The horrors of horse abuseLet’s call this Miraculous March for horses. Two major media outlets have stood up for horses in unprecedented ways. The coverage has been more than somewhat depressing (because of the horrendous abuses revealed), but it is also critically important to save other horses from similar abuse.
By: Bonnie Erbe, The Dickinson Press
Let’s call this Miraculous March for horses. Two major media outlets have stood up for horses in unprecedented ways. The coverage has been more than somewhat depressing (because of the horrendous abuses revealed), but it is also critically important to save other horses from similar abuse.
First, the Tennessean in Nashville — one of the state’s most influential newspapers — wrote a scathing editorial against the unfathomably cruel practice “soring.” Much of the time when you see Tennessee Walkers or other gaited show horses moving with their front knees ridiculously high in the air, they have been sored. The Tennessean called soring an “atrocity.” What word better describes driving nails into the quick of a horse’s hoof, or applying burning chemicals so the animal cannot set its hoof down without searing pain?
The large community of people across the United States and in other countries who own, train and show these horses, along with their many fans, turned against soring long ago, if they ever approved of it. But when high-profile, sought-after trainers such as Jackie McConnell continue to face indictment on charges of abusing horses, it becomes evident that this terrible practice is, to some extent, ingrained in the show-horse culture and has simply evolved (for example, by applying numbing agents shortly before inspection) to evade detection?
Bravo for The Tennessean for outing this inhumane practice, and shining the painful light of publicity on the twisted humans who torture gaited horses.
On Sunday, The New York Times ran an expose of the routine cruelty that infects the horse racing industry. The Times reported that an average of 24 horses die each week at U.S. racetracks. Horses are frequently drugged to enhance performance or mask pain, and many literally break down and die on the track. The article included a heart-rending photo of a 2-year-old colt’s corpse dumped near a landfill.
Asking a 2-year-old horse to race is like asking a 5-year-old child to perform a high jump. Their bones are not fully formed yet and the horses break down trying to meet the humans’ ridiculous expectations. The Times found the worst abuses occurred at five racetracks in New Mexico. Injury rates there, it discovered, are far higher than in most of the rest of the world. Great! We’re behind Europe, Asia and the Middle East in that regard.
The Times article didn’t explore the routine beatings racehorses receive from some trainers and handlers, or the horrid conditions in which they live. Some racehorses are pumped up on sweet feed (like candy for kids) and often given little or no turnout. They are allowed out of their stalls for about an hour a day to “breeze,” or practice galloping. The equivalent treatment for a person would be chaining someone on speed to his bed for 23 hours per day. This, as well as doping, should be banned, but it is not.
I spoke with Robert McNeil, a former hearing officer for the New Mexico Racing Commission. He told me New Mexico’s regulatory system is essentially rigged, because the commissioners appointed by the governor almost always have gotten rich off the racing industry, so they are inclined to ignore — or worse, cover up — abuses.
McNeil said New Mexico, a poor state, does not have money to enforce its anti-drugging and equine abuse laws. And, as bad as things are at regulated tracks, the state also allows unregulated tracks to exist. McNeil informed a commissioner about several illegal tracks, and nothing was done to shut them down.
McNeil said he believes only federal regulations will help end the abuses. Sen. Mark Udall (D-N.M.) and Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) have had legislation to federalize the regulation of horse tracks pending for quite some time. They are heroes who have taken on powerhouse and well-financed industries in their home states.
They need more support from members of Congress and the Obama administration to put trainers, owners and veterinarians in jail when they illegally drug horses. Not all trainers and owners are corrupt, but we must come down harder on those who are. Maybe this latest round of publicity will help, but the odds are better of winning a trifecta.
Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service.