Equibase reports that four-year-old Kentucky Hannah, running in yesterday’s 6th race at Penn National, “broke down and fell nearing the turn then was humanely euthanized.” (By the way, to imply that somehow credit is due for ending the misery you – racing – caused is contemptible.) Pity trainer/owner Stephanie Beattie, her earning with Kentucky Hannah had only just begun, and with two wins in four races, the filly was well on her way to becoming a fine revenue stream. To add insult to injury, Beattie is also saddled with disposal costs.

On Tuesday, three-year-old Flashy Eyed Pearl “clipped heels and fell heavily” during the 5th race at Parx. Her status is unknown. That same day at Charles Town, Include Abigail, another pubescent filly, “jostled at the start [of the 9th race], trailed the field then broke down midway on the final turn.” The racing office was unable to update, though I was told that the “jock is fine.” Intentionally, neither Pennsylvania nor West Virginia have NY-type injury/death databases, so kill confirmations are difficult to obtain. This is horseracing.

Tradition. Beauty. Elegance. Billing itself “The Sport of Kings,” racing presents its horses, especially the regal Thoroughbreds, as resplendent, pampered athletes proudly displaying their prowess to admiring fans. The horse, they tell us, is born to run, loves to run, with an instinctive will to “compete.” It is well-crafted fantasy, which major media gladly indulges with disproportionate coverage of Triple Crown pageantry, sappy biopics (“Seabiscuit”), and a ridiculous cult of romance surrounding the sport’s “stars”: The revered Secretariat joined two other horses on ESPN’s greatest athletes of the 20th Century and even adorned a postage stamp.

secretariatcom_2234_15313298

Every once in a while, though, the horse people offer some naked truth. In October 2012, NY’s horsemen, presumably feeling self-satisfied, released the results of a new study (commissioned by them): “BREAKING NEWS: Economic Impact generated by the New York Equine Industry reached $4.2 billion in 2011, yielding roughly 33,000 full-time equivalent jobs.” In a press release, Rick Violette Jr, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said, “The Study shows, in black and white, that every horse in New York is a potent job creator. The horse should be our state animal.”

So, there it is. To the horsemen, the horse is money; indeed, as the press release reminds, “horses are one of the leading agricultural commodities in the state,” with each of NY’s 23,100 racehorses representing “an economic impact of $92,100 on the state’s bottom line.” The horse should be our state animal not because he is a naturally autonomous, sentient creature wonderful at simply being a horse, but rather because he is “a potent job creator,” a valuable “commodity.” Tradition? Beauty? Elegance? Well, forgive the euphemism, just a load of nonessential matter from the horse’s digestive system.

“It must be accepted that in some sports sometimes lives will be lost.” (New Zealand Thoroughbred Racing Inc., The New Zealand Herald, 2012)

“A jumps race is a licence for animal cruelty.” (Eliot Pryor, campaign director for SAFE, Voxy, 9/27/13)

aSparkling02small

Two Thoroughbreds died yesterday as the New Zealand “2013 Jumping Programme” came to a close at Waikato. Seven-year-old Yangming and ten-year-old Roberty Bob fell in separate races, bringing the season’s death toll to ten. This figure, which outpaced last year, means that New Zealand can proudly boast a race-with-a-fatality rate of 10% (there were 99 events listed on the NZTR website). Imagine that. Here is the 2010-2013 victim roll. Broken shoulders, snapped legs, fractured spines, burst arteries.

The replays from yesterday (click on “video”)…

Race 1: Yangming, obviously tiring after having relinquished the lead, goes down at 2:26.

Race 6: Roberty Bob at 2:45, followed by two more at 5:02 and 5:46. When Mister Deejay crashes (5:02), the announcer says “it sold the farm,” apparently confusing his idioms. This race covered 3 miles, 22 hurdles (24 were scheduled, but the falls intervened), and took six minutes to run.

Yesterday’s Stewards Report (jud 29 Sep 2013) includes the following: “began awkwardly,” “fell heavily [Yangming],” “hit the second fence hard,” “landed awkwardly,” “misjudged the final fence,” “hit the fence…dipped on landing,” “stumbled badly,” “put in a poor jump…landing awkwardly and falling,” “underwent a post-race [exam] which showed signs of mild lameness,” “put in a poor jump…was humanely euthanzied [Roberty Bob],” “It’s A Monty lay on the track for a short period,” “Bold Mariner brought down by [It’s A Monty],” etc.. In all, I count 16 different horses as falling, hitting a fence, pulling up, or being “excessively whipped.” Madness.

Friday at Aqueduct, eight-year-old Slight Fever “was found dead in his stall after having been treated for colic.” For Joseph DeMola, a graded stakes winning-trainer, this represents no great loss – in four years under DeMola, Slight Fever earned less than $50,000, or roughly 3% of the trainer’s career total. As with any “non-racing” death, there are questions, which, of course, shall remain unanswered. For me, though, I can’t help but think that an eight-year-old claimer’s aftercare is monitored just a tad less than a two-year-old rising star’s. In other words, this poor horse needn’t have died this way, scared and not a soul around to assuage his suffering. This is horseracing.

download (9)

Using USDA FOIA Breed-Specific Data and USDA National Agriculture Statistics, a Wild for Life Foundation study found that on average 19% of horses being sent to slaughter are Thoroughbreds. In the six-year period from 2005-2010, this translates to 23,500 Thoroughbreds trucked, slaughtered, and butchered annually.

45

While all animal slaughter is horrific, the horse trade is particularly heartrending: Horses are flight animals and instinctively recoil in terror at the sights and sounds of the abattoir, making them elusive targets for the men charged with shooting them in the head. As a consequence, many will require multiple hits, and even at that, some may still be conscious (or will regain consciousness) when shackled, hoisted upside down, slashed, and exsanguinated. The lavish attention and winsome names while earning, a bitter lifetime ago.

horse slaughter photo gallery
auction to slaughter photo gallery

In 2012, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) released undercover video from yet another Canadian equine slaughterhouse, Les Viandes de la Petit-Nations in Quebec, the fourth of the four licensed slaughterhouses to be exposed for cruelty. Some key findings from the CHDC investigation:

…40% of the horses were not stunned (killed or rendered insensible to pain) after the first captive-bolt shot, with one needing 11 hits over a four-minute period.

…Video shows a bloodied pistol brought out from the suspension/butchering line, suggesting that horses who should have been unconscious or dead upon reaching that stage were not.

…The government inspector paid to ensure a humane kill was seen observing the stun box for a total of 3 1/2 minutes over a period of two days.

World-renowned veterinarian and Tufts professor Nicholas Dodman reviewed the tapes:

“I estimate about 20%, appeared terrified, positively shaking with fear and making vain attempts to escape.”

“The stun box itself was clearly set up for cattle with a caliper-type head/neck restraint to assure cattle’s immobility. Clearly, horses would not tolerate such a restraint because of their flighty disposition. This meant that many head-shy or apprehensive horses were moving their heads to-and-fro and presented the operator of the captive bolt pistol (CBP) a moving target. Since that target – the brain – is approximately the size of a grapefruit and is positioned inside a skull with the dimensions of an office trash can, it is clear that the risk of the operator inaccurately hitting the target is high.”

“The fact that the floor of the stun box was slick, made so by blood and other body fluids, meant that some panicked horses were slipping, sliding, and falling as they tried to propel themselves forward or backwards.”

“Many horses who required a second or third shot, and some who were only given one shot to the head, retained muscle tone for some time, with some running in place or lurching from side to side, indicating that some level of consciousness was likely still present as they slowly expired.”

“My final conclusion, after reviewing 150-plus horse slaughters in this series of videos, is that the process was terrifying for most of the horses and, in many cases, horribly inhumane.”