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.