Skip to content

On What We Should Do With Race Horses

I watched "Hidden Horses" a couple of nights ago on REALsports, which is an HBO series hosted by Bryant Gumbel. Here’s the blurb:

Few casual horse racing fans are aware that many former racing horses are slaughtered for profit. When a thoroughbred race horse reaches the end of its career or is simply no longer profitable on the track, it is often taken directly to auction and sold for meat. Because horse slaughter is no longer practiced in this country, these thoroughbreds are now being shipped by "killer buyers" to slaughterhouses abroad, which are frequently less regulated and less humane than former U.S. slaughterhouses. Correspondent Bernard Goldberg, who recently won the 2008 Sports Emmy(r) for Outstanding Sports Journalism for his 2007 REAL SPORTS story on the NFL concussion crisis, traces the disturbing journey many of these young and healthy horses take from the track, to auctions, to slaughterhouses, and finally to the plates of European and Japanese diners who pay top dollar for the delicacy.

There wasn’t any talk of not racing horses, which of course would eliminate numerous problems, both for horses and humans. And there was the usual vague disdain for anyone who would eat a horse, in addition to some fairly gruesome footage of the slaughter of horses. Meanwhile, slaughter just like it occurs hundreds of times per second–but not with horses–and the uproar about that fact is minuscule. The number of horses slaughtered per year is in the tens of thousands, which is horrible, but the outcry isn’t enormously disproportionate given what occurs to non-equine sentient beings all day long.

Still, it’s great to see a mainstream, manly kind of show (if sort of intellectual-manly) address this topic, as I’ve come to discover that most people have no idea what goes on in the horse racing industry. If that segment turned one person against horse racing (I’m not sure how it would, though), I’m happy.

Here’s the real reason I’m writing about this, though. I had no idea the Preakness was yesterday, therefore at first I didn’t understand why there was a flurry of news stories about what happens to horses when they lose–and even when they win. In "Hidden Horses,"as well as in "Saving Horses, One Thoroughbred at at Time" in yesterday’s New York Times, and the AP‘s "Losing Racehorses Killed in Puerto Rico" from Friday, the focus is on the killing of horses used to race. There is no mention of how many horses are killed on the way to determining whether they ever will race, and there’s no talk about the horses used in rodeos or pony rides or polo or the other ways we use horses, but at least they’re covering this aspect, I thought.

Upon closer inspection (actually it doesn’t even take that much effort), the real story emerges. Rescue organizations cannot keep up with the number of horses going to slaughter but they try. They try to outbid horse killers at auctions, and often succeed. They often go to sleep at night haunted by the faces of the horses they couldn’t save.

Here’s the rub (and these quotes are from the NYT article): The rescuers speak of "fixing the industry" (said Diana Koebel, owner and trainer at LumberJack Farm, which rescues and rehabilitates thoroughbreds). Then there’s ReRun, "which prepares discarded racehorses for a second career — as jumping show horses, maybe, or just as pets — and then makes them available for adoption." Just as pets.

"But there is a lot of life left,” the ReRun president, Laurie Condurso-Lane, said. Horses can live to 30 years or longer. “They are young. So why not find them new jobs?”

In other words, there is no hint in any of the articles, or in the REALsports segment, that we shouldn’t be using horses–that they might not be ours to "find jobs for." And where do they go when they’re fired from their second jobs? Are the rescuers merely postponing the inevitable slaughter of the horses by filling the time with a new form of enslavement? (I don’t know the answer, by the way. I’m just asking.)

In the AP article, a businessman is quoted as saying:

"A lot of times people will have good luck with one horse, that horse will make them a lot of money, and they feel they can do that with every horse. What ends up happening is this renewable resource, which is the racehorse, ends up being treated like just another raw material. When it doesn’t produce, you toss it away. And that’s sad."

What’s sad is considering them a renewable resource or a raw material.

Finally, today the editorial board of The New York Times gives us,"The Horse, Familiar and Unfamiliar," with the stunning statement: "It becomes clear that we are human by virtue of horses and that horses are what they are by virtue of us." We are human by virtue of horses? What they really mean is that we have used horses for a long, long time, and bred them and trained them for our use. We now use them less.

"Horses are what they are by virtue of us?" Where’s the virtue in enslaving sentient beings and forcing them to work for you? Where’s the virtue in breeding them for the sole purpose of using them and even profiting from who they are and what you make them do?

You can try to romanticize the bloody history of the relationship between horses and humans, but the reality of what we’ve done to them since they were unfortunate enough to meet our acquaintance, doesn’t bring the word "virtue" to mind. Yes, "by virtue of" is an idiom, but a different one–one without "virtue" could have been used.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Animal servitude exists for two purposes, both of which create pleasure for humans: acquiring money or companionship

    There are still many forms of slavery in the world, and though it is taking hundreds of years, one by one, slavery in all its forms is being eradicated. Males used to be the slave of choice for their strength as labourers and soldiers, but men are largely now so enfranchised that there are few male slaves. (Men were always first to win privileges such as education, votes, wages, equality under the law, protection from the state, the right to combine, etc, in part because they were able to use their physical strength to win these freedoms for their sex. As infuriating as this is to the recipients of largess that is only their due, it is fact that it was only when enough decent men understood that women were deserving of the same rights, was the physically "weaker sex" granted equal rights by the more powerful "stronger" sex.)

    Children and women are now the human slaves of choice, many as sex-slaves, an old-fashioned term that, sadly, still applies. As well as being sex-slaves, children are also being used as war-fodder slaves. The strong are able to raise their own status, but the weaker have to depend on the strong to raise their status to equals under the law. At least one war was fought, in part, to free male slaves, and wars, in various forms and in various venues, are — right now — being fought to free women and children from the bondage of both labour- and sex-servitude.

    Labour- and sex-servitude exists for the pleasure of the strong: unpaid labour produces pleasurable wealth for the enslaver; sexual servitude provides a pleasure that requires no elaboration; indeed, elaboration degrades the elaborator.

    Which brings me to animals. Animal servitude exists for two purposes, both of which create pleasure for humans: acquiring money or companionship.

    Generating money is by far the largest purpose of animal-slavery. Food (the largest), research, entertainment, "art", competitive events (such as horse-racing and dog-fighting), clothing, the companion-animal breeding market, and much of the "animal-welfare" industry, produce trillions of dollars in wealth a year.

    Since animals are the weakest sentient beings of all — weaker than women and children — animals will only be granted equality as free beings when enough free humans decide to award it to them, as happened for black slaves in the past. The idea of animal rights has existed for thousands of years, but now the idea of the right to liberation from bondage to humans; the understanding that animals are not ours to own, use, or derive pleasure from; is gaining credence at the warp-speed of internet technology.

    It may be the final freedom of sentient beings from the tyranny of the strong, but it is clearly coming.

    May 19, 2008

Leave a comment to Judy Stone, Animal Advocates Society of BC Cancel reply

You may use basic HTML in your comments. Your email address will not be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS