Thursday, April 3, 2008

"Part of the Game"? Why Horse Racing Needs to Change

I just read an article on http://www.thehorse.com/ that quotes TB Racing trainer Jeff Bonde as saying that the ankle fracture suffered by Kentucky Derby hopeful Sierra Sunset this week is just "part of the game". Sadly, he is right: injuries to racehorses are endemic in the sport, so much so that it is a huge selling point in the marketing of a TB if you can say "never raced" in your ad.

I am perpetually dumbfounded and dismayed by the fact that this so-called "sport" is legal in North America, while other "sports" that frequently cause traumatic or life-threatening injury to animals are outlawed. Though it is true that it is not the express intention of a horse race to injure the horses forced to participate, the outcome is often just as serious as what happens to the unfortunate animals used in dog-fights or cock-fights.

The kicker is that much of this suffering could be avoided if horses were not raced at an age when most sane horse owners would not even think of putting a saddle on such a baby. Two year old horses are simply not physically developed enough to handle the stresses of being ridden, let alone raced. The evidence in support of this is overwhelming, but perhaps most eloquently expressed by that great contributor to our understanding of equine physiology, Dr. Deb Bennett, who would like to see horses not started until they are about five years old.

Unfortunately, starting horses later means more expense for owners, and a longer wait to see if that million dollar colt you bought at the TB auction has the goods or not. In our instant gratification seeking society, patience is a scarce commodity. The victims of this selfishness are, of course, the horses, who are seen as disposable, replaceable and utterly without rights. I therefore ask anyone who claims to love horses to consider boycotting horse racing entirely, and to encourage your less-horse-knowledgeable friends to do so as well. If harming animals is "part of the game", maybe that's a game that we, as a caring society, should not be playing.