Monday, May 5, 2008

Derbies of Death

As many of you have already heard, Eight Belles, a horse who ran the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, had to be euthanized after sustaining a life-ending injury, just two years after Barbaro made national headlines for his fatal injury. On the Friday before the Derby, a horse named Chelokee collapsed in the Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs. His trainer, Michael Matz, who was also Barbaro's trainer, is hoping Chelokee will survive.

It is time that people begin to see horse racing for what it really is- another violent "sport" that exploits animals and pushes them to their limits for money and entertainment. Horses do not chase history books or look to set records- people do. Let's not kid ourselves; if money was not involved, I'm sure this would be one "sport" that would have disappeared a long time ago.

Many in the horse racing industry contend that their horses are treated so much better than others, but at what cost? They insist that horses love to race. Really? I would love to see a quote from a horse who is frantically whipped into running a derby to death. The truth is, like many animals, horses do not have much say in the matter and are deceptively viewed as a means to end- the desire to make money. Sure, players in genuine sports like football and baseball get hurt, but they agree to the risk. Eight Belles did not sign a contract. Her trainer claims that Eight Belles and other horses are happy to put their lives on the line for racing. Really? This sounds like wishful thinking from a trainer whose horse raked in $308,650 during her "career."

Race horses are pushed to their limits everyday. Thoroughbred horses are particularly fragile; selectively bred to be large and powerful animals capable of high speeds, their legs and ankles are often too thin to support their size. As a result, hairline fractures and breakdowns are all too common. Two-year-old horses are frequently run before their bone structure is fully developed leading to premature lameness. Eight Belles was only a 3-year old filly who was forced to compete against older male horses. Even one of the veterinarians who attended to Eight Belles acknowledged that accidents like hers occur because of muscle fatigue when considering the huge load horses are bearing on their skeletons.

What may not be as well known is that many horses who can no longer perform horse racing duties and make money for their owners are sent to slaughterhouses to be turned into food or glue. The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, H.R. 503/S. 311, which has now been reintroduced by the 110th Congress, would prohibit the transport, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of any horse to be slaughtered for human consumption. Last year, more than 100,000 American horses were killed in the United States and shipped to Europe and Japan for human consumption.

People need to speak up on behalf of animals who cannot speak for themselves and stop supporting ugly and money-driven industries like horse racing, whose sole purpose is profits. We only hear about horses like Barbaro and Eight Belles who participate in national events but how many other horses die every day in the name of racing? How many horses have to die before we change our perceptions of what is and what is not a "sport," but what is, in fact, animal manipulation and blatant cruelty?

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