So the weekend has passed and the thoroughbred industry is working to control the fallout out from the PETA investigation of the stable of Steve Asmussen and his now former second trainer Scot Blasi. Unfortunately, this is not over as PETA is expected to reveal more footage just before the Kentucky Derby.
For those who have yet to see the video and desire to, here it is.
From the feedback of the New York Times article and the PETA video, one thing is clear. While many of the practices highlighted are 'legal', many find them distasteful if not unethical, bordering or crossing the line of animal abuse.
So based on the reaction thus far, can we draw any conclusions for harness racing?
People find physical abuse of horses unacceptable. If this is the case, how much longer can racing support the use of whips with regards to horses? Sure, racing in many states has restricted the use of of whips but by the nature of harness racing, the whips must be long to reach from the cart. Nothing can be done with regards to the size of the whip but the use of the whip must be further restricted if not outright banned; fines for infractions must be much more severe, possibly to include days in addition to fines. I would suggest a committee be formed with regards to how we can phase-in whip free racing.
The foot must remain in the sulky. Kicking horses is verboten as far as the public is concerned. This means 'booting', having the foot brush the horses' hocks, or outright kicking has to stop. Even if you are a firm believer in there is no pain to the horses by kicking; if it looks ugly, it is ugly.
Granted, a minor factor is I would get rid of tattoos on the neck of the horse and instead replace it with micro-chipping. Tattoos look like the horse is being treated as property to be done with as pleased where if the practice is changed and tattoos are replaced with a microchip, the horse would look like a majestic animal instead of a piece of property. A scanner would be all that's necessary to identify a horse for a race.
The toughest items would be dealing with the medication issue. Harness racing doesn't need a video such as the PETA one made about it. The industry needs to have a real heart to heart discussion about the role of medications and supplements. Obviously, performance-enhancers need to be eliminated from the sport, but the role of maintenance medications and supplements needs to be questioned. Can we go back to the days of hay and water or do we continue to routinely pre-race horses with supplements and the like to get an advantage over the others? I don't pretend to know the specific answer to the question but we don't need a video showing every performance enhancement being given to horses routinely.
So while harness racing has escaped he gaze of PETA in this go around, it doesn't give the sport an excuse to ignore what is happening for sooner or later, either through association or a separate investigation, the eyes of the public will be looking at harness racing. The time to address problems is before hand, not after the fact.