“Bless the beasts and the children.” As the Mail Tribune courts, social services and pets reporter, this song goes through my head a lot.
Working these beats – and because of my former life as a vet assistant and stable manager – I know kids and animals are consistently put in harm’s way due to the poor decisions and actions of adults.
But sometimes it’s easy to point a finger, and not so easy to find a solution.
Two horses broke down on the track at Grants Pass Downs on opening day and had to be humanely euthanized. Preventing tragedies like these is something we’d all like to see happen. Track surfaces must be properly maintained. Horses that are ill, injured or simply past their racing expiration date should not be put to the test.
Six horses died due to injuries they suffered racing on the half-mile track during the Downs’ last two abbreviated racing seasons. Officials keep no records on the number of horses that suffer career-ending or even fatal injuries during training.
The Oregon Racing Commission gave the track an ultimatum last fall – fix the track or stop racing. A $225,000 resurfacing effort ensued. That’s a lot of money for supporters of the small track to come up with, especially in this economy.
By all accounts there have been major positive changes made to the track’s footing. But horses are still dying.
The reasons are myriad: breeding, training, husbandry, age, unknown or unattended injuries - and sheer physics. If you twist your ankle walking at 3 mph, you can stop quickly. If you are running in excess of 30 mph, it takes time to stop. A 1,000-pound body in motion tends to stay in motion, even when a misstep happens. And every step creates more damage.
There are people who abhor racing as a barbaric practice. There are people who will defend it to their dying breath. Those who engage in cutting, trail, endurance and other activities shouldn’t get on their high horses. Horses get injured in the hunter, jumper and dressage worlds, too.
For me, there are few joys to compare to being one with a horse. There are great life lessons to be learned in all equine sports. But there is also a fair amount of cruelty, neglect and abuse.
Horses are expensive to keep when they are “useful” and well. Imagine their lives when they are neither. And I have my opinion about who gets the short end of the stick when money, egos and animals collide.
Here’s another part of the deal: No matter how much we may love our horses, the reality is we keep them in very unnatural environments, and in a manner that is counter to their biology. Most live in a box stall or small turnout pen when not under saddle. They are fed flakes of dried hay (or pressed alfalfa cubes) at intervals convenient for humans, not horses. All of this is far from the free-ranging state nature intended for a horse.
I’ve seen horses get injured and die simply standing in their stalls.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not advocating turning all domesticated horses out onto the American plains. Or even local pastures. I have seen my share of starving ponies. And, sadly, they can also suffer fatal injuries racing across open fields in the wild.
I guess what I’d like to see is every horse treated with as much respect, care and consideration as we’d like to receive – were we born with four legs and a flowing mane.