HW Op-Ed in Major NY Paper

We had an op-ed published in the Albany Times Union this morning: “There’s no getting around it: Horse racing is immoral.” (While I have provided the text below, please click on the link to support the paper.)

Recent stories, including right here in the Times Union, on the massive subsidization of the American horseracing industry have laid bare the economic unsustainability of racing in the 21st Century. Lost in all this talk of money, however, is the giant moral elephant in the room: How can we, a supposedly evolved society, continue to justify the abuse and killing of horses in the name of entertainment, and worse, for $2 bets?

Through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, Horseracing Wrongs has documented over 8,000 deaths at 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 – that’s almost six every single day. Aortic rupture, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma, broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments, shattered legs. In addition, hundreds more die back in their stalls, and worse still, two separate studies indicate that most – some 10,000-15,000 annually – spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are mercilessly bled-out and butchered (slaughtered, that is) at “career’s” end.

Here in New York, since 2009, when the Gaming Commission began releasing data, over 1,600 horses have perished at the 11 commercial racetracks (this figure does not account for deaths at private training facilities). Saratoga Race Course, perhaps the crown jewel in American racing, averages almost 15 kills per summer; Belmont Park, the site of the third leg of the Triple Crown, can boast over 100 deaths in just the past two years, easily among the highest totals in the nation.

But the killing is but a part of the story. There is, too, the everyday cruelty. To wit:

– Would-be racehorses are forever torn from their mothers and herds as mere babies. Sold, usually, at the tender age of one, broken, an industry term meaning to be made pliant and submissive, alone and terrified, their servitude begins.

– The typical horse does not reach full musculoskeletal maturity till around the age of six. The typical racehorse is thrust into intensive training at 18 months, and raced at two. On the maturation chart, a 2-year-old horse is the rough equivalent of a 6-year-old child. In our reporting, we see time and again 4-, 3-, even 2-year-old horses dying with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease – clear evidence of the incessant pounding these pubescent bodies are forced to absorb.

– In perhaps the worst of it, racehorses are kept locked – alone – in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day, a cruelty all the worse for being inflicted on naturally social, herd-animals like horses. At a 2019 NYS Senate hearing, prominent equine vet Dr. Kraig Kulikowski likened this cruelty to keeping a child locked in a 4×4 closet for over 23 hours a day. Imagine that. Relatedly, 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 commonly seen in confined racehorses: cribbing, wind-sucking, bobbing, weaving, pacing, digging, even self-mutilation.

– Racehorses are controlled and subjugated through, among other means, cribbing collars, nose/lip chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth bits, and, of course, whips. On that, the very public flogging administered to racehorses would land a person in jail if done to his dog in the park. But at the track, it’s simply part of the tradition.

– By law, racehorses are literal chattel – pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide. In fact, the average racehorse will change hands multiple times during his so-called career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious, stressful existence (almost all active racehorses suffer from ulcers).

Fact is, in regard to how the relative animals are treated, horseracing is dogracing (one could even argue that, because of slaughter, horseracing is that much worse). But while the latter is all but dead – by the end of this year, there will be but two tracks left in the entire country; dogracing is outright prohibited on moral grounds in 41 states – horseracing is allowed to persist under the cover of sport (indeed, “The Sport of Kings”). Please don’t let this brilliant yet specious marketing cloud your better judgment. If it looks like animal cruelty, sounds like animal cruelty, and feels like animal cruelty, then that’s exactly what it is.

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  1. Really good news, Patrick Battuello — so much work involved to get out the gruesome facts of this evil industry — it’s wonderful when someone takes notice — I wish there were more sane, rational & compassionate people out there — keep at it.

  2. Thank you so much Patrick. For your dedication to this honorable cause. All animal lovers are with you. We here are with you forever and that means til mission accomplished,because,the spectacular horses are Sooooo worthy.

  3. Thank you, Patrick, for your hard work, time and energy and dedication to do what it takes to educate people about how horses are really treated in this industry of exploiting horses for wagering handle revenue, purse money, and the “government subsidies” which amount to billions (that is BILLIONS with a B) of dollars from the State of New York.

    I love the fact that the TIMES UNION has REPORTED the FACTS!!! The facts about how the racing people are being bankrolled to keep their greedy pockets full at the expense of the horses and the public is being made public knowledge. I think anyone could learn a lot about the different ways that this industry is being funded by government by reading the TIMES UNION article: “How New York bankrolls horse racing with billions” ~~~
    (… more than $2.9 Billion in state taxpayer dollars and government-directed benefits since 2008, a TIMES UNION investigation has uncovered.)

  4. ‘Truly ~*m.a.s.t.e.r.f.u.l.*~ writing, Patrick, and my genuine desire is that your/our fervent pleas to ………… stop this cruelty ………… are, indeed, heeded, you know!!

  5. Great op-ed, as usual, Patrick. I think it’s important to keep the greyhound comparison very much in the public mind. Dog racing was obscenely cruel, and now it’s all but gone. Horse racing is obscenely cruel, and it’s on its way out. But advocates of racing horses to death for bets like to pretend their game is soooo much better (“More humane! Less barbaric!”) than the obscenity of dog racing, which has only recently been expelled from U.S. culture. It’s not. In fact, it’s WORSE:

    At least a nominal percentage of those “retired” greyhounds had a chance of being adopted out to a suitable home, thus escaping the tiny-cage-life inflicted by their exploiters. Not so with thoroughbreds; there’s simply zero demand for an animal that has so much negative value, a plethora of physical and mental problems incurred at the track, and care costs that run at around $5,000 per year on the low end. (And wait til they see what gas prices are doing to the cost of hay these days…)

    But don’t dare suggest any of that to the fine folks at (the hilariously-titled) HISA. Or the racing press. They refuse to acknowledge it AT ALL. They won’t answer questions, and won’t even entertain the notion that the two blood sports parallel one another — with horse racing actually being the more disgusting of the two. (Guess they’re as befuddled as the rest of us about why the dog racing creeps got kicked out first;)

  6. Very compelling op-ed, Patrick! Most people who know very little about horses often think that because of their size they are strong and tough animals It is such a fallacy. For all their great size, they are fragile creatures. Your unrelenting focus on two-year-olds and how absolutely criminal it is to force them into such rigorous training and racing is key to building momentum for change. But even knowledgeable horsemen and women simply cannot defend the cruelties inflicted upon sensitive, intelligent animals for no other reason than a two-dollar bet. As a long time horse-owner and enthusiast, the fact that so many racehorses, regardless of age, are suffering from stomach ulcers speaks volumes for the dreadful lives they are forced to live. No animal should be treated this way. It has to stop. And while it’s shocking to say, horrific deaths will continue until owners, trainers, racing officials and, most of all, the general public, stops making excuses while ignoring the glaring facts staring them right in the face. I’ll never forget how I felt watching Ruffian break down. I was in a deep depression for days afterward. Then came Go for Wand and Barbaro. But it took seeing your sobering statistics and the sight of Mongolian Groom’s heartbreaking death to shock me out of my complacency and turn me completely against racing. We cannot claim to be truly civilized as long as we turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the reality of horse racing. We need more converts. We need more zealots. We need to be as relentless as the words of Sir Winston Churchill when he gave the short but mighty speech….”Never give up. Never give up. Never, never, never give up!” Thank you, Patrick! Your determination, and that of truly compassion people from all walks of life, will be the David in this fight against Goliath. I pray every day for these beautiful, innocent creatures and I pray for us, that we never give up!

    • Anyone who still wants this evil torture to continue,cannot claim to love animals. My deep down gut instinct is that they don’t want it to end because they are LAZY.

      • Plus, they are completely devoid of compassion and empathy for the horses or they would not subject the horses to being abused and routinely tortured every day. They are completely evil to force the young, underdeveloped colts and fillies to perform as though they were full-grown, adult horses. They are morally depraved people who dope and drug horses to mask physical pain and enhance the horses’ performance in order to fix races. They are animal abusers from hell if they don’t want this horror show to end. They steal from society as well.

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