Vet: “I feel that Rockinhippiechick suffered tremendously in her final moments.” And The Stronach Group Is to Blame.

As I’ve written regarding California’s missing “vanned off” horses: Much is being made of California’s lower kill numbers. One of the things the industry, led by The Stronach Group (TSG), is supposedly doing is more surgical repairs. But history says that the equine post-surgery survival rate is very low (think Barbaro). Problem is, the injured who end up being euthanized, with or without surgery, off-site will not, as a rule, show up in public records. The lost dead.

Stronach, of course, also owns the two tracks in Maryland: Laurel and Pimlico. Last year, I reported on the death of 2-year-old Jamerican Feb 6 at Laurel: “Catastrophic bilateral pelvic fractures – comminuted, complete, displaced, with abundant hemorrhage. The horse was medicated…but then went down in the equine ambulance. The horse was euthanized in the ambulance.” And here, I remind, is what the commission’s chief vet, Elizabeth Daniel, said about Jamerican’s death:

“My biggest regret in this case was not euthanizing Jamerican on the racetrack as her condition rapidly declined. I was trying to abide by the wishes of management to save as many of these horses as possible. However, I feel that in doing so I allowed for Jamerican to suffer for longer than needed. For that, I am deeply sorry.”

Obviously, Stronach’s single-minded pursuit of good PR – for that is the reason for this new policy; if it were truly about equine welfare they’d have been doing it years ago – came at the cost of this poor baby’s suffering. And now, another.

4-year-old Rockinhippiechick, says the Racing Commission, suffered a fracture training at Laurel Oct 6 and was subsequently shipped out for surgery. This was her second operation in 18 months (though on different legs). She was then returned to Laurel Oct 8 for recovery. Almost immediately, she developed colic and was treated in her stall over the next three days. Rockin’s vets, however, were unable to bring it under control and recommended euthanasia. The owners, Annette and Daniel Eubanks, agreed. But then TSG’s Dr. Heidi Thomas got the Eubankses to turn Rockin over to Stronach for further treatment – yet another surgery, this one for the colic.

So, the van was called to transport Rockin to New Bolton. Some two hours later, the van arrived and Rockin was loaded. Then, the Commission says, before arriving at the center, Rockin died – “cecal impaction with acute perforation.” She died all alone, in pain, in terror, on the back of a van. And it clearly shouldn’t have happened this way.

In the final report, Dr. Daniel said: “I was very saddened at the course of events leading up to the death of Rockinhippiechick. She had made it back…after a year off from a very traumatic rear limb fracture. Then to have another fracture repair just days before her colic and eventual death. Dr. Delp [one of the attending vets] has stated that he recommended euthanasia due to the very toxic state that the mare was in after several days of her illness.” She closed with this: “I feel that Rockinhippiechick suffered tremendously in her final moments.”

Dr. Walsh, another commission vet, added: “Dr. Delp felt that the filly was so bad she wouldn’t survive shipping for surgery.”

In his statement, Dr. Delp recapped the chain of events:

“Tuesday [Oct 11, the day Rockin died], 2:00 pm: Horse was in severe pain.”

“2:15 pm: Called Annette Eubanks, told her condition had changed…they chose to euthanize. I told Annette I had to contact [TSG’s] Dr. Heidi Thomas and advise her….”

“2:40 pm: Dr. Gillam told me TSG was going to contact the owners and have them release the horse.”

“5:15 pm: The van arrived. During the 2-hour wait, the horse was in severe pain and any treatment I did offered no relief to the pain.”

“7:43 pm: I received a text telling me the horse died sometime during the trip to New Bolton.”

Dr. Delp’s statement closed thus:

“In summary, I am very upset with the suffering Rockinhippiechick had to endure, becoming more painful as time passed. After I had made the decision and received permission…to euthanize the horse, I waited over two hours for the van to arrive. Then to get a text that the horse died on the way to New Bolton was even more troublesome – making the horse suffer 5-6 hours more when I could have stopped the suffering when I received permission to euthanize….”

This poor girl’s extended agony and horrific death is on The Stronach Group. Full stop. In fact, in a different universe – one that took cruelty within animal-based industries seriously – they’d be brought up on charges. Truth is, Stronach, like everyone else in racing, cares about one thing and one thing only: their revenue stream. And because that’s now being threatened more than ever – owing in large part to the exposure provided on these pages – we are subjected to this abhorrent pretense. But worse, horses are suffering (more) because of it.

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  1. Maiming and killing horses for racing and wagering handle is too commonplace within the industry. Thanks to Horseracing Wrongs for sharing the information about this unacceptable cruelty to horses, we don’t have to be ignorant of this reality.
    The Stronach Group should be held ACCOUNTABLE to the laws of the State of California regarding Business Conduct and Animal Welfare. They have gotten away with far too much for far too long.

  2. Cecal impaction and perforation says it all in terms of the extreme suffering of Rockinhippiechick. Cecal impaction is a very serious form of colic and after 3 days of treatment without improvement the prognosis was extremely poor…there was no hope.
    Why would any vet think the horse would survive being loaded and transported. It was over for her at that point.
    There are no words to describe the agony the poor horse was forced to endure. Awful situation. Shame on those who forced her to suffer such unimaginable pain and terror.

    • The veterinarians who actively engage and participate in this egregiously inhumane forcing of this horse and any other racehorse to suffer because, for one thing, the “boss” (TSG) told them to follow their “protocol” to accomplish their own selfish and greedy objectives are as despicable and detestable as the Stronachs themselves.
      I suspect that the veterinarian, Dr. Heidi Thomas, knowingly caused the horse to suffer hideously and inhumanely longer than necessary because that is what the Stronachs paid her to do.
      The absence of morals of the people in this industry is ugly, grotesque and completely unacceptable.
      It appears that this “Dr.” Heidi Thomas is not paid to think about the horse; she is paid to do what she is told to do. It’s a paycheck. Besides the money, a person would have to have a serious degree of sadistic tendencies to be in this ugly business that causes harm and undue suffering to the horse(s).

  3. Racing vets, whether in private practice or employed by various (ha ha) “regulators” sure spend a lot of time being “upset” and “shocked” and “saddened” by the horrors constantly inflicted on their patients.
    I’m sure I’m not the first to inform them that they brought all this career misery on themselves. Instead of using their considerable education and talents to treat the animals of those who actually care about our horses’ long-term health and welfare,
    they’ve essentially sold their souls to the racing industry:
    “Basically, our job is to end the suffering of broken-down babies so that creepy Canadian billionaires can exploit and kill thousands more of them.”
    Nothing shameful about that as a career choice. Right, racing vets?

    • And these “vets” take an Oath at their point of graduation. DID THEY FORGET THAT? Or is the promise of a big fat paycheck or better more appealing than decency?

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