A Disgusting Vet, Lousy Journalism

The media coverage of, and the national conversation on, horseracing is the most intense and sustained that I have seen in my nine years of doing this. And I know with certainty that horse deaths have never received this level of attention. We of course have been a big part of it – The Baltimore Sun, ESPN, the CBC, Katie Couric, among many others – and I am currently working very closely with CNN on a major treatment. Still, it’s never enough, with plenty of pieces where the interviewees have been allowed – through second-rate or just plain lazy reporting – to disseminate misinformation or worse, disinformation. A recent ABC Baltimore story is a perfect case in point.

The article (which was filed ahead of the Preakness) begins by giving HW Maryland Coordinator Jen Sully some space on the Churchill deaths and the upcoming protest. The reporter, Amanda Engel, then writes that they wanted to “dig deeper” on the topic, and introduces her chosen “expert”: “WMAR-2 News spoke with Dr. Sarah White-Springer, an associate professor of equine physiology at Texas A&M, about how horseracing impacts the horse’s body and to address some of the common issues brought up by protesters.”

White-Springer then wastes no time in revealing her sympathies: “Everyone in the horse industry, whether it be from a researcher to their groom, is out for the welfare of the horse, all of us are aiming to improve the welfare.”

“Everyone” – everyone – “in the horse industry is out for the welfare of the horse.”

So, credentials aside, she’s an industry apologist – I dare say fan. Engel then introduces me: “One of the arguments that founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, Patrick Battuello, has brought to us is that the horses are being raced too young.” And affords me my one quote: “It’s the grinding of these unformed bodies that is the primary reason that these horses are breaking down at the track; it’s not the track surface.”

Fairly reasonable, wouldn’t you agree? White-Springer doesn’t: “The data that we have so far…it doesn’t show anything to suggest that starting them young would have detrimental impacts on their bone. And actually quite the opposite, that starting them young would make their bones stronger.”

Wow. But it gets worse: “[Having evolved as prey], he needs to run from something, that’s going to eat him, very quickly. And so it’s just amazing when you start to look at the physiology of the horse, they really are built to do this.”

That’s right, “built” to be crammed into an anxious, artificial herd, and beaten to run as fast as they can. How utterly revolting. But she wasn’t done: “I think another thing that people sometimes forget is the people that take care of these horses are of course, people, they love those horses, right. And I think sometimes people see it on TV, and they’re like, ‘oh, they don’t care about them, they die and so whatever.’ And I’m like, that’s not true, there’s a crew in the back, that’s bawling right now, because that just happened.”

Yes, that’s right, they’re all “bawling.” Engel then unforgivably ends the article thus: “Meanwhile, activists might be doing more harm than good.” And quotes White-Springer one last time: “The biggest problem I see in the industry at the moment is a lot of the decisions that are being made are driven by activists, not by science, and it ends up actually being detrimental to the animal. So you have people that aren’t educated in animal behavior, making decisions about animal behavior and driving legislation that actually ends up being detrimental to the animal.”

Of course, it’s all our fault. For shame. In any event, I reached out to prominent equine vet Dr. Kraig Kulikowski to address the age question. Here is his response:

“While the racing industry tries to claim the data supports racing juveniles, the racing industry has yet to provide proper double-blinded studies of mature horses. The racing data has been focused on 2-, 3-, and 4-year-old horses. The FEI, which governs the Olympic horse sports, does not even permit horses under the age of 6 to compete. The data that I have seen the racing industry produce has only proven to me that racing juveniles is extremely dangerous.”

“Racing juveniles is extremely dangerous.”

Dr. Kulikowski then added:

“There is research that does exist, however, to show that juvenile horses’ musculoskeletal systems benefit from pasture turn out. This research the racing industry conveniently ignores as it crams thousands of horses into racetracks with little to no pasture access.”


(I did talk to Engel after her article came out. She was polite but unswayed.)

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  1. If these young and not-yet-fully-matured colts and fillies were kept on a pasture as nature intended and exercised in a swimming pool and never ridden until they were more developed and even then not galloped, it would be a way to keep them alive and healthy. But that would not “provide opportunities” for human beings to exploit them for the Kentucky Derby and all of the other horse races that the racing industry is obsessed with year after year. There is allegedly always going to be a new crop of foals every year to be exploited by this industry that exploits them at every stage of their lives. This industry makes their money through this exploitation so why would people known for being greedy and for lying and cheating all of a sudden want to be honest about their moral depravity? This is a business, not an altar call.

  2. Breeding protocols are the culprit, breeders have destroyed our thoroughbreds by breeding only for speed and ignoring soundness issues. Breakdowns will continue to escalate. Many of these thoroughbreds would break down even if they weren’t racing. It’s that bad and something I predicted decades ago.

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