Carnage

“Carnage,” as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is “large-scale death and destruction.” Those familiar with this site know that I’ve oft used this word to describe what is happening within the American horseracing industry. Critics take umbrage, calling it dramatic and hyperbolic – just another bit of overheated animal rights rhetoric. And of course, they say, untrue. Well.

In each of the past two calendar years (’14, ’15), I have identified roughly 1,000 track-related (racing/training) kills. But after factoring in what is missing – rejected FOIA requests, most notably from major racing-states California and Kentucky; training deaths omitted from other FOIA documents; the “catastrophically injured” who are euthanized back at the farm or shortly after being acquired by a rescue; slipshod recordkeeping – I believe that the 1,000 can easily and reasonably be doubled. But that figure – 2,000 (annually) – covers only deaths on or originating from open-to-the-public racetracks. There are at least as many private training facilities as sanctioned tracks. It should not be difficult to see where this is headed.

Next, consider what the industry refers to as “non-racing” fatalities – that is, deaths of stabled-at-the-track, awaiting-next-race horses from things like stress-induced colic, racing-related infections, and the proverbial “barn accidents.” For technical accuracy, I do not include these horses on my KIA lists, but make no mistake, they are no less casualties of this sordid business than the ones referred to above.

Finally, slaughter. While Racing grossly downplays the extent of the problem, proudly flashing its zero-tolerance policies and aftercare programs in defense, we do have statistics from which to draw conclusions. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance (using USDA data), an average of 135,823 American horses have been slaughtered annually over the past ten years. (The last U.S. abattoirs closed in 2007; now, we simply ship them – itself, a horror – to Canada and Mexico.) A Wild for Life Foundation study found that from 2002-2010 an average of 19% of the slaughtered were Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a far lower percentage, say 10%, we’re still well over 10,000 butchered – annually. Just Thoroughbreds, mind you. How many more “retired” Quarterhorses and Standardbreds meet this same brutal end?

All this – the broken bodies of raceday, wherever, whenever euthanasia finally comes; the “sudden cardiac events” in morning practice, be they at Gulfstream or GoldMark; the colic, laminitis, “found dead in their stalls”; the exsanguinations – leads to a single, inescapable conclusion: carnage. Carnage.

– Patrick Battuello

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