An Advocate on Why We Do What We Do

This comment from Joy Aten, one of our “Shedrow Secrets” contributors, was so poignant that I felt it needed to stand as a post.

“Believe it or not, I am by nature not someone who likes to argue…in fact, I don’t even like confrontation. Unfortunately in my position at the hospital, confronting and working out differences between two or three different parties is something I must do. This applies to choosing to involve myself with animal welfare issues, as well. Arguing is ridiculous, yet I find myself doing it. Are there times I could choose to say things differently?..without a doubt and it is no one’s fault but my own.

That being said, I have no motives – none – to choose to align myself with those who are anti-racing. I’m not certain if I’ve ever said this here on HW, but I used to love horseracing. I could elaborate, but I won’t for the sake of time. Then I saw what really is involved. I realized the majority of horses do not go back to their own farms and loving families after ‘the race’ (I knew nothing about claiming races). I came to see the drugs and joint injections…the injured horses continuing to train and race…the unnatural living conditions…the attitudes that horses were simply money-making or money-draining machines…and much more.

You say we choose to believe what we want to believe, with hands over eyes, and there is no reason for truth to get in the way. AC [a pro-racing reader], my eyes are wide open. If I could go back to ignorance, some days I truly think I would. And what I believe and what I choose to do with that goes back to what I said one paragraph back…I have no motives to believe what I do, to speak what I do, to advocate what I do. WHY would I choose to spend time and money speaking out against the racing industry? It’s simply this…I love the animal; I have seen what so many of them suffer and endure, and I feel a responsibility to them NOW THAT I KNOW. And what I share isn’t for those who are employed or involved in the industry…not at all…because I feel there is nothing I could say or do that is going to change their thinking.

I believe we have different value systems…right or wrong, it is what it is. I value the horse for simply who he is; the trainers/owners/breeders value him for what he can do for them. I see this value system with my own neighbors. Their dogs live in dirty outdoor kennels. Their horses live in a paddock the size of my living room, with one strand of barbed-wire at the level of their knees. They are thin to emaciated, with feet over-grown and coats dull and dirty. For them, this is ‘normal,’ and their children are raised to believe the same.

I’ve seen this value system at the Shipsy auction, where horses are whipped into the loose-horse pens, left to fight for space, some with broken legs trying desperately to stay upright. The little kids who tag along with Dad to drop off their spent work-horses see nothing but normalcy amid the abuse and horror. Once, we witnessed a tragic, skinny horse standing the entire day (we were there at least 12 hours) tied to an outside hitching post, shivering from head to tail in the freshly fallen snow. Normal for that place and those people. Different value system. I’m not saying that you, AC, condone that type of treatment. I’m just saying there is no amount of talking that is going to change those folks’ minds…they simply don’t value the horse for who he is. For if they believed that those horses were suffering and did nothing to stop it, it makes them monsters.

So what I say here on HW is not for those immersed in the industry. Nothing I report from my experiences will change a person’s value system. Rather, I hope to share with those who are where I once was…totally ignorant. You think we want to ‘one-up’…it has nothing to do with that. But when a racing supporter claims that a horse cannot live a week with colic, it needs to be challenged; otherwise, a non-horse person might accept it as true. Lastly, no one lives a perfect life. Yet I’m grateful to those imperfect humans who speak when they see a wrong. This world is already so cruel to animals and humans alike…I cannot imagine the cruelty if we chose to remain silent simply because we are not ‘good enough.’ The abused and oppressed need all the voices they can get.”

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  1. For those who don’t know, I am the dreaded AC. When Joy first posted this I explained that I agreed with most of what she was saying. Our (humans) value systems dictate a great deal of our actions, work ethic, personal hygiene etc. Our parents, religion, culture, and even our geography plays a part in our values or lack there of.
    Horses to many are simply livestock. I hate to portray myself as more of a monster than I already have, but lately I have been drawn closer to that theory. I was raised to love and respect animals but I personally do not feel the close connection with horses as some do. It is not from lack of exposure, for I have worked everyday for over 30 years with them. I see the loyal people and the love given to the horse but no loyalty returned. A horse will not protect you from people that mean you harm, they will not refuse to go with a stranger or not let a stranger ride them once said stranger had a hold of them. They will not cuddle you when you are cold or sad. Seeing hundreds of horses sold (claiming and private) I have yet to see a horse refuse to go with the new owner or a horse travel a hundred miles to return home, as has been documented with dogs. I don’t believe they have that genetic make up. Sure horses can recognize certain people and trust them more then others but if a shank is handed off they go with whom ever is leading. My opinion it is the person in the equation. They want the connection or need that connection for various reasons. That being said I am not going to stand by and let any animal be abused.
    I never said I thought the horse could not colic for 5 days. I was commenting that it was made to believe the horse was suffering for 5 days and no one did anything to help. I do not believe that everyone in that barn would turn a blind eye to a horse in distress. Would some people?? Yes, but not all the people. To me that was what the comments were implying. I have seen horses in distress in the barn area at a track. I am not sure what the trainer wanted to do with the horse but he needed euthanized. The reason I knew the horse was there was that others in the barn were not going to allow it to suffer. They let the track know and the issue was dealt with.
    I get that you wish to educate but a lot of what is posted or commented here is over kill. It is made to shock more then educate. I understand few will agree with that statement.

    This comment was not meant to take away from your post. Though I do not always agree with you or see things your way, I do have the upmost for you. Joy, as always you are the standard for others to be judged. The Warrior Poet of Horse’s Rights…

    • AC…your point on the bond between the horse and his/her human is understood. Although I cannot say horses DON’T bond with their humans, they certainly do not make it known like dogs do…but they aren’t going to because they aren’t dogs with canine behaviors. Yet I see, in my own horses, different levels of that horse-human bonding…each individual horse displays distinctive degrees of interest in me…or if you will, their bond with me. My aged Morgan has been with me for 20 years and from day one would rather hang with a human than with his equine “brothers”. Then there is my 24-year-old OTTB. I took him from the track at the age of ten, after 85 races, and after watching him being “abused into” the starting gate. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, but to this day – after 14 years of living with me – he could care less about me. As far as Greenwish is concerned, I’m good for an occasional treat or neck scratch…if I have neither to offer, he simply walks away. I remind him DAILY that I saved his life and that he is forever safe with me (hoping he’ll be grateful and at least pretend he adores me)…and I DO long for that return of “affection”. But it’s not there (that I can tell) and I realize it likely never will be. That being said, I still love him like I love my Morgan. And I believe that therein lies another aspect of the value system of those who wear the label of animal advocate…we just simply love and respect the animal for who they are, not for what they give to us…whether that be earnings from a race, beautiful foals every spring, or signs of affection. I don’t expect everyone to love animals like I do. I DO expect they treat them with simple respect, which would include doing them no harm. And getting back to Horseracing Wrongs topics, I don’t know of a racehorse that has had no harm done to him/her.

  2. Can anyone refer me to statistics on the number of thoroughbreds bred for racing in a given year, what percentage breaks down at the track, retires to a second career, end up going to slaughter, or other, previously unmentioned, outcome?

  3. AC, I don’t know the whole history but thank you for posting your comment.
    Suffice to say I disagree with you. I am vegan and while I’m not a ‘radical’ I don’t believe any animal should be considered property or ‘livestock’.
    I like the term ‘steward’ better than owner. Some of the most enlightened horse owners I know call themselves ‘stewards’ of that horse’s life.
    I don’t mean any disrespect, just wanted to add my own two bits. Thanks.

    • I agree, Carina, concerning the term “owner”…I’ve used and liked the term “guardian”. But in my reality, they are just my four-legged family members :)

  4. I had an incident a while ago. I was in the pasture with my mare, Ebby, when we were confronted by two pit bull dogs. My horse was at my side and I had a rake in my hand. I immediately thought, as the dogs approached, please don’t run Ebby because the chase would be on. Ebby stood her ground at my side, snorting her alarm and advancing a couple of feet and then retreating to my side. The dogs seemed more curious than threatening but I was afraid if the mare did run they would no doubt give chase. The female dog trotted toward us and then Ebby advanced to meet her and almost trampled the dog. Ebby retreated to my side once again and the dog, not hurt, turned tail and ran to the end of the pasture and slid under the fence. The male stood for a while looking at us and then turned and trotted after his companion. She is a smart mare, not overly affectionate, but she is spunky and she really trusts me. Was she protecting me as well as herself ? Of course I don’t know but she stayed right by my side. She was abused years ago and starved. She is now well and happy but remains wary.
    I appreciate her and others for themselves and not for what they can do for me. I do not have to feel they like me. They are horses and I admire them for themselves and their individuality.
    I feel the same about my other animals. I’m fortunate because my life has been greatly enriched over the years by the animals I have known and cared for.
    I will continue to speak out against cruelty and do what I can to help the abused. I liked racing at one time but then I learned what was really going on…..

    • Thank you for your response Rose. When writing I was generalizing, I was sure there would be individual stories to debunk my comment. One question to consider was when Ebby returned to your side was she there to protect you or looking for protection of herself in the herd?? Either way great story.
      You are alway a rock with your comments, unfettered.

      Carina, also thank you. I am used to people not agreeing with me, hence my name. It comes from an expression widely used by Physicist T Townsend Brown. “And Another Country Heard From”. To me it means someone comments that was not expected. In doing so they are not with the flow or it is going against the grain. I am not one to agree just to agree. I try to see the logic or rationality of things. Granted my logic may not coincide with others, but isn’t that the point of being an individual??

      I applaud everyone who tries to make this earth a better place. I may not agree with your tactics or do much myself to help, but still appreciate.

    • I love your story about Ebby, you, and the dogs, Rose. How old is she…what color…breed…I need details :)

      • Thank you Joy for asking, Joy. Ebby is about 7- 10yrs old. Her history is not really known except she was almost starved to death. She is a high stepping hackney. She is almost black and is really beautiful. She is proud and somewhat aloof. When she does her thing her neck is arched and she holds her tail in an arc.. I have a wonderful video of her doing her “show off moves”.The performance, as I like to call it, is set to Irish music and is very effective. As you can tell she is pretty important to me.
        My real passion, though, is Thoroughbred rescue but on a small scale. Currently I’m responsible for 5 plus another 4 my brother pays for.

  5. AC, thank you for your comment. Ebby went on the offensive, I did not !
    Of course horses can hurt us and sometimes do. Actually, I’m surprised it does not happen more often considering how badly so many are treated. However, WE hurt each other and all other creatures a lot more and that is indisputable.

  6. Sometimes I read a comment about how horses don’t protect you, as a sign that they do not bond, as dogs would. Not that many dogs will protect people; that is why there are trainers who teach dogs to do that. The fact that anyone can lead a horse is often due to the fact that they are taught from foals to do just that… I’ve worked with horses who will give anyone a hard time when led, but are easy for me to lead. The horses in my charge act very differently with me, they come when called, fall asleep when I groom them; the same horses will often try to bite and kick people who try to enter their stall.

    It is no accident that the two animals we live most intimately with are predators; their responses are qualitatively different than a prey animal’s. I try not to think about the legendary “bond” too much, and take what comes at face value. There is a mind there; just a very very different one. It’s worth suspending our thoughts when we interact with animals, and to strive to stay in the present, because that is where they are. It can all be very rewarding, and I have ceased to wonder “do they ‘love’ me?” Seems a moot point.

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