For photos from the Meadowlands contact

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Eight Hundred Pound Gorilla

One of the problems the recent Zielinski Report mentioned was the use of whips in standardbred racing. According to Dr. Zielinski, the whipping issue could be an issue used not only by animal rights groups, but casino interests who wish to block VLTs at racetracks. From her interview of some heavy hitters, apparently the use of whips didn’t matter to them.

While it is admirable that Dr. Zielinski tackled the whipping issue in her report, she omitted from the report the proverbial eight hundred pound gorilla in the room; the issue of horse slaughter. Why it was omitted from the report is unknown, perhaps it was not in the scope of her assignment; maybe it was felt to be an issue without a solution. Wishing it away will not eliminate the problem. The problem is here and must be dealt with.

Recently, a group of standardbreds which came from a breeding farm went through an auction which resulted in them ending up in a kill lot to be sent to slaughter. Three of the horses were registered to a prominent owner/breeder with the fourth broodmare being owned by a different person. Fortunately, rescuers were given access to this auction so several rescue groups and individual buyers were able to step in and rescue all the horses (not only the standardbreds) in the kill lot from an unfortunate fate. There are conflicting stories as to how they ended up at the auction in the first place, but for the purpose of this discussion it doesn’t matter; the fact is they ended up there.

When word got out who was the previous registered owner, there was outrage in certain online communities, most notably sites people in the standardbred industry visit. People who visit these racing boards were so outraged that fans and people within the industry were threatening to write letters and call editors of newspapers to protest what happened. If this is the response from people within the racing industry, can you imagine what the outrage would be from people outside of the industry or non-race fans?

We can correctly argue this is not a problem restricted to racing breeds, any type of horse can and do end up at slaughterhouses. But racing depends on the government to exist. Do you race in a state where the horsemen are trying to get slot machines? The gaming industry and anti-racing groups may argue with legislators and the electorate that voting for VLTs promotes an industry which sends its horses to a horrible death. One day they may event attempt to do what anti-greyhound groups did in Massachusetts; get the state to outlaw racing. Want to try to arguing that slaughterhouses are humane ways to solve the unwanted horse problem? There is plenty of video available on the internet which will quickly disprove that fallacy.

Now to the USTA’s credit, they have instituted voluntary programs to reduce the likelihood of standardbreds meeting an unfortunate end, but this is not enough. The long term survival of this sport depends on more aggressive steps to be taken to show racing tries to protect its athletes.

Standardbred tracks need to step up to the plate like some of our running cousins have done. A trainer or owner sends their horse to slaughter directly or indirectly, they are banned from the track’s grounds and can’t race there. Any owner of a horse caught sending a horse to slaughter or selling or giving a horse to an intermediary to get rid of a horse? The USTA should consider revoking membership of those people. When an initial eligibility certificate is issued, have a surcharge which will be dedicated to standardbred rescue groups. How can we be certain that a trainer or owner sent a horse to be slaughtered? It is inevitable that the United States will require microchips in all livestock. There should be a requirement that the microchip of each horse be scanned at every auction and when they are shipped to slaughter (or cross the border). A system should be put in place where a breed registry receives an electronic report of horses and if a horse has been sent to slaughter directly from an owner/trainer or too soon by another party, there should be a hearing to determine if USTA membership should be revoked.

Now I am not naïve. Not every horse can be saved. However, this does not necessitate slaughter. Euthanasia, while not desirable, is certainly a far more humane and acceptable practice. Opponents of racing would have a hard time attacking an industry when these people have the same option of euthanasia for their household pets. Some may cite the expense of euthanizing and disposing of a horse’s body, but it is a cost of being a responsible owner. If you are unwilling or unable to pay for euthanasia if necessary, I would suggest you have no business owning a horse in the first place.

To some people, these measures may seem extreme. Rest assured, all it will take is a high profile incident like Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand ending up in a slaughterhouse in Japan to occur in the United States and industry people will be bemoaning why the unwanted horse issue was not addressed sooner.

Note: Feel free to comment on this entry. However, I ask you to keep comments civil and not to mention the specific name of the owners or farm involved in your comments. Any comments which do not abide by these guidelines will not be published. These restrictions are being put in place so not to jeopardize the access rescuers are given to save to future horses that may go through this sale.


Brenda said...

Thanks for presenting this issue. Our horses have provided for us both financially and emtionally, it's so good to see how many in the industry came forth these past 2 weeks to rally behind the mares in the kill pens. We do have a great bunch of folks in the industry, now to get everyone on board is the challenge. After a horse is rescued then once again names of previous owners can be disclosed, so it they are thinking they are "safe" from public scrutiny, they have to rethink that. Another standardbred mare was rescued this morning, we'll find out today who sent this horse to slaughter. If the breeders don't think anyone will remember this come time to sell their yearlings, well then they need to really give this some serious thought. What goes around comes around as the saying goes.

Pacingguy said...

We need to keep in mind that not every breeder acts this way. Others have no problem pensioning their older horses or sending the horses that no longer fit their need to regular sales like Harrisburg.