The Derby: They Shoot Horses Don't They?

(Editor's Note: During the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby, Big Brown won the race, but immediately afterward, runner-up Eight Belles went down with an injury. Eight Belles broke both front ankles and was euthanized at the track. This posting is a response to that tragedy.)

by Robin Forman

Did the owner of Eight Belles cry when she was euthanized?

And if he did, were the tears genuine? Probably not.

Owner Rick Porter probably calculated the financial loss because a horse is a mere monetary investment for race horse owners.

In fact, according to ESPN, all Porter had to say on the matter was “Now is not a good time.”

You see, people who own race horses think they’re horse people because they own horses.

They are not horse people.

They are not even animal people.

They are financial people.

In 1992, the night Bill Clinton was elected the first time, both my mother and I stood with our faces buried in the fur of my mom’s beloved horse Max, as we had to put him to sleep because he was sick, and old and the surgery he needed would probably have killed him.

We both sobbed and my mom was sad for a long time and you can still see a flicker of sorrow in her whenever Max is mentioned.

True horse people love their horses more than anything else they own. There’s some argument that they may love their horses more than their children.

My mother will tell you that her horse is always happy to see her and never left for college, so yes, he is her favorite child.

The horses used for horse racing are run to their deaths. They’re like gladiators. They are bred and exploited strictly for entertainment and purse strings and their lives are short.

If they break a leg or are injured in some other way they will be killed. If they start running slowly and are retired they have a pretty good chance of being sold for slaughter.

And how old are these horses that are retired?

The average age of a retired race horse is six or seven.

These horses are trained and raced improperly and are too young for these rigors.

Both Washington Post writer Sally Jenkins and New York Times writer William C. Rhoden have my back on this. And they’re not even biased horse/animal people.

Of course, the case of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, a horse that was seriously injured in last year's Preakness showed that even when extraordinary medical procedures are followed to save a horse, euthanasia may ultimately be the only humane solution. But these cases in high-profile races cast the entire sport of horse racing into a questionable status. It is neccessary to euthanize horses when they're that badly injured. But it's also dumb. It shouldn't come to that point.

What if we euthanized professional athletes upon injury?

Imagine the body count on that one.

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Rick Rockwell said...

Update: The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority KHRA says the jockey who rode Eight Belles did nothing wrong.

However, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has called for further investigation and is protesting those findings. PETA wants a ban on using whips in races on horses three and younger.

The jockey who rode the three-year-old filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby is being criticized by PETA and others for his use of the whip during the race.

For those who have come to this post searching for the reasons behind euthanasia, at the risk of sounding over-obvious, please note the nature of these compound fractures in horses can be extremely painful and attempts at moving a horse in such pain can exacerbate the injury and casue more pain. Barbaro endured this pain but ended up with another painful state: laminitis. Eight Belles had two compound fractures and most agree euthanasia is humane to put an animal out of its misery when little hope for recovery is possible.

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