Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Yes, they do shoot horses, lots of them

Amidst the prophecies about the death of horse racing, one can hear faintly, amid the din, the newly released statistics on the death of racing horses. The Lexington Herald-Leader, the horse industry's hometown newspaper, reported yesterday that there were over 1,200 horse deaths in 2008 at the nation's race tracks.

Why the high body count in the Sport of Kings? The horses industry has put its collective index finger to the side of its head, blinked unknowingly, and declared, "Gee, we don't know":
"If it were that easy to change, we would have flipped that switch a long time ago," said Mary Scollay, Kentucky's equine medical director, who is assembling an industry-wide database on horse breakdowns, the findings of which haven't been released. "We've learned injuries are very complex in their causes, and there are a number of things that need to be critically evaluated."
Uh huh.

Why so many horse deaths in the racing industry? Let us count the ways: Lasix, phenylbutazone, cortiscosteroids, morphine. Not to mention the inbreeding that has resulted in horses so bred for speed that their legs just can't handle it.

If you can't find candor within the industry, look for it elsewhere. Here is NPR's Frank Deford on the real problem:
Thoroughbreds are just such incredibly fragile creatures, half-ton beasts, born with a burning desire to run, doing so on candlestick legs. There is an old Bedouin legend that best describes how wispy they really are:

"And God took a handful of southerly wind, blew his breath over it and created the horse."

But our mania for speed has made these great, delicate beasts all the more brittle. All 20 horses in the Derby were descended from one great sire -- the magnificent gray Native Dancer, who lived but a half-century ago. Add to this proliferate in-breeding the fact that drugs are allowed today in the United States that are banned most elsewhere, so that horses who have no business racing do, and then they go to stud and pass on their weaknesses. Speed, speed. European horses run more tactical races. We just go flat out.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that horse racing should be shut down just because of the high body count. I'm just tired of hearing how bad it is to auction off horses for horse meat because it's cruel. At least in that case, they're dying to provide sustenance to hungry people, whereas these horses are dying to provide entertainment for very well-fed people.

Which is worse?

As for myself, I am not planning on eating horseburgers any time soon. Too many chemicals.

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