Whipping a racehorse is the most conspicuous form of animal abuse this side of bullfighting and basically every rodeo “competition.” No need for undercover cameras here. Because of this – or to be more accurate, because of Santa Anita thrusting all things racing into the spotlight – the industry is desperately scrambling. What to do about something that has been a fundamental part of racing since time immemorial.

For most in racing, however, whipping is but a problem of perception. Indeed, at the monthly CHRB meeting just two days ago, new board member Wendy Mitchell said this: “The optics on it [whipping] are bad.” The “optics.” Not that we agree it’s cruelty, mind you; it just looks bad. Well. Back in ’15, the ABC (Australia) ran a piece on this very subject. The whole thing (below) is worth watching, but a couple quotes stand out.

Dr. Lydia Tong, veterinary pathologist, on the relative skin thickness of horses and humans: “The really interesting part is that right up in the epidermis, which is the top layer and that’s where the pain-sensing C fibres are, in the human specimen that’s thicker than the horse’s. So by the old argument of horse’s skin is thicker and they feel it less, actually you could argue human’s skin is thicker.” So have someone take a horse whip to your leg (which was done in the show) and report back.

Then this on horse nature: “If a prey animal shows its pain very overtly, they are more likely to then be noticed and picked out by a predator. So actually often prey animals they kind of shut up and put up.”

And finally, this from Australian Racing’s Peter McGauran: “That [not shifting from pain] would have been learned behaviour, agreed. Under the old days [prior to new whip/whipping rules] I concede that the horses learnt to absorb the punishment afforded them.”

The “old days”? 2009. Yes, that’s right, here we have a prominent racing executive admitting that as recently as five years prior, his jockeys inflicted “punishment” on his horses – punishment, by the way, seemingly well-“absorbed” due to learned helplessness. Imagine that. Yet I wonder, Mr. McGauran, does this mean that back in the “old days” you were sharing that opinion far and wide, or were you, like the rest, singing that decades-old industry line of the whip as “painless guide”? Please.

Oh, and one final note, Mr. McGauran: There is no past tense about this (“it was broken, so we fixed it”); as the piece (science, common sense) makes abundantly clear, a whip in the hands of a racehorse jockey will always be an instrument of intimidation, conveyor of pain. Put another way, your kinder, gentler whipping is a lie. To steal a line from Clinton ’92, it’s animal cruelty, stupid. And ever it will be.

According to the Collins Dictionary, “stupid” is “lacking in common sense, perception, or normal intelligence”; “slow-witted.” With that as backdrop, I call your attention to a recent op-ed from former jockey and current analyst Donna Brothers in the Paulick Report. While the article, which is mostly a diatribe against PETA, should be fully ingested for a true appreciation, here are my highlights (and comments in italics):

“…[on domestication] PETA is on a mission whose end-game is to eventually halt the natural bond between man and animal that has led them to co-exist since before written record!”

There is, of course, nothing natural about domestication; in fact, it is the antithesis.

“Horses have also seen man into civilization; helped them win battles at war…”

In the Civil War alone, the number of equines killed to “help man win battles” is measured in the millions. Scores of patently gentle, innocent animals killed in violent, horrific, and terrifying ways so man could wage war. There’s no glorifying that.

“The thing about horses is that they’re going to run, play, jump, frolic and race across vast fields with or without us. What makes us love them is that they are gracious enough to let us go along for the ride.”

What happens in nature bears no resemblance to what happens at a racetrack, where nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and perched, whip-wielding humans prompt the “playing” and “frolicking.” “Gracious enough to let us go along for the ride”? Vile.

“And, yes, sometimes horses are fatally injured alone in a field—or on the track—while doing this. It will break my heart every single time, but I know with all that I am, that they love their humans and their sport as much as we love them and this sport that allows us to interact with them in a deeply meaningful and fulfilling way.”

Yes, they “love their humans” – the same humans who lock them in tiny stalls for over 23 hours a day (born to run?); who stick them with needles and beat them with whips; who buy, sell, trade, and dump them like common Amazon products; and who ship them – by the thousands every year – to brutal, bloody, and violent ends. That’s “interact[ing] with them in a deeply meaningful and fulfilling way”? Contemptible, Ms. Brothers.

“Though musculoskeletal injury to a horse during racing is an aberration, it is a gut wrenching event for everyone.”

Yes, that’s right, I’ve documented thousands of “aberrations” on this site.

“Much of what humans know about the care of horses…is owed to private funding from the thoroughbred racing industry. We reduce the likelihood of terminal skeletal injury, and we’re getting better at it all the time. That said, we cannot totally eliminate the evolutionary destiny of horses left to their own accord anymore than we can eradicate all diseases and fractures in man.”

“…the evolutionary destiny of horses left to their own accord” – I’m running out of adjectives.

“It sounds silly to those who don’t follow horse racing, but these horses aren’t just our friends. We work with them day in and day out. Our entire life revolves around their care and they become family. We cheer for them and fear for them. We hope for them, we laugh with them, and we even cry for them.”

Question for Ms. Brothers and her “horse-loving” brethren: Ever dropped a horse in a “claiming race,” thereby putting that “family member” up for sale? Thought so. And can you identify the whereabouts of all your past “family members”? Didn’t think so. And to say you “fear for them” after you yourselves have willfully and unnecessarily put them in harm’s way is but another in a long line of obscenities.

“Compared to approximately 55 training or racing fatalities per month in the U.S. (1.86 per 1,000 starts), there are nearly 3,300 human deaths per month due to automobile accidents. … It turns out that it is actually safer to race our horses than it is to drive our children on the roads…”

First, your number – 55 – is woefully understated; it’s more like 155. As to comparing racehorse kills with automobile deaths, I’d wager that even those children you speak of would grasp the absurdity.

“One of the arguments against racing that I’ve heard is that people can accept injuries in human athletes since they choose to compete, but race horses are forced to race—it’s not their choice. Any horseman reading this can confirm that this is not even possible! … If a horse does not want to race there is no amount of persuasion that will change that horse’s mind. I’ve seen horses that don’t want to race—and we don’t race them! Not every thoroughbred is born with racing on their mind but the vast majority of them are… … Our horses that race, love to race, and we love to watch them—even help them—achieve their best form.”


And finally, this:

“People haven’t domesticated horses, dogs and cats, they’ve domesticated themselves.”

Your capacity for perversion is truly dizzying, Ms. Brothers. Again, I refer to the dictionary: “domesticate: to train or adapt (an animal or plant) to live in a human environment and be of use to humans.” Tamed by man for man, including, of course, your precious horses. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, stupid is as stupid writes.

In a recent The Racing Biz article, pro-racing (obviously) writer Teresa Genaro perfectly relays the moral qualms an ever-increasing number of lifelong racing fans are experiencing these days. She explains that in the “dreadful” Aqueduct winter of 2012, “the one in which so many horses died,” she began an “unconscious practice” of listening to races rather than watching them, for fear, of course, of breakdowns. She writes: “That winter induced a sort of PTSD that made me keep my head down until I felt confident that the horses were all going to come home safely.”

“…a sort of PTSD that made me keep my head down until I felt confident that the horses were all going to come home safely.”

Last Saturday, she went on to say, “that old feeling returned,” so at first she only listened to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But the allure proved too strong and she began watching. Then this from the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman hit her Twitter feed:

Mongolian Groom was dead, and she, along with millions of others, was left to grapple with her conscience:

“…when I watched Vino Rosso, gleaming in the Santa Anita gloaming, triumphantly find redemption at the finish line of the biggest race of his life, I push aside, at least for a little while, my awareness of the risks inherent in the sport that I love. But the next time the starting gate opens, that awareness comes rushing right back, and I wonder how long I’ll be able to live with that.”

Look, if you feel the need to avert your eyes at a show because there’s a good chance one of the (nonconsensual, it must be noted) performers may die, you already have your answer. Follow your heart – not the heart that “loves” things like Thai food, long weekends, baseball, or Thoroughbred horseracing; rather, the heart that houses empathy, kindness, and compassion. In the final analysis, Ms. Genaro, your continued support of an industry that maims and murders multiple thousands (let’s not forget the ones bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end) of fully sentient beings annually in the name of “sport” and “entertainment” is morally indefensible. And you know it.

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.

(The Horse article)
(full study here)

In a recent letter to the editor of The Washington Post, Jim Gagliano, president of The Jockey Club, the most powerful organization in racing, and Shawn Smeallie, executive director of the oxymoronically-named Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, took issue with my recent op-ed in that same paper. I reproduce it in its entirety:

In his Oct. 9 Wednesday Opinion essay, “The staggering toll of horse racing,” Patrick Battuello of Horseracing Wrongs made a flawed case against horse racing, calling it “a cruel pastime,” which demonizes horse racing’s veterinarians, workers, trainers, breeders and owners. This is an example of the group’s agenda to ban any domesticated animals, including food animals and pets.

Horseracing Wrongs seeks to capitalize on the horse fatalities spike at Santa Anita racetrack. No one knows why 30 horses died. Each incident was multifactorial and could have been influenced by preexisting health conditions, extraordinary amounts of winter/spring rain, the misuse of drugs or other factors.

But the industry has taken significant steps to reduce fatalities. Santa Anita has instituted changes, including a new track drainage system, prerace veterinary inspections, strict medication rules and enhanced training protocols. After the new rules took effect in March, the number of fatalities fell by 58 percent.

Thoroughbred racehorses receive the most extensive medical care of any domesticated animal, but more can be done. The industry has responded, including support for the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would reform medication use and establish a national anti-doping authority overseen by independent equine experts and the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the group governing medications for America’s Olympians.

Horse racing can become safer, but Horseracing Wrongs’ agenda does nothing to address real-world issues affecting equine health.

It would appear we’ve got their attention, and as well we should as our movement gets stronger every day. As to their “points,” well:

“A flawed case against horse racing.” Facts, good sirs, are stubborn things. Are 2,000 horses not being killed on American tracks each year? Are hundreds more not dying back in their stalls? Are the majority of spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses – multiple thousands annually – not brutally and violently bled-out and butchered at racing’s singular “retirement” facility, the slaughterhouse? Facts. Facts. Facts. And yes, all those industry folks you reference are absolutely complicit in each and every kill.

“Horseracing Wrongs seeks to capitalize on the horse fatalities spike at Santa Anita.” First, for you to claim that any animal activist is “seeking to capitalize” on the suffering and death of exploited animals is, in a word, obscene. You ought to be ashamed, though I’m sure that by this point you are impervious to that emotion. Second, ’twas no “spike” at Santa Anita – and you very well know it: Santa Anita averages 50 dead horses annually; in just the past three years (not including this one), 148 horses have been killed on (racing or training) the SA track.

“No one knows why 30 horses died.” Please. From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until 6; the typical racehorse begins training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to “race” at an unnatural rate (breakneck), in an unnatural way (always counter-clockwise), through unnatural means (perched, whip-wielding humans); to the commodification (the average racehorse is bought and sold several times over the course of his “career,” making his long-term well-being of no concern to his current people) – horseracing guarantees a certain level of killing. Guarantees. And again, you know that.

“But the industry has taken significant steps to reduce fatalities.” This is the same worn drivel we hear each and every time the industry gets hammered with negative coverage. Whether it’s Del Mar, Saratoga, Churchill, Turf, Santa Anita, or now, Belmont, it’s always the same: We’re working diligently on this; no stone is being left unturned. Which of course raises the question: Where was this zeal when no one was paying attention and dead horses were piling up year after year after year?

As Mark Twain said, facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable. Any track, any state, any industry organization can cherry-pick time frames to “demonstrate” improvement (or they can simply lie). But here’s the thing: Horseracing is a single entity; you can’t separate out the various tracks. A horse can be raced into the ground at one, moved to another and “break down,” and the kill only counts against the latter. Bottom line, while the numbers will fluctuate from meet to meet, track to track, state to state, death for the industry in the aggregate is unfailingly constant and, more or less, consistent (see our annual killed lists). A single entity, one league, so to speak.

“Thoroughbred racehorses receive the most extensive medical care of any domesticated animal.” So what? “Extensive medical care” means nothing to a naturally autonomous being who has had all of his autonomy stripped away – lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, whips, extreme and unrelenting confinement and isolation, commodification, etc. No socialization for innately social animals. No free movement for inherently mobile beings. No simple grazing for creatures who love to graze. Nothing, but negation.

And what good is being up on all your shots when you are lying in the dirt with your cannon bone protruding through your blood-soaked skin? What will it matter if your body is a finely-tuned machine, if you are a “world-class athlete,” when you are hanging upside down by a chain awaiting the butcher’s knife?

“Horse racing can become safer, but Horseracing Wrongs’ agenda does nothing to address real-world issues affecting equine health.” Horseracing will only be safe when that last betting window closes – and once again, you know it. As to our agenda, it is we, not you, who are the true equine advocates, for we advocate from mercy and compassion, you from your wallet. As the old saying goes, America, follow the money.