My Testimony Before NYS Senate

My June 5 testimony before the NYS Senate:

Good morning. My name is Patrick Battuello, and I am the founder and president of the non-profit organization Horseracing Wrongs. I am here today to advocate what I freely admit to be an extreme position, but one, I believe, that is fully warranted by the facts, and, more important, dictated by morality. And that is, that horseracing in NYS, horseracing in America, has run its course – that horseracing must end. For far too long this industry has been given cover under the banner of sport – indeed, “The Sport of Kings” – when, in fact, stripped to its core, it is nothing but an archaic, largely nonviable gambling business that exploits, abuses, and kills sentient beings, inherently. In other words, it cannot be fixed or reformed; in other words, it is wrong from the start.

Horseracing is unremitting confinement and isolation: The typical racehorse is kept locked – alone – in a tiny 12×12 stall for over 23 hours a day, making a mockery of the industry claim that horses are born to run, love to run, and a cruelty all the worse for being inflicted upon naturally social, herd-oriented animals like horses.

Horseracing is control and subjugation – it is lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and whips.

Horseracing is commodification: In the eyes of the law, racehorses are literal chattel – things to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide. To make matters worse, they are not even afforded the protections, woefully inadequate as most are, of animal-cruelty statutes, meaning a trainer or owner can grind his horse into the ground – yes, even to death – with virtual impunity. What’s more, the average racehorse will change hands several times over the course of his so-called career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious, stressful existence.

Horseracing is negation: Practically all the horse’s natural instincts and desires are thwarted, creating an emotional and mental suffering that is brought home with crystal clarity in the stereotypies and vices commonly seen in confined racehorses – cribbing, weaving, bobbing, pacing, kicking, even self-mutilation. Says world-renowned equine behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman: “Racehorses, with long periods of confinement and isolation, exhibit an unusually high prevalence of stereotypies. The suffering can be described by referencing the suffering of people in solitary confinement. A recently released man who had spent years in solitary said he sometimes felt anxiety, paranoia, panic, hallucinations etc. The only way he could help suppress the dysphoria was to walk back and forth in his cell until the line he walked was soaked in his sweat.”

And, of course, horseracing is killing: Since 2009, when the Gaming Commission’s database went live – which, incidentally, only came in the wake of outrage over Eight Belles and calls for greater transparency – over 1,300 racehorses have died at New York State tracks – an average of 137 every year. But those are just the ones we know about, the ones who died onsite. How many more of the “catastrophically injured” were euthanized back at their owner’s farm? How many more too-badly-damaged had to be put down after landing at rescues? How many more, still, killed at private training facilities? Nationally, Horseracing Wrongs, through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, has documented over 5,000 confirmed kills on U.S. tracks just since 2014. We estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. Over 2,000. Imagine that.

And just to be clear, death on the track is neither clean nor tranquil: It is cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma; it is broken necks, crushed spines, ruptured ligaments, and shattered legs – occasionally shattered so severely that the limb remains attached to the rest of the body by skin or tendons only. One such horse was Heelbolt, who “broke down” in a 2009 race at Fair Grounds in Louisiana. An ESPN writer watched as the track vet went to work:

“[Heelbolt’s] 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. Out comes the pink [the euthanasia solution]. [The vet] strokes his neck to say good-bye…then puts her left index finger on his jugular and presses down, swelling the vein. She drives the needle straight into his jugular, piercing his sweaty, leathery skin, and depresses the large plunger with her thumb, pushing in the poison, darkening the pink as it mixes with blood. After it empties, she draws out the needle and repeats the motion with the second syringe.

…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.”

Still, that number – 2,000 – staggering though it is, tells but a part of the story. Each year, hundreds more die back in their stalls from things like colic, laminitis, infection, or are simply “found dead” in the morning.

Then, too, slaughter. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its zero-tolerance policies and aftercare initiatives in defense, the prevailing wisdom – backed by two scientific studies – is that the vast majority of spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are brutally and violently bled-out and butchered in Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses – some 12,000-15,000 Thoroughbreds alone each year.

All of this – the on-track kills, the stall deaths, the exsanguinations – leads to a single, inescapable conclusion: The American horseracing industry is engaged in wholesale carnage. Not hyperbole – carnage.

The truth is, Horseracing is in decline, and has been for some time: Just since 2000, U.S. Racing has suffered a net loss of 34 tracks; all other metrics – racedays, races, field sizes, “foal crops,” and, yes, attendance and handle – are also down, some of these 50% of what they were just 30 years ago. But even more telling is this: The bulk of the American horseracing industry is being heavily subsidized, with many tracks wholly propped up by slots and other gaming revenue. To use our state as an example, it is no exaggeration to say that if not for this corporate welfare – money that could, should, be going to education instead – all seven harness tracks and quite possibly, even likely, Finger Lakes and Aqueduct would have closed years ago. Clearly, independent, full-service casinos and lottery games are winning the market, and the competition will soon become that much stiffer with all-sports betting. But legislators, swayed by industry talk of job loss and “tradition,” keep sending lifeboats, which is not only an affront to our free-market principles, but allows for the continued killing of horses in the process.

Beyond the economic realities are the changing times in which we live. Sensibilities toward animal exploitation, most especially regarding entertainment, are rapidly evolving. In just the past few years:

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

– SeaWorld, after being exposed by the documentary Blackfish, has ended the captive-breeding of orcas and remains in slow, steady decline.

– The National Aquarium has vowed to release all of its remaining captive-dolphins to a seaside sanctuary by the end of next year.

– Both this state and Illinois have outlawed the use of elephants in any form of entertainment.

– There are rodeo bans in cities as diverse as Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Fort Wayne, Pasadena, and St. Petersburg.

– And perhaps most relevant to the issue at hand, just this past November Floridians voted overwhelmingly – by an over 2:1 margin – to outlaw greyhound racing in that state, 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, especially given that the scale of killing and depth of suffering dwarfs all those other industries, as bad as they were and are, combined? We live in 21st Century America; we can, we should – we must – be better than this. Thank you.

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  1. Thank you, Patrick. The public can no longer claim ignorance regarding the exploitation, abuse, crippling and killing of American racehorses because of your work. Now it’s up to them.

    Please – choose gambling entertainment that does not hurt and kill sentient, living beings – please.

  2. For the love of HORSES; thankyou Patrick Batuello!! We will continue to fight for banning horse-racing in USA & Canada.

  3. Which legislators did you testify before? Was it a gambling committee?
    I really think you need to write a book, or get with the producers of Black Fish, to see if they would collaborate on a film.
    I think, ya done good, as my dad used to say. A woman at work was just telling me, how horrified she is, about the number of horses killed At Santa Anita. She told me, that we have to do away with this cruel “sport.” I have referred her to you.

  4. Thank you, Patrick, for all you have and will do for these beautiful horses. Such heart wrenching lives they live, just so some human can get rich off of their suffering and pain. Thankfully, I have never spent one dime betting on horse races, but in the past I’ve always enjoyed watching them on T.V, even as a child. Now, on the rare occasions I do watch, it’s with a much more critical eye. Thank you, again.

  5. Thank you, Sir for all you do to stop the evilness of horse racing. A BLOOD SPORT. I read and share your posts EVERY day! You are a hero to horses. We appreciate all you do so much! Regards, Kat 🐴❤

  6. Thankyou sir,
    I can barely read your testimony through my tears, but it gives me hope. How can they turn their backs now.

  7. Thank-you Patrick for being a voice for the racehorses.
    Your presentation was awesome.
    As far as the figures go (jobs, revenue) they are usually inaccurate.
    Here in Canada, when Woodbine was finally held somewhat accountable for their job claims further investigation claimed that their figures were bloated.
    Nevertheless, I find it unbelievable that a Senator can defend this total waste of money that should be going to communities.
    The writing has been on the wall for so long and neither our politicians or society should continue to prop up a dying business.
    She should do her job and instead of upholding the status quo look at other business investments that will create jobs, longevity and will be financially self-sufficient – at least more that this.
    Surely 200 million dollars per year can create good jobs such as teacher, nurses, and community infrastructure.
    When are these bimbos going to stop throwing money at this antiquated business model?
    I encourage anybody to vote in politicians who commit to ending this business.

  8. Another thing, while the politicians quote the jobs/economy as a reason to keep this butcher show open, they never ever quote all the money it’s costing taxpayers, our communities while billions are diverted from casino profits, and the social ills.
    Of course the biggest victims are the racehorses and they don’t ever seem to address that.
    Many of them seem to be a paid public relations mouthpiece for the horse racing business not for their constituents that voted them in.
    It’s time to VOTE OUT any politician that openly supports horse racing and VOTE IN the ones who are committed to spending 200 million per year into sustainable good job businesses.

  9. Thank you Patrick for the wonderful work that you are doing!! I have been a horse lover all of my life. Could ride before I could walk. Keep up the good work.
    Love ❤️

  10. Heartfelt thanks, Mr. Battuello–terrific job. I’ll be dispersing your testimony accordingly. Much the same could be said about the “sport” of rodeo, where I spend much of my time You’re right, of course. This is an ETHICAL AND MORAL issue, one at which we’ve been badly failing until recently.

    Relatedly, both New Jersey and Hawaii last year outlawed the use of wild animals in circuses; California is about to do the same; and we’re also about to outlaw commercial fur trapping and sale/manufacture of the products of that bloody industry. Progress!

    America (finally) seems on the brink of a sea change regarding the use/abuse of animals in “entertainment.” Many agree with you: horse racing needs to go. (Full disclosure: I’m a native Kentuckian, and many there would string me up for this sentiment.)

    Kind regards, and with great appreciation for your work,

    Eric Mills, coordinator

  11. This also starts at the breeding barn. They want to re breed the mares but don’t want the hassle of the baby by their side. So they have Surrogate mares to take and raise the babies. But these mares had to have babies so they produce milk to feed the thoroughbred foals. So what do they do. They pull these foals off there dams and leave them to die. If one of the rescues can’t get the. Check out “Last Chance Corral”. It’s horrific what the industry does to these foals that they consider worth nothing.

    • Again, the more I learn, the more I hurl, AND the more I’m convinced this unconscionable, depraved industry HAS TO GO! — This is beyond lacking mercy and compassion — this Industry is filled with PSYCHOS — I repeat, let’s SHUT THEM DOWN.

  12. Pathetic speech, you have no idea the great care a racehorse gets, being confined to a stall with good clean, deep bedding, fresh water, unlimited hay and fed good quality grain 3 times a day doesn’t really sound like an abusive situation!! What about dog kennels? Zoo’s? These animals are all confined!! Horses have lived in stalls forever whether they are sport horses or racehorses!!

    • Food and shelter, while certainly necessary components, do not in and of themselves translate to a good life. Funny how you didn’t mention the negation part, and not a peep on Dr. Dodman’s quote. As for the rest, we are against the intensive confinement of any animal – dogs, elephants, orcas, etc.

    • Take the next month, spend it in your bathroom for 23 hours a day with no outside contact and then come back and tell us all how your experience was. Then you have horses like silent ruler who spent 3 weeks in a stall with a broken leg with no vet care… you ever see horses crib,windsuck, weave, pace back an fourth, what praytell makes a horse do that? Could you explain that one? Great care, more like basic care. Take the stall door off at the farm and give the horse a choice, youll be suprised what you see.

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