It reads like a war memorial. Ages, names, dates and location of those who lost their lives too soon. All of them were young, all of them died needlessly and all of them deserved better.
They were horses; mostly Thoroughbreds, a few Standardbreds. The names of racing Arabians, Quarter horses and paints are missing, their “sports” aren’t as widely publicized. The list complied by the diligent people at horseracingwrongs.com has hundreds of names, but it’s not complete. You see, the names of race horses euthanized later, or those who died on private farms, or killed at slaughter houses aren’t reported to the media as readily, or at all. If they were the list would be never-ending, amassing in the thousands. And this was just for 2014.
The horse racing industry is built on animal exploitation. From the day they are born, until the day they die these animals exist only to serve humans, to make a profit until their bodies give out. Yet so-called horse lovers hold their breaths until racing season begins. They follow the careers of their beloved athletes, all while ignoring the blatant cruelty these individuals endure. They are sad when a horse dies, many even send flowers and condolence cards to owners and trainers when a favorite is killed in action, or back at the breeding farm after a long, hard career. But they continually support the industry, for their own enjoyment. “Accidents happen”, they say. “The horses love to run”.
I used to be one of these people. I made these justifications to myself, at first because I didn’t know better. But when I started college for equine studies in 2007, and was given a behind the scenes look at every aspect of the industry, the guilt came. I changed my tune slowly at first, refusing to attend races, but still watching them on television, rooting for my favorites. But as I learned more about the practices considered “normal” by the industry, and as I was forced to take foals from their mothers at an unnaturally early age (or hear the news that a horse I knew personally was injured, or to be sold at auction) I could no longer stomach it. Watching racing with my classmates quickly turned into 2-3 minutes of absolute dread “Please don’t break down. Please don’t break down” became my mantra.
The last race I attended was the 2010 Belmont Stakes, at Belmont Racetrack in New York. A friend of mine was a groom for the trainer Bill Mott, and a horse she groomed was running. We walked the shed-rows, laying kisses on the noses of current racing legends, and legends “in the making”. All the while I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as my friend spoke with excitement about the upcoming race. She wanted to win, I just wanted them to be safe. In fact, she did win. Drosselmeyer won the 2010 Belmont Stakes by a nose, and no one died that day. My friend stood beaming in the winners circle next to a stressed out horse as I stood outside, wishing only to go home.
Two Standardbreds died a few days ago, only 8 miles from where I live. But as I drove past Yonkers Raceway just a day after their deaths, I could see that it was business as usual. To the industry the horses are profit margins, mere objects whose deaths only truly matter because money and fame is lost. If those in the industry cared about the horses, there would be no industry at all.
I wonder how many will lose their lives today. I wonder how many will care.