When an Athlete Must Be Killed

“Death is delivered pink.” And so begins an ESPN The Magazine article (5/4/09) on the track veterinarian’s unenviable role as killer of the broken. Racing calls it euthanasia, of course, but that’s simply self-absolution. In any event, this is no indictment of the vets, for as long as they continue to hold races, someone must do the dirty work.

The article follows Lauren Canady, the vet at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, early in 2009. In the first race, Canady is summoned, like a medic to the battlefield, by the radio call “A horse is down!” 4-year-old Heelbolt’s ankle has snapped. It is a horrific injury, ankle “dangling and shattered, attached only by skin,” arteries split, and “blood everywhere.” As Canady pulls up, Heelbolt is still calm, the severe pain not yet arrived. On a 0-5 scale, this is a 5. Definite euthanasia.

The scene is set: “His eyes, once coldly fixed on the track, are teary and dilated. His breathing, once quick, has quickened even more. His coat, once shiny from the pumping of oil and sweat glands, has dulled.” The vet goes to work. Stroking “his neck to say good-bye,” she administers a mix of pentobarbital (for deep sleep) and succinylcholine (to shut down the heart and brain).

And then: “Heelbolt falls under the railing, landing shoulder first, his nose in the dirt. He blinks rapidly for 10 seconds or so until his eyes, once beautifully alert, are blank. As his fellow horses, having just finished the race, jog by, his life is measured in shallow breaths — until he is no longer breathing, until he is just 1,200 pounds of expired muscle, his bloody, shattered leg hooked on a railing. It’s hard to know what a peaceful death looks like, but this isn’t it.”

Horses are not, as the author declares, “born to compete,” and heartbreaking stories like Heelbolt’s should not be found on the pages of ESPN. For all our moral posturing, especially concerning animals, passive acceptance of this quote from the article proves that some of our sensibilities remain frozen in antiquity: “…and we’re reminded that one of our country’s oldest sports is one in which the athletes sometimes die during competition.” Deaths on the playing field? Is this 2012 America or 112 Rome? I half expect Rod Serling to appear.

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  1. The passive acceptance has it’s roots in manipulation by the media at the behest of the industry. It is such a sham.

  2. Horse racing is an antiquated Romanesque cruelty ring where the racehorses breakdown and/or die almost daily.
    It’s a blood bath.
    These sentiment beings are turned into profit slaves at all costs.
    The majority of rules passed by this industry are to increase wagering.
    In the end, racehorses are dying in the dirt just like they did when it started many centuries ago.
    The multibillion dollar horse racing industry, and their well-financed public relations people ensure that the deaths are minimized, and often hidden from the replays.
    This is all portrayed by the fancy hat, come party with us, mint juleps, and everything is glorious in la-la land – only it isn’t.
    Shame on people who send their horses into this cruelty circus, and death camp. You don’t love your horses you just want to stroke your ego and, in some cases, fatten your wallet.
    If you really loved them then you wouldn’t subject them to the mandatory operating procedures of whipping/beating, doping, dumping, and/or dying.
    You supporters are pathetic low life parasitic scum bags living off of a voiceless sentiment being, and even ensuring that they pay with their lives for your stupid $2 bets.
    You even go so far as to accept the delusion. You are either incredibly stupid, masochistic and/or deliberately delusional.
    Whatever you are – you are indirectly killing these horses.

  3. These enjoyable events for humans need to be stopped. Just as Bullfighting has been stoped in some places where it was a national pastime. These beautiful, and majestic animals, should be running free just as God intended them to.
    Bets can be placed on Football, Baseball, Baketball , etc . This needs to stop now.

  4. As a former racing breeder and owner, elected to my state’s two prestigious racing organizations, the HBPA and TOBA, and being present on the backstretch every day, I saw these type of deaths all the time and oftentimes in morning training where the only witnesses are those in racing. They become NUMB to this. It is “expected” that horses will die. I could not be that person who “accepts” such needless deaths. I made an about-face and left racing and founded CANTER — the first horse rescue in the country to take horses in directly from their stalls at the track.

    It is unnatural for a horse to gallop at top speeds on hard surfaces, often not well-maintained, with banked turns always to the right and as John Stick, DVM and equine orthopedic surgeon told me when intaking over 100 horses per year from one track: “Speed kills”.

    In addition, sending a horse out to race is akin to playing Russian roulette with these poor beings because everyone in racing knows full well that the majority of horses racing are drugged and racing’s own research has shown that in up to 90% of catastrophic injuries, there were preexisting conditions (meaning horses are racing on injuries and THEY KNOW IT!!).

    A quote from the NY Times by a RACING veterinarian should make us all rise up in revolt against this industry:
    “It’s hard to justify how many horses we go through,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Racing Board. “In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horse racing.”

    I wrote a book about my experiences in racing and especially about my horse “Baby” and in my book, I expose what I saw. Saving Baby – How One Woman’s Love for a Racehorse Led to Her Redemption is now available in paperback (also hardcover, audio, ebook) and BEST YET: a portion of each book sale helps fund Saving Baby Equine Charity meaning readers literally save equine lives! http://www.savingbaby.com

    They have no choice. WE must be their voice. Thank you for caring!

  5. Racing is inhumane! I will NEVER watch another race. I rarely watched racing before this article but now I most definitely will not. How can we stop this?

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