Dear New York Times: Please Don’t Forget the 26,600 Slaughtered Thoroughbreds

Horse Racing
Horse Racing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Article by Vickery Eckhoff from her personal Blog

Horses breaking down is the public scandal that racing now has to confront”

It’s been a busy week in equine America.

The racing community’s been debating the breakdown of horses at Aqueduct, on the set of “Luck” and in general. Separately, the equine welfare community’s been fighting new legislation and proposals to open horse slaughterhouses in Tennessee, Missouri and Oregon, while consumer and humane watchdog groups are fighting ag-gag rules, one of which was just signed into law by Tennessee’s Governor.

I hope those interested in fixing what’s broken in horse racing will focus on the larger humane and agribusiness issues, because they are all related. Unfortunately, ag-gag and horse slaughter aren’t on racing’s radar pretty much because racing’s focus is nearly always inward-facing. This is especially true of people and industries whose fortunes are tightly tied to how they’re publically perceived.

Racing’s image is tarnished right now as is PETA’s, the insular animal rights group that is often mistaken as the only group in America with a voice on issues relating to animal welfare, legislation and advocacy.

This has a lot to do with Ingrid Newkirk’s talent for creating spectacles (like her statement about bringing horse slaughter back to the U.S.) but also the manner in which PETA exposes things that do, in fact, need exposing. As it turns out, PETA provoked the racing industry and race fans to fury, first by asking questions about two horses that died on the set of HBO’s “Luck” series, then by demanding changes and third, by dragging the producer, trainer and a vet associated with “Luck” in front of the Los Angeles DA on what many in the racing community say are false and misleading charges of violating a California humane statute.

Horses breaking down is the public scandal that racing now has to confront, particularly in light of the independent task force put in place to investigate the Aqueduct breakdowns, The New York Times’ upcoming multi-part series on equine fatalities in Thoroughbred racing over the last three years and, of course, PETA’s request for an investigation on behalf of the three “Luck” horses that suffered catastrophic injuries and were quietly euthanized.

But if the racing industry, the new investigative team requested by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and The New York Times fail to bring up the 26,600 Thoroughbreds (TBs) that got thrown away and slaughtered last year for horse meat, they will have failed to expose one of the most important issues dragging racing down in the gutter, and that’s the horses that get bred, shed and bled as part of racing’s business profitability model. These horses constituted 19% of all U.S. horses slaughtered in Canada and Mexico last year (out of a total of 138,000), and was equivalent to killing off 70% of the annual U.S. TB foal crop, according to a new case study using USDA figures.

Equine Mathematics Don’t Always Add Up

Let’s look at the numbers that the media is now focusing on: three horses dead on a TV production set, 18 dead racing at Aqueduct since November 30, and 750 dead of injuries on racetracks across the U.S.

This is a lot fewer fatalities than the 26,600 TBs slaughtered in Canada and Mexico, about the same number that have been slaughtered since before the Dallas Crown, Beltex and Cavel slaughter plants closed down in 2007 in Texas and Illinois.

Go over to the main racing news Web sites, however, and you’ll find no articles and little commentary on the slaughtered horses. Bring it up and people change the topic to something more comfortable: bashing PETA.

Well, that’s easy. PETA euthanized 1,900 shelter animals, rehoming only 24 of them. People also like to call them to task for grandstanding, pit-bull attack methods, and the salaries it pays officers. Well and good. But the racing industry is guilty of doing exactly the same things, as much as it doesn’t like to admit it.

Only in horse racing are the deaths of 1,900 cats and dogs deemed more heinous than the fatal breakdowns of 750 horses a year and the slaughter of 26,600 still in the prime of their lives. And let’s get something straight here. It’s not always the bad apples that spoil the good. That’s a common refrain and it’s just not true.

One Bad Apple Is Not The Point

The millions of American pets that get abandoned each year, and the ones that PETA is accused of killing weren’t discarded by the worst among us—a minority of people, to be sure. The three to four million cats and dogs that get put to sleep annually are discarded by people who claim to “love animals” but don’t make a commitment to their lifetime care.

So it is with Thoroughbred owners and trainers. It is not my wish to criticize unjustly, but the claim that only the bad breeders, owners and trainers are responsible for discarding the 26,600 horses slaughtered in 2011 just doesn’t wash.

Good breeders, owners and trainers do this. They may set aside money for racehorse retirement, they may find loving homes for some of the horses in their stables to make way for younger, faster animals, but all the horses that eventually get slaughtered would be alive today if the people that bred, bought them and trained them made a commitment to their lifetime care. If they won’t do it, why do they expect anyone else to?

I get regular flack from a turf writer over at Forbes.com who won’t discuss the slaughter issue and freely tells me I don’t understand racing (or writing, for that matter). Instead, she’s focused on racehorse retirement. Why? She thinks it important to focus on the good in racing. This to me is like focusing on carbon credits. They’re only needed because everything else is so polluted.

Sure, racehorse retirement (and other forms of rescue) is incredibly important to help save some of the discarded TBs and other breeds from slaughter, but to focus on retirement and treat the other issues with kid gloves just lets the main culprits off the hook.

Slaughter is a safety valve for these individuals, but no one talks about that, either, all of which makes the new ag-gag laws, the newly proposed slaughterhouses in Tennessee, Missouri and Oregon and the new laws legalizing horse slaughter a far more urgent issue to address, with wider, more serious and long-lasting implications.

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13 comments

  1. Excellent, excellent article. And well written, as always, despite what the turf “writer” at Forbes.com says, probably in a fit of jealousy over your commitment to ethics and equines.

    The only thing I would add is that it isn’t *just* the public that discards the cats and dogs they claim to love. The thousands of private shelter and city/county pound directors who, out of apathy or arrogance, refuse to implement the modern, non-warehousing version of No Kill are ultimately responsible for killing (not euthanizing, but killing) those poor animals. They are like mini-PETAs. They are the equivalent of the “good” trainers and breeders and owners of horses who don’t make — and keep — the promise of lifetime care.

    The racing fans, who pretend to care about the fate of the horses but are more interested in the winners and the purses than in the 70% of foals who disappear, remind me of the people who bring their “pets” to the pound in the belief that someone else should be responsible for finding them new homes. If the racetrack fans refused to support that industry, the breeding of “excess” TBs would come to a swift end.

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  2. Thank you Vickery….uhhhh….yep! Racing we have problems….PERIOD!

    I just don’t know how the caring and concerned get continually out trumped by the evil and apathetic.

    I am saddened when a horse goes down (like Eight Belles, yet has great connections…to a point), BUT Porter and the Jones’ do contribute to that outrageous kill to slaughter number….they ALL do.

    It has to stop.

    I know TBs are bred to run and will run their hearts out in the best of conditions and connections; the disgusting part is the majority of racing “people” break and dump beyond human understanding.

    It has to stop. It just has to stop…..not racing, but racing this way.

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  3. BTW…another thing that REALLY PO’s me?……………you people spend millions (billions?) on breeding, purchase, training, racing and can’t find freaking $500 to humanely euth a horse or put in your sales contract to the scum level a buy-back clause to give these animals a humane, ethical death?????

    Liars! Cheats! Apathetic! TRAGIC Humans!I

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    • So true. They have to find a way to pocket a just a little more profit. Hey, it’s the American way. We idolize profits over everything else. Just look at healthcare. 1/2 the country would rather see a human being die from lack of access to healthcare if it means the insurance companies make less in profits for their shareholders and their CEOs.

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      • allthewildhorses:

        What is troubling is that certain sectors of the American public believe the current health care situation is better than what Congress and Obama passed. Really????? You idiots vote against yourself???? Free market health insurance???????? Yep…you idiots are keepers!

        All breed associations and sport associations could shut this down in a photofinish….that they don’t, says it all. I do believe the racing world in the US needs a commissioner like other pro sports. Let’s see if the ego’s and pen*s trolls get it.

        p.s. THEY WON’T GET IT.

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  4. The fact of the matter is that 1 out of 38,000 foals MAY make it at the race track..Hmmm, what is the math on the other 37,000 foals? Are they doomed before they ever get a chance to live? This country sucks when it comes to throughbred racing. There are many trainers and owners who do have the horse’s welfare at heart, but not many. Other breeds are just as guilty, AQHA being one of the biggest promoter of slaughter, I was so disgusted that the Arabian Horse Association did not let their members decide whether the breed would support or stay neutral. How did Lance Walters, the current President of AHA and a handful of Directors feel this was OK without polling their members? If any position was taken it should have been to remain neutral. I suppose everyone sees those $$$$ signs and want to be a part of it. So it might be 3 horses, but the other 26,000 who end their lives in those torture plants should be remembered. When Cavel, Intl closed in Illinois in 2007 our group went up there and laid flowers and a basket of fruit along with our blessing for all the horses whose lives were ended there in that plant. We never want slaughter back in this country nor do want American equines leaving our borders for slaughter in other countries.

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  5. I totally agree with Gail….But please let me know what everyone’s opinions are regarding PETA…..Will wait to hear your comments, as I am confused….Sometimes they bring attention to the situations (whether negative or positive)…I just need confirmation re: their commitment to horses.
    Thanks in advance!

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    • I don’t care about PeTA…they are the type of welfare group that define “radical rights” in all the BS and nonsense Doink and SS put out. And I really don’t think they (PeTA) are welfare when it comes down to it…you kill animals….you are a part of the problem just as much as cockfighting, dog fighting, scum level horse and dog racing, puppy mills, kill shelters….yah-duh-yah-duh…….

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  6. Reblogged this on Out of the Shadows and commented:
    Something has to be done about this. The racing industry needs to step up and set standards for these people. Those who intentionally send horses to slaughter should be permanently banned, not just slapped on the wrist.

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  7. I am one of the trainers in the business that rides and trains my own, and I do it Au Naturale because I came from a show background, and I respect the animal! What is happening in this country is dispicable, and the industry as a whole needs to look at the laws that are in effect in Canada and England! I really feel that the cards are stacked against the trainers that choose this route because of the fact that we are not on equal playing ground, and the people that do give their horses performance enhancing drugs, are not the ones that get on the horses backs in the morning and feel what it’s like to be on top of a sore horse. If only they knew what it felt like, they may think twice about sending the lame horse out to run in a race that could potentially put others at risk! It is about time someone gets this ball rolling and take these A-Holes down!!!

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