If horseracing is a "sport," then that word must be redefined
October 5, 2019 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Horse racing doesn’t have a national regulatory body, and so keeping track of its fatalities presumably falls on the 38 separate state commissions that oversee it. Beginning in 2015, Battuello began sending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to each commission, asking for the names of the dead. He publishes his findings on a website he founded called Horseracing Wrongs, and they include more than 5,000 racetrack deaths (he calls them “kills”) over the last five years, with names, dates, and locations. The man who would end horse racing (Deadspin)

Where Horseracing Wrongs lists seven major wrongs with the way racehorses are treated, in addition to the big lie that "the competitive racing of horses resembles no other accepted sport on the planet," a similar site for Britain is Race Horse Death Watch, but it is more focused and blunt, listing the names, locations, dates and reasons race horses are killed on the front page.

Though not a feature of the sites, both sites do have somewhat graphic images of injured and dead horses, in addition to graphic descriptions.
posted by filthy light thief (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this. The truth must be known.
posted by Splunge at 2:12 PM on October 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

A vile business hiding under a cloak of respectability.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 2:14 PM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Wow, I'd always wondered why breeders seem to turn out so many horses, and how there could be a market for them all. Now I know: 165 killed at Laurel Park alone since 2014.
posted by klanawa at 2:14 PM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

For Australia, see the Coalition For The Protection of Racehorses' Deathwatch. 122 horses for the 2019 racing year.
posted by zamboni at 2:23 PM on October 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

Thank you for this. I'm not going to read it (I won't even watch movies that focus on animals maybe getting hurt) but I'm so glad to hear that others are taking action.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 2:43 PM on October 5, 2019 [7 favorites]

Why horse racing is so dangerous -- Nearly 500 Thoroughbred racehorses died in the U.S. in 2018. Here’s why. (National Geographic, May 17, 2019)
Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, says the deaths may be because horse racing has become more competitive.
Decent article, but it doesn't address everything from Horseracing Wrongs.

In California, whip use banned in horse racing, except as a safety measure (O.C Register, March 28, 2019)

Then in July of this year, L.A. Animal Board weighed horse racing ban, but no action taken (My News LA)
A motion to ask the Los Angeles City Council to oppose horse racing in the state of California failed to pass during Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Los Angeles Board of Animal Services, when only three of the five commissioners showed up for the meeting.

Two of those three voted in favor of Commissioner Roger Wolfson’s motion, but three votes were needed for passage.
This came after Gov. Gavin Newsom backed bill to expand state board’s power to shut down horse racing (L.A. Times, May 30, 2019)
Gov. Gavin Newsom announced his support Thursday for Senate Bill 469, which would expand the authority of the California Horse Racing Board to shut down or move racing dates on short notice.

The CHRB already has the authority to suspend a track’s license or move its racing dates but must follow public-notice requirements that can drag the process out for weeks. SB 469 would allow the board to meet with little public notice in emergency situations and make changes with the agreement of four of its members. Should there be fewer than four members present for such a meeting, actions could be taken by a unanimous vote.
Moves in a positive direction.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:01 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

If horse racing is killed, racing horses themselves cannot possibly be far behind.

Even if they wanted to, no stable owner would be able to support their racing horses without the money from racing, and the vast, vast majority of racing horses would simply be put down.

Imagine that you were a member of a council of preternaturally wise horses who had to choose between a future in things went on as they are now, or one where horse racing would be killed.

How would you vote? I would vote against the genocide that would inevitably ensue if horse racing were to be killed.
posted by jamjam at 3:06 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

I dunno, if aliens came down and offered a choice between simply destroying humanity vs. keeping us around as livestock, I'd probably vote for the destruction.
posted by Pyry at 3:19 PM on October 5, 2019 [10 favorites]

Wouldn’t existing animal welfare laws already on the books make a horse genocide illegal?
posted by Cogito at 3:20 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Let horses run wild again
posted by bleep at 3:24 PM on October 5, 2019

The "breed genocide" argument is the same one people used to make in favor of greyhound racing and I don't buy it, whether for dogs or horses.

It would be better for animals not to be born at all, than to be born and cruelly used for entertainment.

If the end of racing means the end of large-scale breeding operations, fine. I'm perfectly comfortable with that. I don't believe for a second it will be the utter end of Thoroughbreds; there will be people who breed them, though perhaps not solely for speed (which, again, is a win).

Possibly the best thing that happened for animal welfare in the past several centuries was, perversely, the invention and popularization of the internal combustion engine, which rendered horses (and oxen, and mules, and donkeys) largely obsolete for transportation and as prime movers. I think most reasonable people can agree that even if the short-term effect was a lot of horses being killed (and I don't think that necessarily needed to happen, if the transition had been planned more gradually), the longer-term elimination of the stupendous casual cruelty that existed when animals were used and abused in mines, city streets, and industrial-scale farms was a net good.

I suspect that the end of horse racing will parallel the end of greyhound racing, which has involved a decline in breeding operations due to declining demand, with the remaining racing animals moving to the last remaining tracks, and the whole thing basically winding down. We're in the final stages of this with dog racing (there are still some tracks operating, but the big kennels are apparently mostly done).

I'd be willing to entertain the argument that pulling the plug abruptly on a nationwide level might not be ideal (although I'm not convinced it wouldn't be the right thing, ethically), but it's unlikely to happen that way anyway.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:28 PM on October 5, 2019 [29 favorites]

"We're in the final stages of this with dog racing (there are still some tracks operating, but the big kennels are apparently mostly done)."

One of the Illinois horse racing tracks (which used to be a dog track) is engaging in shenanigans apparently geared towards claiming that casino expansion in Illinois forced them to shut down, so they can get money from the state while shutting down operations, which they want to do anyway, because horse racing doesn't have much money in it anymore except for the very top tier, and nobody really gambles on it anymore. (Hugely entertaining shenanigans that involved insisting they would have to shut down unless legislation X was passed, lobbying for this to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and then as soon as the legislation was passed, saying, "WOE IS US, NOW WE SHALL HAVE TO SHUT DOWN BECAUSE OF THIS TERRIBLE LEGISLATION!")
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:42 PM on October 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also I do want to note that I didn't post that to highlight any sort of racist "look what these other cultures" eat type of thing. I just think that people don't know the extent of what "race horses" endure in their lives. I have vegan friends who go to "Derby parties" and I find it totally bizarre.

Just as there are people who are dog people who are fans of specific breeds, I'm sure there are horse people that are the same way and ending racing isn't going to mean the extinction of specific types of horses. Or maybe it means that horses aren't bred to specifically race anymore, and I don't really have a problem with that. But also, please don't let them run wild - horses are non-native animals in the Americas and the fact that we've protected the "wild" (feral) ones in the U.S. does an awful lot of ecosystem damage in places that truly cannot handle it.
posted by primalux at 3:46 PM on October 5, 2019 [4 favorites]

Quite frankly, what is it with sports? Why do so many people enjoy watching other creatures put through these actions that are fundamentally physically violent and can lead to injuries and possibly death? Horse racing? What about auto racing? What about boxing? What about football? It’s bad enough that we treat animals in this way, but we also treat human beings in the same way. All for entertainment.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:12 PM on October 5, 2019 [15 favorites]

Ending racing won’t end racehorses just like the truck didn’t end drafthorses. There will always be people who breed and race horses because they love them and they want them to be happy. What banning racing will do is take the easy money and the fame out of the equation. There may be a reduction in the excess of race horses, but it won’t be total destruction of the breed.
posted by teleri025 at 4:24 PM on October 5, 2019 [11 favorites]

Considering how many racehorses die violently on the track or in the slaughter house (per TFA) handwringing about putting large numbers of them to sleep is sanctimonious nonsense. It would be a more humane end than the one they are headed for.

I was a horse-crazy kid, and many of the stories I loved were about racehorses. It sickens me to think that these beautiful animals are treated so badly and die in such pain. Time to end this.
posted by emjaybee at 4:51 PM on October 5, 2019 [18 favorites]

Another Horse Dies At Santa Anita Race Track, Raising Death Toll To 32 | HuffPost. Not a week goes by that there's not another horse death even in just training and practice. And they've been shut down for weeks here and there trying to figure out what's wrong with the track that's causing so many injuries. Y'know, maybe it's just the racing itself.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:25 PM on October 5, 2019

Given that conditions have barely improved, if at all, in spite of increasing scrutiny over the past twenty-plus years, I'm comfortable saying that it is past time to dramatically scale back the scope of the sport, if not end it entirely. They have already had ample opportunity to show that it possible to have the racing without the abuse.

It's possible that drastically reducing the number of races run could bring purses large enough spread across few enough racing horses to make ethical horse racing feasible, but I somehow doubt it would work out that way.

People are too damn greedy and with our economic system being set up to induce a feeling of precariousness no matter how much money one accumulates, I have little doubt that even well meaning owners would often end up leaving too little money to provide for the horses through their retirement. And that's assuming that there is a way to take the abuse out of the racing in practice.
posted by wierdo at 7:19 PM on October 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

NYS Open Data on Equine Death and Breakdown
posted by mikelieman at 7:59 PM on October 5, 2019

horses are non-native animals in the Americas...

This is debatable.
posted by e-man at 9:45 PM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm a racing fan, but it's getting harder to justify my fan-dom in the face of all these developments. The sport has always had bad actors (mainly abusive owners and trainers and crooked vets). However, since the 1960s the increasing use of race-day drugs, along with the rise of both breeding practices and training methods that emphasize speed and precociousness over stamina and durability, has led to more on-track horse deaths. The sport's various governing bodies have refused to do anything substantive to counter these trends. Frankly, it's all about the $$$.
posted by e-man at 9:57 PM on October 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

Horse racing? What about auto racing? What about boxing? What about football?

Ballet? Child farm labor? Church/BSA child abuse? It's not in any way limited to sports; it's a human-nature problem. "Humane treatment" may be the most egregious oxymoron of all.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 6:02 AM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm no fan of the NFL or other blood sports, but I think there's a qualitative difference between at least the putative informed consent that goes on when a human decides to do something dangerous for money and power, and when an animal is forced to do it simply so that they can continue living—and even then, their life is over when they can no longer perform.

I can at least imagine hypothetical professional sports involving humans that aren't ethically repugnant, despite how far most professional leagues fall from that mark today; I really have trouble finding a place for professionalized, big-money animal 'sports' in my own ethical framework.

That said, I don't consider all recreational activities involving animals to be necessarily fraught. I know people who do show jumping, amateur barrel racing, and stuff like that, and they seem to have a wholly different relationship with the animals than the owners of racetrack horses have. The difference seems to be that they do it because they love the activity qua activity—which involves having a deep respect for the animals and their welfare. It's not some sort of crazy investment/moneymaking scheme (quite the opposite, it seems right up there with boat ownership on the list of "things that you'd better really love because boy are they going to cost you").

As usual, it's the cash that's corrosive.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:40 AM on October 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Thats really not at all accurate Kadlin. The US racing industry has some major problems, Santa Anita should have been shut down long ago. But racing isnt an inherently bad life for a horse. The job is simple, fun and easy and they are very well taken care of and not bored or lonely. Most racehorses are rehomed to riding homes or bred after their racing careers end and no one forces rhem to run, the ones that have a case of the slows just get sold. Only a small percentage end up at slaughter and plenty of show jumping and barrel racing horses do too. Barrel racers in particular have a well earned reputation for bad horsemanship and treating their animals like dirt bikes. The injury rate for horses and riders in barrel racing is appalling and the standards of care are bad. If I were a horse I'd much rather be a race horse than a backyard pet or a barrel horse. And dont even get me started on the American QH for which has been bred in many sports to have near AKC German Shepard or pug levels of health problems. Or the people who breed those hideous little minis with dwarfism.

Also slaughter needs to exist. There is nothing inherently wrong with it in theory, just in practice in the Americas. Horses are big, expensive creatures and not all are safe or suited to modern life. They cant all be pets and people tend to hoard them like cats. A well regulated, well run slaughter injury would be a kindness to those unwanted and neglected horses imho.

If the US racing industry switched to grass they'd reduce the injury rate to nearly nothing btw. Its the fast dirt tracks they train and run on that are the problem. There are plenty of 10 and 11 year old turf horses still out there happily racing.
posted by fshgrl at 10:49 AM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

The job is simple, fun and easy and they are very well taken care of and not bored or lonely.

According to the article, they spend 22-23 hours a day in a stall. The horses I grew up with got bored and started cribbing when we took them to horse camp and they were stalled for half that time. (For those who don't know, cribbing is when they chew on their wooden stall, usually from boredom or frustration.)

My sister adopted a rescue racehorse and started training him to sell. He was always lame (thoroughbreds are notorious for their weak legs) and he was barely trained at all even though he was 5 or 6 years old. Luckily the woman who bought him mostly wanted him as a pretty pet on her estate, but it sure didn't seem like the owner or trainer had any intention of doing right by him even if he had been a more successful racehorse.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:25 PM on October 6, 2019

Thoroughbreds are not notorious for their weak legs, that's a ridiculous thing to say. They've been custom bred for toughness for a few thousand years. I think the US racing industry has a LOT of issues but so does the entire US horse world. Once you get out of the top tier the level of horse knowledge is low and dropping. MOST American horses spend 23 - 24 hours a day in a stall because it's socially acceptable to keep them animals that way in this country. Many "pet" horses spend all their lives in little pens and only get ridden in arenas, are never conditioned properly for the work they do and are eventually given away as "free", which means they end up at the same slaughter houses the article talks about. I'd never give a chronically lame horse to someone who didn't know much about horses as a pet "for their estate". That's how they end up in a bad situation.

(For those who don't know, cribbing is when they chew on their wooden stall, usually from boredom or frustration.)

No, it's not. Cribbing is when horses learn to physically retract their larynx and create a rush of air into the esophagus. It releases endorphins, gives them a little high, is a stress related behavior and rapidly becomes an addiction. It's the horse equivalent of smoking. Horses will do it in a field too once they learn. If your horses were cribbers, they were cribbers 4lyfe, they didn't just do it at camp.

I've had probably close to 300 horses off the track for retraining in my life. I was at the barn all day today. I've spent over 35 years working with horses. This thread is pretty misinformed and so is the original article.
posted by fshgrl at 7:28 PM on October 6, 2019 [5 favorites]

But racing isnt an inherently bad life for a horse

Nobody who says this ever seems to be someone who, for a living, lets another person sit on them and make them go. coincidence probably.
posted by queenofbithynia at 7:53 PM on October 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

Well I do work in an office 40 hours a week so I can have a place to live and food. It's not a bad gig as gigs go, but we all have jobs. Horses are working animals and racing isnt a horrible job, as horse jobs go. Well, unless you are at Santa Anita or a low rent dirt track anyway. That place needs to be shut down but so do a lot of low rent tracks.
posted by fshgrl at 9:31 PM on October 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

I think that we can all agree that the low rent grindhouses are where reform is most urgently required, but it is sadly not at all uncommon for horses at the more prominent tracks being abused beyond any possible justification.

Nobody expects racing to be 100% pleasant 100% of the time, but nobody expects horses to be drugged so much that it regularly happens that they continue running a race for so long after sustaining severe inury that they literally pound their bones into tiny shards, leaving no humane option but euthanasia, either. This happens several times a year, even at the most prominent tracks.
posted by wierdo at 1:50 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd never give a chronically lame horse to someone who didn't know much about horses as a pet "for their estate". That's how they end up in a bad situation.

Just to address your assumptions here - the horse now lives at the estate of a woman who can no longer ride but does like to pamper horses and she can afford to do it. She's not "a person who doesn't know much about horses". The nonprofit that orchestrated bringing the horse from the track into regular life checks in with owners to make sure everyone is ok. Which is something you definitely can't say for the various people trying to make their money off of racing horses.

No, it's not. Cribbing is when

That's a good point. It often looks like a horse is chewing on their stall but that's not the real explanation.

No one was ever euthanized at my office job after being drugged by management and then horrifically injured. I don't think that is a useful comparison.
posted by Emmy Rae at 5:09 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Only in America??

As with other things, most other countries behave differently and regulate.
posted by Burn_IT at 8:07 AM on October 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh trust me, its 100 times worse in the Middle East. Endurance racing there is a horror show. And that's not a euphanism.

At least racing people in the US mostly do care and dont out and out abuse animals. Lots of hyperbole about that in this thread (they do drug test horses guys). And, running horses at Santa Anita aside, its rare to see deliberate abuse. People don't run lame animals, because why would you? They do investigate accidents: for example those antibiotics that led to tendon rupture killed a lot of horses and no one knew why. No one is running horses on pain killers in the US unless they've invented one the drug testers dont know about. I think this is why the current situation is so insane. Just close the track! They have the power to.

In Saudi and some other places they dont even pretend to give a shit. Huge scandal a few years ago with international sanctions.
posted by fshgrl at 5:55 PM on October 9, 2019

Thinking about it, it was UAE that wa suspended, not Saudi that time. The US governing body withdrew from the international one in protest and wrote a pretty great letter about it and good for them, its appalling what goes on.
posted by fshgrl at 6:04 PM on October 9, 2019

No one was ever euthanized at my office job after being drugged by management and then horrifically injured. I don't think that is a useful comparison.

You're right, but the line is often blurrier than we like to think.

A long time ago in an ER, I met a 17 year old kid who'd had a job cleaning out giant Aqua Velva tanks to prepare them for shipping different liquids, and one day on the graveyard shift when he was working alone, his respirator came loose. He was found unconscious in the bottom of the tank 7-8 hours later, and after reviving him the company he worked for (which I don't know the name of and may well have had no relationship with Aqua Velva) essentially bought him a bus ticket and sent him to his mother who lived several states away. His mother, who had emigrated here from Germany, brought him to the ER several months later because he was getting up in the middle of the night, rushing around the house breaking things, and shouting incomprehensible phrases. During most of his waking hours he was in a stupor, and was almost never able to make himself understood, despite considerable and urgent effort. When I asked him what had happened to him, he finally managed to say "the coming of the wrong in the long ago!", and that was it.

His mother had no idea what had happened to him when he first got home, but ultimately was able to get hold of a housemate who had been a coworker and told her.
posted by jamjam at 3:07 AM on October 10, 2019 [2 favorites]

No one was ever euthanized at my office job after being drugged by management and then horrifically injured. I don't think that is a useful comparison

My office did hire a bull dog firm to cut off workers comp benefits to people who'd been badly injured at work though, including one who is in a power wheelchair. She lost that case, ridiculous as it seems, and lost all her income and medical benefits about 6 years after the accident. So they kinda are trying to kill her.
posted by fshgrl at 10:31 AM on October 10, 2019

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