With Derby Day tomorrow, I share this from one of our readers…
I will never forget the horse’s name who changed my view of horse racing forever. His name was “Mariano Intheninth.” He died 2 years ago. In the name of horse racing. I grew up in a family who is pretty fond of “going to the races,” so I have been around it my whole life. My dad even owned a couple racehorses when I was a kid. So I did not come to this conclusion lightly. Two years ago, I accompanied my family to the races. Pretty standard stuff. I probably went once every year or two with them. I had no idea that on this particular trip to Churchill, my opinion and life would be changed forever.
We had been there about an hour or so and I walked outside during one of the races to get a better view. As the horses were crossing the finish line, I noticed one stopped very abruptly and the little man on his back fell off onto the ground. The horse that had stopped was Mariano. As the other horses passed him, it became clear to me what the issue was. One of his front legs had completely snapped in half and was now dangling, held on by nothing more than the horse’s thin skin. I looked around and there were a few startled faces, but the vast majority just looked the other way or simply said to me “that’s just part of horse racing…it happens.” I knew right away that Mariano would be killed shortly after breaking his leg and that the races would continue on as if nothing happened. So I left, never to return.
Being the person I am, I will never accept “that’s just part of horse racing…it happens” as an excuse. So I immediately went looking for answers. I wanted to know WHY. There was something off about him breaking his leg. He didn’t trip. He didn’t fall. He didn’t run into any other horses. I know because I was standing RIGHT there. He was just a few feet away from me. He was just running. And then he wasn’t anymore.
I started doing research online about racehorses and broken bones (I will include links at the end of this article for all of you who want to doubt my research). I was shocked to find out that horse bones don’t even stop developing until the age of 7. Mariano was 3 (side note: ALL Derby horses are also 3). I learned that the average lifespan of a horse is 25-30 years and that most of the horses you see at the track are under 7 years old with underdeveloped bones. Over time, people have bred these horses to have big muscular bodies and thin legs making them very fast. But of course this means that their legs are more brittle in general. Many of them live very short lives due to racing. I also discovered that most (if not all) of these horses are given drugs that mask injury and pain, causing them to continue performing. Why would a trainer or owner do this? To get their money’s worth. In the case of Mariano, it is possible that he already had a leg injury but was given drugs and pushed to race anyway. It could also simply be because he was a young horse with brittle bones.
Those were just my first findings. And they were appalling to me. I kept searching and reading. I learned that there are thousands of these horses bred each year and only a few make it to the track and even fewer make it to Oaks or Derby level. What happens to the ones left over? Keep reading. I learned that the vast majority of horses not good enough to race, who do not make their owners money, who have a “washed up racing career,” and the ones who don’t end up dying on the track, end up at horse auctions. What is so bad about a horse auction? Kill Buyers. Kill Buyers frequent horse auctions. They buy left over or used-up horses (even beautiful healthy horses) and sell them into the slaughter industry in Canada, Europe and Japan.
The slaughter of horses is illegal in the US (but wasn’t just a few years ago), but that doesn’t make it illegal for Kill Buyers to buy US horses and ship them off to other countries to be slaughtered. This happens every single day. There have even been a few “precious KY Derby” winners who have slipped through the cracks. How could this happen? Well many times, once a successful racehorse is done racing they are sold to become a breeder horse in hopes that they will produce the next big winner – to produce more money. The breeding facilities are not always in the US. Look up the horse named Ferdinand. He was sold to a breeding farm in Japan after he won the KY Derby. He spent a few years on the farm breeding… but then was sent to slaughter.
These are all the things the horse racing industry doesn’t want you to know. They want you all to continue to bet, drink and to go to your “Derby Parties.” They don’t want anyone to see the pain that many of these beautiful horses suffer daily, and they certainly don’t want you to know that the horse racing industry and the horse slaughter industry are linked in any way. Of course, not ALL owners are bad. Not ALL trainers are bad. Not ALL horses end up dying on the track and they don’t ALL end up being slaughtered. But a LOT do. A whole lot. Sure, you may see the occasional happy story on TV around Derby time, where a retired horse gets to spend the rest of his or her days out on a ranch in the country. And that is wonderful. But it is NOT the norm. Too many horses are bred each year for that “happy ending” to even be possible for most of them. Of course, that is the best outcome for those lucky ones. And that is the image you will see on TV. You won’t see what happens to the rest of them.
Speaking of Derby time, there was a time when the curtain was very briefly drawn on the industry. Derby Day 2008, when the horse who came in 2nd crossed the finish line and then promptly snapped BOTH front legs and landed face first into the ground on national television. Her name was Eight Belles. This caused a bit of an uproar, but was soon forgotten. But hey, “that’s just part of horse racing…it happens,” right?
Some of you may find yourselves asking, when a horse breaks its leg, why do they get “put down” when it is possible in some cases to repair a broken leg in a horse? The answer is that it is cheaper for the owner to buy a new race horse than it is to heal a broken one. On top of that, once that leg has been broken, the horse will never race again. Meaning, no more money for the owner. That fact alone is proof that these horses are nothing more than “money making machines” to their owners. Once they are no longer of any value, they get sold. Some people may even like to call horse racing a “sport.” My response: In what sport does an athlete get “put down” after breaking a bone? In what sport does the athlete not have a CHOICE whether to “play” or not? A horse is not a consenting athlete. If he is, then please let me see his signed contract. Some people may also use the excuse that “horses love to run.” Yes, they do. They love to run on their own terms. Out in a field. Not whipped to go as fast as their thin legs will carry them and certainly not to the point that their legs break.
I could literally go on and on about this subject. But I will leave you with this. Next time you get invited to a Derby Party, or get invited to the track, please stop and really think about it. If you are an animal lover or you find yourself saying, wow those horses are beautiful, please just stop and think about THEM. For just a minute. They are the ones who suffer in all this. By saying, “well I’m just going for the music or the drinking or to be social,” you are still GOING. You are still participating. If you are not bothered by any of what you have just read, then by all means keep doing what you are doing. But if these facts DO bother you, please don’t look the other way. That’s the selfish and easy way out. Trust me. It was not easy researching all of this. It was not easy writing this. And it will NOT be easy for me to post this for all to see, as I will surely face ridicule. But I truly love animals. ALL animals. And I am honored to be a voice for them. Even if it is a small one here in “Derby City.”
I hope that if nothing else, I have opened the eyes of at least ONE person. I am just ONE person too, after all, and that’s where change begins.
– Meghan Julius, May 2017