer's work.
The reason I took so long to post this column was that I was waiting for the paper to print my letter. They never did, not that I'm surprised. For anyone interested, this is what I wrote:
When you’re wrong, you’re really wrong. But considering your newspaper promotes other forms of animal exploitation (barbecuing animals for various fundraisers, Poultry Fest Niagara, the Rotary Ribfest, farm-to-table pork workshops), and includes Marineland as one of its advertisers, it’s not surprising.
What’s cruel is the entire horse racing industry. Like the animals in a circus, race horses don’t volunteer – they’re forced to race (the reason for the whip) and many of them end up at the slaughterhouse when they’re no longer profitable. A Colorado State University study found that of 1,348 horses sent to slaughter, 58 were known to be former race horses.
In fact, horses aren’t even designed for racing. They’re made to run too fast, their frames are too large, and their legs are too small, resulting in injury and death. It’s estimated that one horse in every 22 races suffers an injury that prevents the animal from finishing the race, and approximately 800 race horses die or are euthanized in Canada and the U.S. each year because of racetrack injuries.
If the owners really cared about their animals, they wouldn’t force them to behave unnaturally, give them drugs to keep them racing when they shouldn’t be, or put their lives at risk. But horse racing is a business, and profits will always come before animal welfare.
Your bias is understandable, given your history with horse owners and trainers, but to eliminate unnecessary suffering and death, horse racing needs to be retired.
Daniel K. Wilson