Sunday, May 04, 2008

blood on the tracks

We all have heard how Eight Belles was killed in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday. Yes, killed not euthanized - although I understand the vets had no option given the extent of Eight Belles' injuries. She was killed in being forced to exert her body to the nth degree - and unfortunately, to a degree that her fragile legs could not take.

This raises questions. William Rhoden asks why horse racing hasn't been put "under the umbrella of animal cruelty?" Personally, I think it qualifies very well.

Not because running is inherently cruel to horses. Of course it isn't - you can go to a pasture and watch horses run for the fun of it. But Triple Crown quality thoroughbreds aren't regular horses. They don't just run when they feel like it. They are run frequently, and hard, with a human on their back. They are bred for running as well, unlike "regular" horses.

As Sally Jenkins writes, "Modern thoroughbreds are bred for extreme speed, maybe to the point of endangerment. Thoroughbreds are muscularly more powerful than ever, but their bone skeletons seem to be getting lighter and frail."

The grueling pace of training and racing, and the changes in their physiques, makes these thoroughbreds more and more vulnerable to catastrophic legbreaks. But it will go on, because there is big money at play. And big egos, since owning thoroughbreds seems to be one of the things the rich (nouveau or not) like to do to stoke their sense of self-worth and importance.

Horse racing also lacks one other thing that separates it from other dangerous sports where catastrophic, and even life-threatening injury can result.

There is no consent from the participants themselves, the horses. Eight Belles I am sure loved to run. But she was not informed of the risks and was never asked if she was willing to participate.

So I'll give you boxing, since the people involved can make their own decisions. Ditto auto racing, football (American-style), ice hockey, etc. But leave the horses alone.

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