Racing from Another Perspective:
Holly Cheever, DVM
"Cruelty is an inherent part of the horse racing industry. Thousands of horses are produced annually, from which a few racers are chosen, the rest blown away like chaff in the wind. The big money is in racing the 2 and 3 year olds, for whom training begins at 1½, before their bodies are fully developed and their growth plates have closed. Unnatural weight is put on their backs, concussive stress on their bones, and they are forced to submit to an overly strict training regimen. Nightmarish injuries like on-the-track fractures leave them finished by the age of 4–6, when they are barely mature. Decisions about their fate are made in the interest of the bottom line dollar, not their health. Injured animals are loaded up on drugs to run one more race.
"The unnatural stresses inherent in competing so aggressively and at such a young age also engender problems such as gastric ulceration and pulmonary (lung field) bleeding, not observed in horses worked at reasonable levels. These health and injury problems once again necessitate — economically — the use of drugs to maintain the horse’s racing value (but not well-being).
"Some horse-owners are either unwilling or unable to provide expensive veterinary care for a horse who may not be successful enough to earn his or her keep. Even when they provide veterinary care, they typically do not allow the horse sufficient time for recovery. Instead, they the send horse out to train or race on still-unhealed limbs. This purely economic motivation stands behind the racetrack saying 'A horse makes no money just standing in his stall.' Once they decide that the horse does not have, or had exhausted, his race-winning potential, they sell the horse to an equine auction, from where horses are either sent to a slaughterhouse that ships horsemeat to the European and Japanese market, or into a downward spiral of abuse at the hands of new owners who may think they would like a retired racehorse, but forget about horses’ longevity and the expense necessary to maintain them properly.
"Experience in the U.S. shows that the most expensive horses and the wealthiest owners race their horses at the most expensive racecourses, while less wealthy owners with less expensive horses race at marginal courses. The profit margin at these marginal venues, where the 'has-been’s' or the ones who never made it to the top are raced, is lower. At these places, where owners have fewer funds and the prizes are smaller, horse care is compromised even more and the cruelty is even more damaging and prevalent.
"The undeniable and inescapable problem with the thoroughbred industry is that thousands of foals must be produced in order to develop a few dozen good racers. The excess often meet with inhumane ends and similarly, when race horses are no longer money-earning winners, they too often end up neglected, abandoned, and starving at the hands of uncaring owners, with their final end being the slaughterhouse. For instance, a Kentucky Derby winner was slaughtered in Japan in 2004, despite his spectacular win a decade earlier. The distressing fate of the thousands of abused, neglected and abandoned horses in the United States is recognized by the American Association of Equine Practitioners — the world’s premiere equine veterinary organization — as its primary and most pressing problem.
"United States legislators, both state and federal, have attempted to constrain the industry’s economically-driven incentives and proven cruelty against horses through an elaborate set of statutes and regulations. Unfortunately, these attempts have largely failed. The industry continues to operate at the status quo, which includes drugging and other unacceptable practices. How will the Israeli people feel if the specter of numerous starved and abandoned horses — the result of unfettered greed — becomes a major blot on the nation’s honor? No moral country should allow this cruel industry to gain a foothold."
Dr. Holly Cheever was a Summa Cum Laude graduate of Harvard University, and she was first in her 1980 graduating class at Cornell University Veterinary School.
Dr. Cheever wrote two chapters in the book Shelter Medicine for
Veterinarians and Staff, published by Blackwell Press. The chapters
include a guide to investigating animal abuse, especially equine abuse.
She was a contributing author to How to Investigate Animal Cruelty in
NY State — A Manual of Procedures.
She has won awards from the ASPCA and the HSUS (largest humane organizations in the U.S.) and from the New York State Troopers (New York State Police) for her work in cruelty investigations, prosecutions, and humane education. Dr. Cheever was voted Veterinarian of the Year by the New York State Humane Association, and she currently serves as their Vice President. Dr. Cheever teaches a course to New York State law officers (police, state troopers, animal control officers, and others) four times a year on how to investigate animal abuse. She has been around horses all her life, including race horses.
Dr. Tim O'Brien
"I have been investigating animal welfare issues for ten years, and during the last six years I have published a number of reports on the welfare of racehorses. It is my opinion, based on scientific data published by research groups throughout the world, that horse racing and animal suffering are inextricably linked. Horses, which are often raced when less than two years old, endure massively high incidences of stomach ulceration, lung hemorrhaging (even during low-intensity exercise) and bone weakness (sometimes weakening by over forty percent during the course of a race).
"Racehorses are whipped up to 30 times during one race, according to a survey conducted by the non-profit organization Animal Aid. The survey showed that the whip was used even on young horses, during their first race. Horses in a state of total exhaustion and already out of contention were also beaten. The whip was used on the neck and shoulders, as well as the hind quarters. Horses were observed being whipped 20, even 30 times during a race.
"The Jockey Club is responsible for regulating and enforcing the Rules of Racing, but the rules are lacking in clarity and very poorly enforced by Race Stewards. None of the violations observed during the survey period drew a sanction for the offending riders.
"Every year, around 300 racehorses die on British race tracks as a result of fatal falls or serious injuries, most often breaks to the legs, backs, or shoulders; heart attacks; or a drop in performance that makes them commercially non-viable. In addition to the hundreds raced to death, thousands more are killed or abandoned to neglectful or abusive situations every year because they can no longer run fast enough to be profitable.
"Around 5,000 leave racing every year, the same number who enter it. Very few enjoy a decent retirement. Some are shot within weeks of their money-earning days coming to an end. A small number become breeders. Many are slaughtered, their bodies sold to countries like France, where people eat horse meat, or they end up as pet food. Others are exported, or sold from owner to owner in a downward spiral of abuse and neglect. In the U.S., according to an Associated Press article, as many as 7,100 registered thoroughbreds went to slaughter in 1998, the equivalent of 22 percent of the 1998 U.S. thoroughbred foal crop.
"Because of their personal histories and temperament, only a very few retired racehorses make good 'pets'. All retired race horses are very high-maintenance, expensive to maintain, and long-lived. The specter of having to spend many thousands of dollars on them over several decades predisposes them to being abandoned.
"Some have been discovered weak, emaciated, and forgotten. Even champion prize winners, once their racing days are over, have been found in appalling conditions. The 1984 UK Grand National winner Hallo Dandy was found in a field, thin, tired, with scars on his back and his ribs poking through.
"And with (according to UK gambling charity GamCare) around 60,000 people in the UK addicted to gambling on horse races to an extent that compromises their own well-being and that of their families, horse racing is clearly responsible for considerable human as well as animal suffering.
"Horse racing is bad for animals and bad for people. It has no place in an enlightened society."
Dr. Tim O’Brien is an independent animal welfare researcher. Since being awarded his PhD in biological sciences, Dr. O’Brien has been Head of Research at Compassion in World Farming, and a Director of The Genetics Forum. He has advised UK government select committees on dairy farming, and on the use of antibiotics in farming. He has authored reports into factory farming and human health, farm animal genetic engineering, and the links between intensive livestock farming, poverty and the environment, as well as researching the welfare of racehorses.
Eva Berriman, BVSc
"Horses are forced to race even while injured, causing enormous suffering. Veterinarians recommended that War Emblem, the racehorse who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2001, undergo surgery to repair bone chips in one ankle and both knees. His trainer, deciding that surgery would take away from training and racing time, forced him to race while injured. War Emblem lost the Belmont Stakes, no longer races, and has been sold twice. The same trainer continued to race a 3-year-old Thoroughbred after knee surgery. The horse broke his shoulder during a workout and had to be euthanized.
"Most young horses will develop shin soreness and should be given a break from racing for several weeks until they recover, but it is not uncommon for trainers to force them to continue training and racing, believing this 'compacts the bone.' These horses are in agony and collapse if touched on the shins.
"So they can race even when injured, horses are drugged. In the horse racing industry, the profit-making motive, not animal welfare, is all that matters. Every horse at the 2003 Kentucky Derby was given a shot of Lasix to control bleeding in the lungs, and most were probably given the anti-inflammatory drug, phenylbutazone.
"A recent front page New York Times article listed the most common ways used to enhance a race horse’s performance: bronchodilators to widen air passages, hormones to increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells, cone snail or cobra venom injected into a horse’s joints to ease pain and stiffness, and a 'milkshake' of baking soda, sugar, and electrolytes delivered through a tube in the horse’s nose to increase carbon dioxide in the horse’s bloodstream and lessen lactic-acid buildup, warding off fatigue. The article noted that batteries are even concealed under a horse’s skin that deliver a shock when the horse is flagging.
"Laboratories cannot detect every illegal drug, of which there could be thousands, according to the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Morphine was suspected in the case of Be My Royal, who won a race limping. Trainer Bob Baffert was suspended for using morphine on a horse. One trainer was suspended for using an Ecstasy-type drug on five horses and another was barred from racetracks for using clenbuterol. A New York veterinarian and a trainer were brought up on felony charges when the body of a missing racehorse was found at a farm and authorities concluded that the cause of her death was a performance-enhancing drug.
"Horses are sentient creatures, not inanimate, disposable objects. There is nothing romantic or glamorous about racing, despite the industry’s media promotions, and there are many ways to gamble besides racing horses. In this day and age, it is unconscionable to exploit animals so humans can gamble, particularly when such serious violations of basic welfare are an inherent part of the industry."
Eva Berriman is a veterinarian and technical teacher who has bred,
owned, and trained Standardbreds and Thoroughbreds over many years, and
who showed and competed with Arabians. She was employed as swabbing
veterinarian by the major racing and trotting clubs in Brisbane and taught
veterinary nursing and horse management courses at Technical and Further
Education (TAFE) colleges in Queensland.
"Running comes naturally to horses. It is part of their genetic makeup to flee from what they fear, and for some, it is also a form of play. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love to watch a herd of horses running across a field. However, when economic incentives enter the scene, an entertaining sport for horses turns into a cruel activity in which the human turns the horse into a systematically maltreated commodity.
"In the U.S., the 'sport' of horse racing sends thousands of horses who are not fast enough to make the grade to the slaughterhouse. Those who do make it to the track are raced when they are too young, before the growth plates in their joints have closed. This causes injuries and lameness rarely seen in riding horses, especially at such a young age.
"Riding horses are started at 3-4 years of age. Race horses, by comparison, are often started as young as 1.5 years. Riding horses are brought along slowly and with as little stress to their still maturing joints as possible, while race horses are forced to run beyond their limits, stressing their legs and pounding their still developing joints into the ground. When the riding horse is just entering his prime, the race horse is ending his career, and possibly his life.
"The fate of thousands of racing horses who have finished their career is one of the major problems of the U.S. equestrian community. There are not enough homes for them all."
Jennifer Hack is Director of Investigations for the United States Equine Rescue League, supervising the investigation and prosecution of cases of cruelty to horses. She has been a riding clinician and judge for nine years, and an equine instructor and trainer for 18 years. As a student, she worked for a member of the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team (Lendon Gray). She is an H-A graduate of the United States Pony Club, the highest rating given for teaching, training, and stable management.