Steve Haskin, Some Things – Like Whipping Horses – Are Indefensible

Steve Haskin, whom I’ve written on before, is a well-known Racing writer and a lifelong fan. But he also possesses, at least from what I can gather through his words, a thoughtfulness that sets him apart from many of his callous or indifferent colleagues. In other words, he seems to genuinely care about the horses. So it was with great interest that I read his recent column (Blood-Horse, 5/10/15) on Victor Espinoza’s 32-lash run atop American Pharoah in last week’s Derby. In it he imagines a back-and-forth between himself and, I suppose, someone like me:

Non-racing person: “Horse racing is cruel.”

Racing person: “Horse racing isn’t cruel. The horses are well-taken care of, they are bred to run, and they love to run.”

Non-racing person: “If they love to run why do they have to be whipped to do it?”

Racing person: “Uh, well, let’s just say most love to run and some are lazy and have to be encouraged to run.”

Non-racing person: “So, doesn’t encouraging any living creature to do something it doesn’t want to do by whipping it constitute cruelty?”

Racing person: “Not in racing. Whips today have been re-designed and are much kinder on a horse.”

Non-racing person: “So, are you saying American Pharoah was lazy and needed to be encouraged to win the Derby, and that’s why the best 3-year-old in America was hit over 30 times with the whip?”

Racing person: “No, but he had never been in this tough a fight and needed to be reminded that this was no cakewalk, like the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. Also, Victor Espinoza wasn’t hitting him on the bare shoulder or rump, but was hitting him in the area around the saddle and girth, where there is more protection.”

Non-racing person: “So, let me get this straight, Espinoza was making sure he wasn’t hurting the horse, but only days later was fined for breaking the skin on the filly Stellar Wind due to excessive use of the whip.”

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Haskin continues:

You can see where this conversation is, or isn’t, going. For every explanation we attempt to give, there is always going to be another question. …What makes it even more difficult is that in many cases, such as this, we’re also trying to convince ourselves. After all, why would we devote our lives and pour our emotions into something we believe deep down is cruel or at least has elements of cruelty in it? When we attempt to defend certain aspects of racing, to whom are we really defending them?

In the sport’s recent glory days of the 1960s and ‘70s, drugs, fixed races, neglect, and horse slaughter were kept safely behind the curtain. Naivete superseded cynicism, and we saw only what was shown to us and what we wanted to see. The whipping of horses was one thing that was played out on stage, but we paid no attention to the amount of times a horse was whipped. We didn’t even know to what extent a horse felt those whips. …We marveled at [the horses’] amazing feats, oblivious to anything else. When you are exposed to someone or something with such great beauty, there is no reason to start peeling back the layers of makeup. No one wants to see what lies beneath.

And now almost a half-century later, some of us, who remember the innocence and ignorance of those days, are asked to explain and defend the sport with which we fell in love a lifetime ago. But how can you defend something you can’t defend, as much as you try to instill its righteousness and nobility into your own heart and soul? It has to be deeply embedded in there before you can convey it to others.

The most difficult part, however, is trying to explain racing’s pitfalls in the form of drugs and neglect and abuse of the whip to those who love the horses and are sickened and appalled when they are abused in any way. Those are the people who come to me looking for answers. The truth is, I have no answers, because, I, too, am sickened and appalled.

Talk about a conflicted soul, exactly the type that frustrates the most. The aforementioned callous and indifferent are, for all intents and purposes, beyond reach – immune to our calls for mercy. But here we have someone publicly grappling with his past “innocence and ignorance” yet heretofore unable/unwilling to upset a lifetime of conditioning (“horseracing is the most beautiful, exciting sport in the world”) and self-delusion (“righteousness and nobility”), unable/unwilling to follow his reflective course to its compassionate conclusion.

Yes, Mr. Haskin, whipping hurts horses. Yes, Mr. Haskin, whipping racehorses is gratuitously – gratuitously because in no sane world can racing be seen as necessary – cruel. Yes, Mr. Haskin, the whipping that propels your precious “sport” is morally indefensible. And in your heart, you know it.

(In the Blood-Horse article, Haskin references Miguel Mena’s “over-zealous use of the whip” on International Star in this year’s Louisiana Derby. Here it is – pay particular attention to the replays at 2:33 and 3:08.)

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  1. I totally agree Patrick. Steve Haskin does come up with some good articles presenting both sides. The Blood Horse Publication is financially supported by pro-racing people and the industry as a whole. That said, they still expose the industry for what it is because even though some articles are very slanted, and sugar-coated people read them. I, of course, went to task on the comment section of this article, and I wasn’t even whipped. Imagine that? Patrick, PLEASE sign my petition I started on CARE 2 Petition Website. The petition is called BAN THE WHIP IN HORSE RACING (if you agree of course). You can also find this on my FB page: Gina Powell. Please share on Twitter. We must not allow this industry to get away with blatant animal cruelty. The whip is just like the bull hook used on elephants in the circus because it shares a common goal: keep them in line so we can exploit them for profit. We banned the bull hook, and we will BAN THE WHIP.

  2. International Star suffered a vicious merciless flogging by MIGUEL MENA – sickening to watch.
    MENA was striking the horse in the sensitive flank area and then proceeded further forward and was striking the horse in the ribs area, also very sensitive for the horse. At one stage, it looked to me as though he hit his own leg. MENA just whacked, whacked and whacked away not giving a damn as to where he was hitting the horse.

    It was all about the contest between himself and fellow jockey when their mounts were going head to head. The horses going as fast as they possibly can, probably carrying pre-existing injuries/conditions, seriously fatigued at this stage of the race, doing their absolute best and their reward? A PUBLIC FLOGGING!

    And the jockeys congratulated one another past the post! SICK, SICK and REVOLTINGLY SICK!

    • I would love to flog him the way he did that poor horse. How merciless is that and so needless

  3. To Mr. Haskin….
    There are many who fell in love with horseracing a lifetime ago – I was one. Sometimes we love what we clearly should not. We learn, discover, grow, gain wisdom. At times, in inches. At other times, we’re hit hard and squarely between the eyes with what’s ugly and cruel about the object of our misguided love…and realize they -or IT, in this case – are truly undeserving of that loyalty and love. Do yourself a favor and choose to leave. Then speak for those who don’t HAVE the choice.

  4. Patrick, Don’t know if I’ve thanked you before, but I should have. I love everything about horses, their beauty, intelligence, and grace. I love to watch them run, especially in a big open field. Like many people, we grew up watching horse races on television, but thankfully have never gambled on or watched in person. Everyone involved with these horses are, in some way, at least partially responsible for the neglect, abuse, and deaths. Of course the owners, trainers and jockeys hold the most blame, as far as I’m concerned, but if people didn’t bet on the games, if no one was making money things would change, improve for the best. (as long as some overdue changes are put into place). I think a National Racing Commission is imperative (either to take the place of the individual states, or oversee them to insure everything is reported), the fines need to be much stricter, suspensions should increase, and those that continue to disregard the rules/regulations, the welfare of these lovely creatures, need to be banned. Still believe there a more good people than bad in this world of ours, but everyone needs to be held accountable for the actions taken. Thank you again for all that you do.

  5. At least Mr. Haskin has the integrity to put his honest thoughts in writing. Ms. Borden and the other stewards at Churchill would not dare to do or say the right thing. There is no way they could conclude AP was not cruelly beaten. Unfortunately, the industry is full of Bordens. They are held hostage by a corrupt, and cruel industry that no one will hold accountable.

  6. Horseracing is cruel and inhumane. If a person watched a child being beaten or abused and then suggested that there are more “good people” then bad in the child beating industry everyone would see the ridiculous nature of the comment immediately. If a person knows that racing is cruel and still supports it then they are either equally cruel, or unwilling to admit truth because as Haskin said…they are trying to convince themselves. No “national commission” will change the basic nature o this bloodsport.. That said I’d love to see what would happen if gambljng were eliminated. We would most certainly watch the mass exodus of greedy owners, buffoon track employees, detestable trainers who follow the lead of horse doping hall of famers like Baffert and Pletcher, and sadistic parasite jockeys like Espinosa, et al who transpose their napoleonic competitiveness onto a creature who has no understanding of who won the race.

  7. Patrick, I posted my Care2 Petition BAN THE WHIP IN HORSE RACING. It hasn’t been posted here although I requested it. Is there a reason for that? Nobody here has supported my petition or shared it. I’m very disappointed since I feel that we all share a common goal.

  8. … so, it is okay if I whip a living creature (humans fall in this category, don’t they?) if I choose to whip them on a location on their body where “they are better protected” ?
    I do not think so!
    Whipping is WHIPPING. Period. And it is inhumane. Period.

  9. Carolyn McDonald please cite the scientific study you are referring to. There is no citation in your link.

    • Signed, Gina…thank you! Until the time horseracing no longer exists – the goal – the banning of whips will remove one abuse the racehorses endure.

    • Gina,

      Are you in CANADA ? For everyone who is.

      Canadian Horse Defence Coalition’s Blog

      HORSE DAY – June 6th, 2015

      FOr everyone in Canada there will be an event coming up on June 6th

      Horse People for Horses in GTA will be recognizing Horse Day on Saturday, June 6th by handing out slaughter awareness material. We will be meeting at 11:00 am outside the Princes’ Gate – 210 Princes’ Blvd, Toronto (the CNE grounds).

      The Ontario Equestrian Federation (OEF) is also having an event that day in the Horse Palace. We are not protesting that event and we are not protesting the OEF. We are simply recognizing Horse Day by helping to educate people on the slaughter situation in Canada. We have chosen this location because we believe people going to the OEF event are horse lovers who might not be aware of what is happening to horses in this country and who might want to do something about it.

  10. NO excuse for “whipping” a horse to so-called “encourage”them to go faster. Espanosa (sp?) hit American Pharoah 35 times in the Kentucky Derby, and I think we should absolutely FORBID that. They do NOT allow such whipping in Europe. It’s cruelty to animals in the extreme!!

  11. Gina,

    I just signed it. What is the name of your FACEBOOK page.

    You cannot find it if you plug in “Gina Powell” what State are you in ?

  12. Oh gosh. I was in Kentucky, but my horse racing activism ruffled some powerful feathers causing me harm so I had to leave. Currently in Canada. You should have no problem. Do you have a FB Page Kathleen? I can friend you. Thanks everybody who signed my petition BAN THE WHIP IN HORSE RACING. Thx for sharing. Thx for being a voice for the voiceless.

    • Hi Gina,

      I signed your petition, and I think it is a really great one. The horses need relief from this barbaric practice desperately. Thank you Gina for posting the link!!!

      Marlene Thornley

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