Monthly Archives: June 2015

Racing Carnage: Horseracing Wrongs 2014 Death Stats Visualized

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Writing and Data Wrangling by:  Heather Clemenceau

Data reproduced with permission of Patrick Battuello – http://www.horseracingwrongs.com

Most of the followers of this blog are familiar with Patrick Battuello and his meticulous collection of stats on the deaths and injuries of racehorses across the United States via his blog HorseracingWrongs.  I was recently sent his 2014 compilation of information on racing deaths for 2014,  and immediately I knew that,  as a visual person,  I wanted to see it represented in pictures and graphs.  So I took Patrick’s data line by line,  recorded each horse’s age at death,  the track info,  plugged it all in an Excel spreadsheet,  added state,  city,  and zip codes for each of the tracks,  scrubbed and sorted the data,  and then imported it all into Tableau for visualization.  It’s so disturbing to see the number of deaths of 1 year-olds in training at various tracks,  as well as horses of the “advanced” age of 10.  The average age of nearly 1,000 dead race horses was only 3.9 years. 
horse racing deaths visual analysis

Click to embiggen – each circle represents a track within a state – the larger the circle the greater the number of horses killed on the track.

Deaths per state/track are also very revealing,  the greatest number of deaths occurring at Charles Town (West Virginia), Gulfstream (Florida), and Turf (Arizona).
Horse Racing Deaths 2014

Click to embiggen – Hold the “Ctrl” key and press the “+” key to zoom in (press “-” to zoom out) or if you have a mouse with a wheel, hold the “Ctrl” key on the keyboard and then scroll the wheel up to zoom in (scroll down to zoom out)

There are certainly more deaths than what is represented here.  Patrick was limited in what he was given via FOIA requests,  while other tracks maintained that they didn’t keep lists,  didn’t recognize training deaths, didn’t provide complete information,  claimed that they were prohibited by law from providing information,  or simply denied requests.  The information obtained does not even include deaths that occurred at private farms, training centers, or rescue facilities,  nor does it include “non-racing” fatalities such as colic or laminitis.  In turn,  I was somewhat limited in my ability to determine whether tracks had been sold and changed names with or without the complication of bankruptcy, and where they were located in states/cities.The data certainly tells a story. But even if we estimate that the deaths are double the numbers captured,  visualizations on graphs do not include all the other horses slaughtered in Canadian or Mexican plants last year,  which is where many of them go when they lose one too many a race.

Raw Data below:

 

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AQHA Political Action Committee Sets Goal to Derail S.A.F.E. Act Despite Huge Losses

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money-bag-filled-with-moneyWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

It’s no secret that the AQHA, the largest non-profit breed association in the world, takes the most destructive and inhumane approach to horse slaughter of any of the breed groups. On the one hand, they have a Mission Statement to ensure the American Quarter Horse is treated humanely, with dignity, respect and compassion at all times. However, the world’s largest breed registry needs a system to make room for the continuing mass production, hence their business model is to breed as many horses as possible (thus maintaining new memberships and registrations thus ensuring that they are a self-perpetuating entity) while discarding older  or surplus horses and horses with undesirable conformation to slaughter plants.

The AQHA also has a less-well known political action committee – AQHPAC which has set a goal of raising $250,000 by the 2016 elections, in part to fight the malicious agendas of misguided groups like the Humane Society Of The United States. Political donations are used to promote politicians who support the “horse industry,” and advance their collective agenda. Of course, you can own several horses or run a training barn or a veterinary practice, but if you’re among the 80% of Americans opposed to slaughtering horses, you’re not officially part of the “horse industry” according to the AQHA. A specific goal of the AQHPAC is to defeat the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1942 which was re-introduced in 2015 to prevent the establishment of horse slaughter operations in the US, and end the current export of American horses to Canada and Mexico.  It’s an unbelievable slap in the face to the anti-slaughter advocates who worked incesssantly for months to ensure that the previous incarnation of the act could be passed.

In 2014, here’s what the list of contributions from the AQHPAC to federal candidates looked like:

House

 

Total to Democrats: $11,500
Total to Republicans: $51,500

 

Aderholt, Robert B (R-AL) $2,500
Alexander, Rodney (R-LA) ($1,000)
Amodei, Mark (R-NV) $2,000
Barrow, John (D-GA) $500
Blackburn, Marsha (R-TN) $500
Boehner, John (R-OH) $2,500
Carter, John (R-TX) $1,500
Cole, Tom (R-OK) $2,500
Conaway, Mike (R-TX) $1,000
Costa, Jim (D-CA) $1,500
Crawford, Rick (R-AR) $500
Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) $2,500
Fleischmann, Chuck (R-TN) $2,000
Fortenberry, Jeff (R-NE) $500
Gibbs, Bob (R-OH) $500
Goodlatte, Bob (R-VA) $2,500
Granger, Kay (R-TX) $2,000
Graves, Sam (R-MO) $1,000
Graves, Tom (R-GA) $2,000
Hartzler, Vicky (R-MO) $1,500
Herrera Beutler, Jaime (R-WA) $2,000
Hinojosa, Ruben (D-TX) $1,500
Kind, Ron (D-WI) $500
King, Steven A (R-IA) $1,500
Lucas, Frank D (R-OK) $2,500
Lummis, Cynthia Marie (R-WY) $500
Mullin, Markwayne (R-OK) $2,000
Noem, Kristi (R-SD) $1,000
Nunnelee, Alan (R-MS) $2,500
Peterson, Collin (D-MN) $2,500
Roby, Martha (R-AL) $2,000
Rogers, Hal (R-KY) $2,500
Schrader, Kurt (D-OR) $2,500
Scott, Austin (R-GA) $1,000
Sessions, Pete (R-TX) $2,500
Simpson, Mike (R-ID) $1,000
Thornberry, Mac (R-TX) $1,000
Valadao, David (R-CA) $2,000
Womack, Steve (R-AR) $2,000
Yoder, Kevin (R-KS) $1,000
Yoho, Ted (R-FL) $500

 

 Senate

 

Total to Democrats: $2,500
Total to Republicans: $19,100

 

Alexander, Lamar (R-TN) $1,000
Cassidy, Bill (R-LA) $2,500
Cochran, Thad (R-MS) $2,500
Cornyn, John (R-TX) $2,600
Enzi, Mike (R-WY) $1,500
Ernst, Joni (R-IA) $1,500
Gardner, Cory (R-CO) $0
Inhofe, James M (R-OK) $1,500
Kingston, Jack (R-GA) $1,000
Moran, Jerry (R-KS) $500
Pryor, Mark (D-AR) $2,500
Risch, James E (R-ID) $1,500
Rounds, Mike (R-SD) $1,500
Sasse, Ben (R-NE) $1,500

 

Source: Opensecrets.org and based on data released by the FEC on March 09, 2015

(credit to the Center For Responsive Politics)

 

Here’s a list of contributors to this PAC from individuals donors of $250 or more – there’s a few recognizable names here (including billionaire Forrest Lucas of Protect the Harvest and Dr.Tom Lenz, the subject matter expert for the American Horse Council, which is the Farm Bureau of the equine world). It’s a list comprised of feedlot owners, veterinarians, ranchers, truckers, farm managers, business owners, horse trainers and other people who need the availability of slaughter, because without it, “it’s gonna cost me $2,000 and I still don’t have a place to bury it.” It goes without saying that anyone on this list donating $250 – $5,000 can afford to euthanize a horse.

 

 

Amid this lobbying effort the AQHA is in a clear financial crisis – growth in both horse populations are net negative almost without exception across the United States. Since 2008 they’ve lost over 90,000 memberships.  The organization spends lots of money on elite shows,  while relying on the revenue of the average horse person,  who appears to be fleeing the scene.

 

The All About Cutting blog has done a thorough job documenting the devastating downward trajectory of the non-profit,  using their 990s from Guidestar.

From the Blog:

“REVENUES VS EXPENSES:

While reviewing their 990 IRS tax filing, the most glaring revelation is the organization’s posting of another significant loss of $692,687 for the year ending Sept. 30, 2013, as opposed to a Hot-100$3,445,679 loss for the year ending Sept. 30, 2012.  When this loss is added to the previous four years of losses, they total close to $17.5 million, or specifically $17,484,806 in lost revenue. That’s an average loss of close to $3.5 million per year. The largest loss of over $7 million took place in the 2008 tax return.

ASSETS VS LIABILITIES:

The tax return ending Sept. 30, 2013, reports total assets for the beginning of the year of $56,223,930 and $50,276,281 at the end of the year or a major loss of close to $6 million in assets just this past year alone.  In the past five years, assets have dropped from $66,850,420 listed in the 2008 tax return, which ended on Sept. 30, 2009, down to $50,276,281 at Sept. 30, 2013. That’s a drop of close to $16.6 million, or $16,574,139 in five years.”

Despite the spending and the falling revenues, salaries are up and employee head count is increasing, while individuals on the board with family businesses benefit financially by association.  If that isn’t bad enough,  the non-profit appears to be continuing to pay individuals who have had very public retirements.  What’s the reason for this? At this point the average goat herder could head up the organization with more integrity and management insight than the good ‘ol boys inner circle at the AQHA.

top hat tip DebbyInstead of trying to fight against animal welfare groups, the AQHA should be setting aside funds to care for unwanted horses that resulted from rampant over-breeding that the horse-riding public cannot absorb. Fewer horses produced by responsible breeding practices would result in higher prices at the sale barn and private treaty sales.

Contributory practices include the AQHA’s multiple-embryo-transfer rule that facilitates overpopulation by allowing mares to have more than one foal per year. Rules about using frozen semen or eggs from long-sterile or dead animals allowed horses to breed from beyond the grave. Anytime you take a single individual and increase its ability to generate offspring you will decrease the variation in the genetic pool and lead to inbreeding and possibly disease. AQHA should also not permit the breeding of any horses who are either heterozygous or homozygous for Hyperkalemic Periodic Paralysis (HYPP), an inherited genetic disease of the muscle which could be eliminated if only the AQHA had the will. And halter horses?  Just stop breeding these post-legged, big-bodied,  poorly conformed horses on tiny hooves that are likely to mechanically break down. There’s absolutely no reason why halter horses can’t have conformation conducive to carrying a rider through normal equine usage.  You cannot maintain the integrity of the breed by permitting any of these practices. AQHA President Dr. Blodgett should be fired.

The goal of “treating horses humanely” is one that’s incompatible with over-breeding and slaughter.  The AQHA PAC should come with its own disclaimer – unfit for human consumption, and everyone involved in setting it up should make a swan dive into an active volcano.

 

 

Doping Fail: Performance Drug Prohibitions For Horses Are Stricter Than Slaughter Regs…

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Wilful BlindnessWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

The rule of strict liability, under which athletes have to be solely and legally responsible for what they consume, remains supreme in the world of horse sport. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES), the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) promote “Clean Sport” for athletic competitions, as does the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international governing body for equestrian sport.

The FEI credits their Clean Sport initiative as being responsible for the completely drug-free 2012 Olympic Games in London, during which no equestrian athlete or horse tested positive for any banned substance. Equine Canada governs Canada’s official relations with the FEI, as well as Canada’s equestrian relations with the International Olympic Committee and the International Paralympic Committee. It also governs relations between the government of Canada and Canadian equestrian athletes, coaches, judges, competition organizers and other professionals. Equine Canada (via the FEI) has classified approximately 1,000 different drugs as either “Banned” or “Controlled” in the 2015 Equine Prohibited Substances List. As of January 1, 2015, any individual who is temporarily suspended for a doping violation is prohibited from participating in the sport in any capacity, both at and away from competition.

Equine sport organizations that govern horse sport always encourage participation in anti-doping measures and fair medication control ostensibly because horse welfare is the principal rationale for a zero tolerance drug policy. This is an admirable achievement surely, since horses in particular should not be drugged in order to mask pain or to enhance performance to the degree that it may entail a risk.

It is a paradox though, that despite horse welfare cheerleading by Equine Canada, they are utterly silent when it comes down to the issue of the dual commodity riding/meat horse. Of course, Equine Canada supports the Canadian horse slaughter industry, causing conflict within its own ranks as well as with Canadian horse welfare advocates.  In 2012, Equine Canada’s then President Michael Gallagher caused outrage when he issued a press release thanking the FEI after it had disqualified Canadian show-jumping rider Tiffany Foster forked tongueunder controversial and unproven circumstances that did not even involve the possibility of drugs. The FEI Veterinary Commission did not even bother to take her horse out of his stall to examine him further or to test his movement for any signs of discomfort. So, a superficial scrape on a horse’s coronet that did not even make him lame (unless poked repeatedly by veterinarians perhaps) was cause for a lot of rah-rah-rahing about horse welfare by Gallagher, who said, This is an important testing procedure for the fairness of our sport and for the welfare of the horse which must always be paramount.” So while there are apparently few ethical conundrums for Equine Canada when it comes to firing a four-inch nail into a horse’s head, they supported the FEI decision to disqualify a horse due to a trivial and totally survivable scrape of indeterminate origin on his foot. The irony – it burns!

I think it’s absurd that suspensions can be levied over scratches or even the use of a topical cream containing capsaicin for a skin injury (which is banned because it can serve as a mild stimulant) whilst ignoring the issues of inhumane transport and slaughter as well as the possibility of potentially harmful drugs in the food chain. While horse sport veterinarians are busy taking skin swabs from horses to test for capsaicin, the CFIA tests less than 1% of horse carcasses for the prohibited drug phenylbutazone. If the CFIA held kill buyers and the owners of slaughter-bound horses with strict liability as done in horse sport, practically no horse would be eligible for slaughter.

Doping is contrary to the spirit of sport. Yet so too should be the betrayal of sending horses to slaughter.