“It’s hard to know what a peaceful death looks like, but this isn’t it.”

“Death is delivered pink.” And so begins an ESPN The Magazine article (5/4/09) on the track veterinarian’s unenviable role as killer of the broken. Racing calls it euthanasia, of course, but that’s simply self-absolution. In any event, this is no indictment of the vets, for as long as they continue to hold races, someone must do the dirty work.

The article follows Lauren Canady, the vet at Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, early in 2009. In the first race, Canady is summoned, like a medic to the battlefield, by the radio call “A horse is down!” 4-year-old Heelbolt’s ankle has snapped. It is a horrific injury, ankle “dangling and shattered, attached only by skin,” arteries split, and “blood everywhere.” As Canady pulls up, Heelbolt is still calm, the severe pain not yet arrived. On a 0-5 scale, this is a 5. Definite euthanasia.

The scene is set: “His 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.” The vet goes to work. Stroking “his neck to say good-bye,” she administers a mix of pentobarbital, for deep sleep, and succinylcholine, to shut down the heart and brain.

And then: “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.”

Horses are not, as the author declares, “born to compete,” and heartbreaking stories like Heelbolt’s should not be found on the pages of ESPN. For all our moral posturing, especially concerning animals, passive acceptance of this quote from the article proves that some of our sensibilities remain frozen in antiquity: “…and we’re reminded that one of our country’s oldest sports is one in which the athletes sometimes die during competition.” Deaths on the playing field? Is this 21st Century America or 1st Century Rome? I half expect Rod Serling to appear.

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  1. Sad, tearful and horrible ending to a beautiful horse, who did not deserve this!!! Stop horseracing, shut this cruel sport down for good, and stop writing endings to a life that deserved a good better!! Rest in Peace, ‘HEELBOLT’, my love and prayers go with you ..

  2. The Final Furlong…
    Years later now and nothing has changed. The same story the same ending. We need to aggressively take the truth and make these stories a thing of the past.

  3. Its no indictment of the vets. Oh yes it is. If instead of administering p.e.d.’s and other medications that enable dirtbags to force their horses to race, they spoke up and told the owners and trainers that their horse can NOT race until completely sound and screened clear of any preexisteing condition. But the veterinarians make money so they go along to get along. The veterinarians make racing unsound horses possible. Remember Alex Harthill! They are just as dirty as the owners and trainers. Here is another thing. Look at all the money those big famous horse hospitals make on surgeries to make racehorses able to run again. If there were no injuries then there would be no need for Rood And Riddle and Hagyard McGee Davidson. All that money spent by breeders to scope and x-ray their colts before sales. I’m surprised Patrick that you would excuse racetrack veterinarians. And racetrack veterinarians could band together and announce: we will not participate in enabling any horse to race that is in any way questionable. But that won’t happen. Because money talks. They are some of the worst dirtbags of all. I guess you don’t want to upset any veterinarians, huh Patrick? Just like Ray Paulick won’t condemn trainers that kill their horses on the ravetrack. He makes money from the same people.

    • Mary, there are many good vets who having begun in private track practice QUIT working at the track and became only saddle horse vets because they could no longer stand the abuse. We know of 2 who will not practice at the track or even at rodeos despite the $ to be made & the requests of wealthy owners/ trainers.We have also seen very crooked track vets perform illegal practices on the poor horses at our now defunct,demolished , redeveloped track as well. Our 1 mile oval track is now being developed as a trucking / warehousing distribution operations center after having been demolished this year.We once told all the old time hopeless gamblers/ horse people their track would not be around forever due economics. They all laughed and said” we`ll find some rich sucker to keep our track going”. Guess what gamblers / horse people Amazon is developing your old track for packages delivery as their is more $ to be made doing that! Poor economics & less rate of returns will kill this industry slowly but surely! We were told just yesterday that the 1 remaining 1 mile casino track to our north may quit conducting racing as they can`t get enough young horses for their races & may just become a casino only instead.

      • FredJoan, I don’t know if you realize this,but, I have said over and over on this site for a very long time…about how something should not even exist-if you have to have humans on hand to “put you down”,do you see how absurd that is?, and how animals should NEVER be used for gambling OR entertainment. I was ahead of the curve…BEATING that DRUM.

    • I’m not even sure what “track vet” means at this track, all vets at tracks don’t have the same role. The vet who euthanized the horse probably isn’t employed by the state, she may be employed by the track or be a private vet. If she doesn’t work for the racing commission she can’t tell anyone not to enter their horse, only the state vet can scratch a horse. My wife is a vet, she used to do horses. She told people all the time their horse wasn’t sound but they ignored her. She refused to do something that wasn’t medically indicated and they just got someone else to do it. She refused to see racehorses a long time ago and stopped doing horses altogether about ten years ago because a lot of horse owners think they know better than the vet.

      • Thanks for your input, Alan. It is always good to read something that is factual and in touch with reality, not delusional.

    • Wow. True story. It’s sad because people tend to think that those who become veterinarians do so because of their love for animals.

    • Having dealt with vets for many years, my opinion of them is that they are only interested in money and nothing more. They do a great joy of PRETENDING that they care about animals. Truth is, I wouldn’t trust them if their life depended on it !

  4. This is total insanity, what a way to end a life of a magnificent animal. The vet should have made sure that ‘Heelbolt’ was laying down so dying wouldn’t have been so painful! I’m not saying all vets at the tracks don’t do their jobs but I do think they should be monitored to make sure these amazing athletes are treated with respect and die peacefully!

    • Yes, but they shouldn’t have to die at all!
      Horse racing only exists to bring money and pseudo-glory to the humans involved in the breeding, training, and racing, and the others who gamble on the outcome of the races.
      None of this should be happening. Animals are not ours to exploit for human entertainment or profit!
      It is a shameful industry and should be put out of business immediately.

      • Agreed, Sandra. The horses exploited for racing are forced to do things that go against their nature and live their lives in fear and pain for most of their lives. They tolerate brutality. They are not allowed to live in peace by their human connections. How can anyone assume that a racehorse could die in peace?

  5. With each continuing article, I am further and further at a loss at what to say.

    I just don’t understand how this hasn’t been shut down by now.

    I often do not even feel like a member of the species that allows this monstrosity.

  6. Sandra, you NAILED it. Pseudo glory. It’s NOTHING the people did. It’s using And abusing helpless animals who have no choice…they are kept PRISONERS and ABUSED. These trainers and owners think it makes them ‘something’ because their lives are totally void of meaning and purpose of something altruistic and meaningful and positive. For instance, how can they continue to draw Blood money, when they know these gentle souls,especially the mares who have been FORCIBLY impregnated and forced to produce sometimes ten and even more foals and then when their bodies are ruined from so many births, they are sent to kill pens and slaughter. That’s the thanks they get. That tells you all you need to know about trainers,owners, breeders…they are pure F’n EVIL.

  7. This is so, so upsetting, cruel and very heartbreaking! How can people “enjoy” a sport that does this?! All these jockeys are interested in, is the prestige and financial gain! These people and all of those involved in horse racing makes my blood boil! It must stop!

  8. Very sad! Horse racing is cruel. We need to do more to end this inhumane sport that is so unfair to these animals. There is no need for them to loose their lives for our entertainment and greed.

  9. This has to STOP. I am so sick of our FUCKED up world and people continuing to make money and get purr pleasure out of abusing and torturing GODS beautiful creatures. It is a VERY SICK world we live in as it has been for 100’s of years. Humans are discussing and purr devile=s at least 90% of this world is pure evil. Please, please, please stop this, even though I know this goes on death ears because money speaks more than
    anything on God’s Earth.

  10. As far as “not knowing what to do” about this horrific “sport” called horse racing……how about this: There is a national election coming up in a couple of months. Lets all ask the candidates running for office “what is your stance on horse racing?” Take a look at the candidates web page and submit a question that needs to be covered in that candidates portfolio. If you have to, call one of their staffers. I haven’t done this yet for “horse racing”, but I did do it for the cruel and inhumane treatment of our wild horses and burros in the western US. I did get a response and have been promised an answer. I think if enough of us did that, it would eventually get on these candidates “radar” and they would have to address it. I agree, this is far past the stage that it should have been halted years ago. Let’s don’t give up.

  11. You disgust me!

    How can you exploit these beautiful animals for money and discard them when they are no longer profitable.

    You are certain types of individuals…..god help you!

  12. All racing of animals Horses Greyhounds The racing of dogs that race so far they die of exhaustion is MURDER I think they should all be held accountable they should all race themselves and leave the innocent animals that have no voice or choice alone I believe we should pass a law for ANIMALS TO HAVE RIGHTS PLease make up a petition and send it to me and everyone you know For animal rights

  13. SHUT DOWN HORSE-RACING — Heelbolt had a miserably cruel life, as was his death — HOW, in good conscience, is this allowed to continue — it’s KILLING so many of us — this is so WRONG — Horses are innocent & vulnerable & at the mercy of Humans — this so-called sport is INSANE & HATEFUL — we MUST SHUT DOWN HORSE-RACING — FOREVER — The History of Mankind is Carried on THE BACK OF THE HORSE — ALL HORSES deserve RESPECT & PROTECTIONS — SHUT DOWN HORSE-RACING — FOREVER.

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