The tragic death of Eight Belles at Saturday’s Kentucky Derby is being reported by some as an unfortunate reality that is part of horse racing. Wrong. While any athlete can suffer a life ending injury during competition, that’s a risk they choose to take for themselves – if they’re human. And you can bet that risk is probably low. If they’re horses, well the humans decide what risks are acceptable. In fact, the humans decide everything from conception onward in the lives of racehorses – which horses get (in)bred, what they get fed, what drugs they receive, what age they begin training, etc. So if a thoroughbred is brought into this world at the hand of humans, and every decision regarding that horse’s well being is made by humans – guess who is responsible when that animal dies from an injury on the racetrack? We are. Let’s not comfort ourselves by saying it’s so sad but that’s just part of the sport. It shouldn’t be. We shouldn’t allow it to be.
These horses are pushed too hard, too fast all to satisfy our American need for immediate gratification. This isn’t a phenomenon isolated to thoroughbred racing. We have many Sporting dogs who are “Futurity Nominated” as puppies and showcased in “Sweepstakes” events on a national level. As a breeder, I’ve always appreciated these events as they tell me what dogs to AVOID in the future. Sporting dogs should mature slowly – they should not look like small adults as adolescents. They should look – well, ugly. They need time for their physical and mental selves to develop naturally and bloom fully. Any young animal which looks breathtaking as a youngster is the wrong kind of dog for me. He will go coarse in his adulthood and may produce more like himself. At a dog show, the place to look for breeding stock is the Veterans classes. How do these dogs move at age 8 or 10? That’s the dog for me. A dog who has proven he isn’t going to drop dead from cancer at age 4, who isn’t going to be lame or blind by age 7 and who is still full of the joy of life in his Autumn years – give me that dog any day. The rest of you are welcome to the (often times inbred) 2 year olds who look pretty and have a piece of paper from a registry body that says they’re healthy at 24 months of age. Good luck with that.
Yes, I realize it costs – financially and emotionally – to invest in a prospect without knowing if there will ever be any return. But if you think it doesn’t cost to try and cheat Mother Nature and hurry animals along in competition – you are fooling yourself. And you are part of the problem.
As a society, we like to fall back on certain blame shifting beliefs regarding the killing of animals which help us to sleep at night:
Killing pets in shelters is necessary because there aren’t enough homes for all of them.
Killing Eight Belles on the track was the humane thing to do.
I’m sure PETA enjoys no end of delight every time we utter these ridiculous words. WE are responsible for bringing pets into this world and for the reasons they end up at shelters. WE need to accept responsibility for them and work towards No Kill communities. WE are responsible for pushing immature thoroughbreds to such extremes that they literally kill themselves for our entertainment. WE need to accept responsibility for the humane care and training of these horses. Killing them once they’ve broken themselves under our direction is not the humane thing to do. Standing up and saying NO MORE to the old ways is.
More reading: Pet Connection