Among the many wrongs of horseracing – the drugging and doping; the whipping; the buying, selling, trading, and dumping; the killing, of course – perhaps the worst of it is the everyday, unremitting cruelty of confinement and isolation. Dr. Richard Ryder, British psychologist and one of animal rights’ true giants, once wrote: “Pain [suffering] is the one and only true evil.” Yes, even worse than death. That horses – naturally social, innately mobile animals – are kept locked, alone, in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day is, in a word, evil. Prominent equine vet Kraig Kulikowski has likened this evil to locking a child in a 4×4 closet for over 23 hours a day. Imagine that.
The racing people, of course, know this. That’s why some add what they call “enrichments” to their horses’ stalls – “a mirror, a hanging ball, a bell, a window, more feed, straw bedding.” Turns out, says a French research team, that the windows and the rest are in truth just window dressing. One of the scientists, Dr. Léa Lansade, told The Horse: “There’s this idea that adding toys and brushes and windows and different bedding can make stalled horses’ life dramatically better, but that’s clearly a myth.”
The “enrichment” efforts were studied against the unmistakable signs of distress – “stereotypies (crib-biting, wind-sucking, and weaving, primarily), aggression toward humans (biting and threats), a ‘depressed state’ bodily posture (neck and back at about the same level, with low ears and poor response to any kind of stimulus), and stress-related behaviors such as ‘acting nervous’ with a high neck and excessive alertness or frequent defecation” – and the result: “enrichment had little effect on signs of poor welfare.” Lansade: “Our results with these horses showed that these little ‘improvements’ we do in stalls just aren’t sufficient. Removing some window bars, adding an extra meal of concentrated feed—these don’t really serve much purpose…”
Furthermore, says the article – and again, this should be obvious – “the older the horses were, the more signs of poor welfare they showed…over time, the horses’ welfare worsened.” Lansade sums it thus: “The horse, which has lived in open spaces for the last several millennia with unrestricted access to forage and especially while establishing strong and complex social relationships with other horses, just isn’t made for living alone, isolated in a box, regardless of how well-set-up it is.” Put another way, forcing any sentient being to “live alone, isolated in a box” is evil. Simply evil.