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. LĂ©a 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.

Governor Gavin Newsom of California, in Monday’s New York Times:

“What happened last year was unacceptable, and all of the excuses be damned. We own that going into the next season, and we’re going to have to do something about it. I’ll tell you, talk about a sport whose time is up unless they reform. That’s horse racing. Incredible abuses to these precious animals and the willingness to just to spit these animals out and literally take their lives is a disgrace. The more you realize what’s really going on, the more intolerant you become of certain behaviors.”

First, thank you, Governor Newsom for this strong language – “unacceptable,” indeed, “and all of the excuses be damned.” But for me, the key phrase is this: “a sport whose time is up unless they reform.” Why? Because “reform” is impracticable. To wit:

Horseracing is inherently cruel and inevitably deadly. On the former, in addition to being torn from their mothers as mere babes, being bought and sold like common Amazon products, and subjected to lip tattoos, cribbing collars, nose chains, tongue ties, mouth bits, and whips, racehorses – innately social and mobile animals – are kept locked, alone, in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day. They are kept thus because as assets their owners are loath to risk injury in a more natural (humane) setting, and because creating and maintaining that setting would be cost-prohibitive.

As to the killing, and contrary to what the reformers would have you believe, death at the track is, has always been, and always will be a built-in part of the system: From breeding for speed (big torsos, spindly legs, fragile ankles); to working pubescent bodies (the typical horse doesn’t fully mature until 6; the typical racehorse begins intensive training at 18 months); to the incessant grinding of those bodies (if they’re not racing, they’re not earning); to forcing them to run at an unnatural rate (breakneck) 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.

Then, too, slaughter. Here, I refer back to the governor’s words: “Incredible abuses to these precious animals and the willingness to just to spit these animals out and literally take their lives is a disgrace.” Fact is, the vast majority of spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are brutally and violently bled-out and butchered in abattoirs north and south of these united states. (This is not simply my opinion; racing insiders corroborate here, here, and here.)

What’s more, Racing needs slaughter. In a recent article in HorseRace Insider, a pro-racing publication, the writer, Mark Berner, admitted the following: “TJC [The Jockey Club] will not support a slaughter-free industry because it will cost $120 million per year to fund the care of the 20,000+ horses bred each year.” Again, The Jockey Club, the most prominent and powerful organization in Racing, will not support a slaughter-free industry – and for proof we need look no further than its refusal to endorse the SAFE Act, a bill that would effectively end the slaughter of American horses – because it would cost too much to care for the horses. Imagine that.

But beyond the vileness, there is truth: Extended out, that cost becomes even more staggering: An average 25-year lifespan, an average 5-year “career,” and an average $5,000 annual cost-of-care means that in order to guarantee a lifetime safe-landing for each and every member of this year’s “foal crop,” the racing industry would have to come up with some $2 billion. That’s 2 billion with a “b.” And again, that’s just for this year’s group. The same would be needed next year, and the year after that, and the year after that, and the year after that. In short, the horseracing industry is deliberately creating thousands of horses every year for which it has neither the desire nor the ability to care for post-exploitation. Hence, slaughter.

In the final analysis, the only thing the “Horseracing Integrity Act” (or any other “reformist” legislation) would do is give Racing a desperately needed PR win, which, in turn, would likely help reverse its currently-declining fortunes – which, in turn, would condemn countless more horses to lives of abuse and premature, gruesome deaths.

So you see, Governor, “the more you realize what’s really going on,” intolerance of this industry’s very existence becomes the only reasonable and compassionate position.

In a recent Paulick Report article on the annual meeting of the Thoroughbred Owners of California (TOC), it was revealed that “The Stronach Group, TOC and [the] California Thoroughbred Trainers separately hired crisis management consultants,” and that “the Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland have retained the same crisis management firm that helped the NFL deal with the concussion crisis in football.” First, this speaks to the palpable desperation – “crisis management” – of an industry exposed. But of more import, later Paulick gives us a window into their strategy:

“One thing [TOC CEO] Avioli said he’s learned is that ‘the argument that horses love to run doesn’t work’ in swaying public opinion. Promoting therapeutic aftercare programs…is a stronger message, he said, as is putting forth the economic importance of the horse industry in supplying jobs for a largely Hispanic workforce.”

Yes, “love to run” is falling a bit flat these days. Perhaps because the public is becoming clued in to the unremitting confinement to a tiny 12×12 stall? Or perhaps it’s those ubiquitous whips that prompt any running that is allowed to occur?

More shameful, and surprising (stupid) in that Paulick and the racing people would allow it to become public, is the plan to (further) exploit the industry’s low-page workers and, more shameful yet, their ethnicity. Ah yes, we mean-spirited activists are out to take jobs away from hard-working “hispanics.” We must, then, be racist. Shameful doesn’t quite cover it – obscene is more apt.

Look, as I’ve written, I respect hard work, especially among the recently-arrived to this country; this is not personal. But in the end, this is a moral matter – animal cruelty – and jobs should not be a part of that conversation. That said, this industry is already in decline, with a net loss of 35 racetracks just since 2000. Where did those workers go? Perhaps on to other jobs? Imagine that – worker mobility in a capitalist society. In addition, all those erstwhile track-properties became something else – with attendant new job opportunities. Let’s look at one.

When 75-year-old Hollywood Park outside of Los Angeles closed in 2013, there was great angst. What about the lost jobs, racing people asked? Well. According to a CurbedLA article from last September, “When fully finished, the new Hollywood Park will be made up of 2,500 units of housing, 620,000 square feet of retail space, a ‘social hub’ with a ‘culinary marketplace’ and ‘giant outdoor movie screen,’ a 300-room luxury hotel, and a revamped Hollywood Park Casino.” And get this, an NFL stadium, to boot. Jobs, jobs, jobs. Now obviously not all tracks sit on as valuable, or as large, a plot of real estate, but you get the idea. Redevelopment means new opportunities.

The redevelopment of properties is, of course, just one manifestation of our free-market system at work. That system has seen myriad, yes myriad, businesses and industries come and go through our nation’s history. As demands and appetites change, as new technologies are born, our economy adapts. One of the more famous examples also involved horses: the horse-and-buggy being supplanted by the automobile – which, as we soon found out, came with a plethora of new (good) jobs.

In addition, to help prepare the backstretch communities for a post-racing life, we fully endorse job retraining – at the industry’s expense. Follows is a list of the top-earning trainers in 2018. The numbers speak for themselves:

Yes, retraining of their mostly minimum-wage workforce is the least these millionaires, in this multi-billion-dollar industry, can do. But in the end, I return to where I started: The preservation of jobs, no matter the number, no matter the quality, should not come at a (continued) cost of cruelty and killing. While it is dubious that Gandhi ever actually said the following, the words, whoever first uttered or wrote them, remain no less true: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”