Exposure, Exposure, Exposure

Recently, Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles, a wonderful group seeking the liberation of four elephants from the LA Zoo (and the end of captive elephant breeding in that city), created this video on Santa Anita. It features the indomitable Heather Wilson. Kind thanks to Heather, and to Kiersten Cluster and all at Elephant Guardians.

This morning, the Times Union, the Capital Region’s largest newspaper, published a Horseracing Wrongs op-ed: “US horse racing industry engaged in wholesale carnage” (also found below). Yesterday, WAMC presented me an opportunity to rebut NYRA’s (specious, of course) “safety improvements.” Transcript and audio can be found here.

The recent string of racehorse deaths at Santa Anita Park in California has attracted widespread national attention and, in the process, left the horseracing industry scrambling. The timing, of course, could not be worse, what with Triple Crown season arrived and Saratoga just around the bend. Part of their strategy of distraction is to almost exclusively focus on drugs and the effects thereof. While the (obviously) nonconsensual drugging/doping of horses is a wrong, it is in fact just one of many. But more to the point, the clear and unmistakable message (to the masses) of such a narrow focus is that all that ails Racing is a rampant drug culture; all that’s required is a bit of housecleaning. Then, Racing can be made whole, the horses protected.

In truth, horseracing kills horses, inherently. From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature till six; the typical racehorse begins training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to “race” at an unnatural rate (breakneck), in an unnatural way (always counter-clockwise), through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans); to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold several times over the course of his “career,” making his long-term well-being of no concern to his current people) – racehorses are made to be expended, and for many that means death in the dirt.

Since 2009, when the state began to make these things public, over 1,300 horses have died at New York State racetracks – an average of 138 every year. But that’s just onsite. How many more of the “catastrophically injured” were euthanized back at the owner’s farm or after being acquired by a rescue? How many more, still, killed at private training facilities? Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs, primarily through our seminal FOIA reporting, has documented over 5,000 confirmed deaths since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training on U.S. tracks annually. Cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma. Broken necks, crushed spines, ruptured ligaments, shattered legs. In addition, hundreds more succumb to colic, laminitis, “barn accidents,” or are simply “found dead” in their stalls.

Then, too, slaughter. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its hollow zero-tolerance policies and drop-in-the-bucket aftercare initiatives in defense, the truth is, the vast majority of spent racehorses are brutally and violently slaughtered – 10,000-15,000 Thoroughbreds alone each year. In short, it is no exaggeration to say that the American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Again, not hyperbole – carnage.

Sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially regarding entertainment, are rapidly changing. In just the past few years:

– SeaWorld, in the wake of outrage over the film Blackfish, has ended the captive-breeding of orcas and remains in a precipitous decline.

– Ringling Bros., after 146 years of animal abuse, has closed its doors for good.

– Illinois and New York have both outlawed the use of elephants for entertainment.

– The National Aquarium will release all of its remaining captive-dolphins to a seaside sanctuary by 2020.

– Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Pasadena, Fort Wayne, St. Petersburg et al. have banned the rodeo; Los Angeles stands poised to do so soon.

– And just this past November, Floridians voted overwhelmingly – by over 2:1 – to outlaw greyhound racing in that state by the end of next year, a monumental win for animals that will in one fell swoop shutter 11 of the nation’s final 17 tracks – leaving dogracing in America all but dead.

So the question becomes, why should horseracing be exempt? Why is it allowed cover under the banner of sport when in fact it is nothing more than a garden-variety gambling business? In a landscape that abounds with other options – casinos, lotteries, real sports involving autonomous human beings – hasn’t the time at long last arrived to stop wagering on the backs of suffering – and dying – animals?

End the cruelty. End the killing. End horseracing.


  1. This post, and all its related articles, brought tears to my eyes because we are finally making progress.
    Years ago, opponents of horse racing were continually silenced and never made it to the news.
    So to see all of this great information getting out to the unsuspecting public is exasperating to say the least.
    A huge shout out to Patrick, Elephant Guardians of Los Angeles, all the brave peaceful demonstrators, Ellen out at Del Mar, supporters of HRW, and all other animal/horse lovers – together – we are making a difference.

  2. Thank you Gina for your thoughtful reply. Yes finally I believe something is happening to make a difference for the race horses who suffer abuse at the tracks and on the farm. It takes a lot to make it happen. The images of the downed horses are powerful and although they are disturbing, they send a message of how real the abuse is. We can’t give up now! For the horses!

  3. To comment on the science, Thoroughbreds are trained at an age where their bones are still developing. Just like putting a teenager inna high contact sport, the same injuries are bound to occur. Except, in horses it means death. That’s before even mentioning how inbreeding has damaged the confirmation and health of these animals.

    This artical lost me at “non consensual drugging”. Animals can’t give consent. And for the love of life, I’ve seen aged hurt animals live long past their expiration date because their owner couldn’t bare to put them down. Animals can’t dictate a will.

    We can put all the standards in the world in the horse industry and there are still idiots that will not abide by them. The lack of oversight and enforcement leads to these massive issues. Even to fix them, who is going to pay for the upkeep of these animals should we decide to close up racing for good?

    Animal activists are so near sighted. Will you give $1000 a month to pay for feed and board? (That’s the standard in Northern NJ) How will you cover the medical expenses?

    We can make racing more of a sport by adding more regulation, but we need oversight. As in all things, that oversight needs to be paid for. And if we push to just shut down everything entirely, YOU will send thousands more horses to auction and slaughter than what goes on in the tracks.

    • Your argument is specious. Horseracing is contracting as we speak: The U.S. has lost 35 tracks since 2000; all other metrics are down – racedays, races, field sizes, and most relevant to your point, “foal crop.” The number of new Thoroughbreds entering the system is half of what it was in 1990. Breeders are businessmen first and foremost. As the demand continues to decline, so will the supply. In other words, there will not be this deluge of suddenly homeless horses, and even if there were, why should the onus fall to advocates? Why aren’t you holding the industry accountable? And where, pray tell, are those multiple billions of dollars that horseracing supposedly generates as 15,000 or more “retired” racehorses are being bled-out and butchered in foreign abattoirs each year? Ms. Delirious, you are a sadly misguided individual.

    • Last year – one race – The Kentucky Derby generated 39 million in wagering profits.
      The under card races generated around 37 million and that’s just Churchill Downs.
      Yet, the industry that you defend uses the slaughterhouse as their disposal source in light of these obscene profits.
      There are tracks bringing in millions in casino profits and they tend to be the most abusive towards racehorses (the entire Pennsylvania horse racing scene etc.) as their PP’s clearly show a pattern of massive pain, suffering, and death.
      So go hold the industry that you defend responsible, accountable, and transparent – something that they have never done nor care to do.
      Your argument is as fragile as the broken bones being spewed in the dirt on tracks all over America.

  4. Horse Racing is one of the most abusive and horrendous industries to have on this planet. These poor animals are treated like “crap” right from the time they are born. They are pushed being under saddle way too young and before their bodies are even close to being ready. Then they have the abuse of the owners, trainers and jockeys. There is the drug element that runs rampant within the racing circle. None of these horses are ever treated kindly – they are under abuse steady and if they don’t win they are off to the slaughter houses. I have stated before that all of you people that think horse racing is so wonderful – all just need to follow the trailers that pack these poor animals to the slaughter houses – and not just as a drive by – get your asses in there to see how incredibly cruel this whole situation is.
    Horse racing is nothing except all about the MONEY – it is about nothing else and it is just another form of illegal gambling – only this time at the mercy of the poor horses. Ban this track and all of the other existing ones as well – get rid of this inhumane treatment of the horses and get rid of these sick bastards owners, trainers and the jockeys. This has no business being allowed and to kill off so many incredibly wonderful horses. Stay home and do not support this abusive torture!!!!

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