Tag Archives: “horse racing”

By The Numbers: Study Reviews 13 Years of Ontario Racing Commission “Death Registry” Data

Standard

Barbaro is held by jockey Edgar Prado and a track worker after injuring his leg at the start of the 131st running of the Preakness Stakes, in this May 20, 2006 file photo, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Barbaro was euthanized Monday, Jan. 29, 2007, after complications from his breakdown at the Preakness last May. (AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby, file)

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Beneath the facade, commercial horse racing subjects horses to catastrophic injuries and sudden deaths. Young thoroughbreds, standardbreds, and quarter horses die every week on racetracks from injuries sustained while training and racing. Remember Barbaro? He was euthanized at 3½ years old due to an injury he sustained at the Preakness. Eight Belles was euthanized at 2½ years old due to catastrophic breakdown after a second place win at the Kentucky Derby. And when Rachel Alexandra lost her last race she was shipped off to be a baby making machine. She suffered grave complications at the birth of her first foal.

The majority of racehorses will not survive past the age of 10 and only a small fraction will ever be “good enough” to race.  Approximately 70% +/- of all racehorses are thought to end their lives in a slaughterhouse.

A  new study was just published using 13 years of data from the Ontario Racing Commission Death Registry.  The ORC database was implemented on January 1, 2003; owners, trainers and veterinarians were, from that point forward, required to notify the Commission within two days of the death of any racehorse (Thoroughbred. Quarter horse, or Standardbred) where the death occurred within 60 days of the horse having been entered or qualified to race in Ontario Canada. If the death occurs within 14 days of the horse having been entered or qualified, post-mortems are mandatory and may include gross pathological examination results, histopathology, parisitology, bacteriology, mycoplasmology, virgology, and toxicology.

Of the 963 horses in the database, a postmortem was carried out on 56% of those or approximately 539 horses (presumably those horses who died within 14 days of a race or during a race).  Of these 539 horses:

68% died/were euthanized due to musculoskeletal injury (such as tendon or ligament injuries/broken legs/pelvic fractures/spinal cord injuries etc).  This represents approximately 367 horses.

16% died suddenly due primarily to cardiopulmonary lesions (possibly cardiac failure/pulmonary failure/pulmonary haemorrhage/blood vessel rupture). Approximately 86 horses examined by post-mortem died spontaneously.

4% died following an injection (possibly IV injection/performance-enhancing compound/anaphalactic shock).  Approximately 22 of the 539 horses were killed by an injection.

Of the 963 horses in the ORC database, post-mortems were not completed for about 424 of them, since presumably this was not a requirement by ORC rules.  The cause-of-death is unknown,  but they will not be forgotten.

The fact that these injuries and deaths occur are not surprising – the suffering of these and many other racehorses represents all that is detrimental to their welfare. Studies that break down the injuries and deaths are always useful for showing how healthy horses are pushed beyond their physical capabilities.  Since the profit motive is priority, horses are drugged so they can race while injured and physically compromised. Naturally,  these statistics do not include any horses who died or were euthanized outside of the 60 day window established by the ORC or were sent to slaughter at any point after their racing career ended.  The database reflects the fact that the approximately 74 horses who died each year in Ontario alone were only those that were required to be reported to the ORC according to the regulations noted above.

The racing industry promotes false imagery of race horses retiring to lives of luxury as pets, well-cared-for riding horses, or studs. While some race horses find good homes, the vast majority are slaughtered for meat even though virtually all of them contain veterinary drug residues prohibited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

 

Eight Belles suffered compound fractures of both front ankles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby and was euthanized immediately. At just over 3 years old, she was far too young to be racing.

Racing Carnage: Horseracing Wrongs 2014 Death Stats Visualized

Standard

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:

 

The Fancy Hat Veneer

Standard

Audrey HepburnLast year I was contacted by first time author Joyce Anderson,  who was researching and compiling information for her first book on horse racing.  “The Fancy Hat Veneer,” is the result of her research; it is a compilation of information proving the undeniable responsibility the racing industry and Thoroughbred breeders have for thousands of racehorses being sent to slaughter every year.  Joyce chose the  title because,  for many horse racing fans,  fancy hats have become a fashion statement by women attending famous races such as The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.  The fine clothing of the spectators is the biggest tradition in thoroughbred horse racing,  while the brutality and horrors of the  racing world are kept from the public….well hidden by “The Fancy Hat Veneer.”   As we know, a “veneer” is a thin layer of wood that covers what is under it, so the actual commodity itself appears more refined and polished.

The book is a broad stroke collection of articles, blogs, reports, statistics, and personal stories from the world of Thoroughbreds, horse racing, and breeding. Selected articles take the reader behind the scenes to the world the racing public never has the opportunity to see and generally does not hear about – the underbelly of racing,  breeding,  and the journeys of racehorses before, during, and after their brief careers.

If you would like a bit more insight into the book please visit  www.thefancyhatveneer.com where the book can also be purchased online.

front_and_back_covers_The_Fancy_Hat_Veneer

Front and Back Cover

Synopsis By Chapter

(as written by Joyce Anderson)

 

 Chapter 1 – A Bit About Horses, A Bit About Thoroughbreds

Horses have been an integral part of our life and our survival since rehistory.  They have been warriors, workers, allies, companions, protectors, explorers and even teachers and therapists.

Horses have died on battlefields, transported goods, carried our families, moved canal barges, couriered mail, pulled fire engines, provided transportation and plowed the fields.

They have performed every task we have asked of them. They have more than earned the right to a full life.

Chapter 2 – The Story of Two

Press Exclusive’s journey and photographs are reprinted with permission of Mindy Lovell of Transitions Thoroughbreds who intervened and pulled her from the gates of hell to safety and Susan Wagner of Equine Advocates who provided Press Exclusive with a safe forever home. Her story is not an unusual one for Thorough­breds. However, the end of her story is unusual. She is one of the lucky ones.  The particulars of how she was discarded and the severity of the injuries she sustained are an unforgivable occurance.

Philotimo’s journey from the race track to emaciation took just six short months.  His glory days on the track were over and there was no place for him anywhere.He was “free to a good home”. He was given to a good home and starved at that “good home”. Then the “good home” tried to sell him for $2,500, which would be 100% profit. Rescued by Lynn Cross of Little Brook Farm, “Timo’s” story is reprinted with permission of Lynn Cross of Little Brook Farm, Old Chatham, NY

Chapter 3 – The Thoroughbred Breeding Industry

Individual Thoroughbred breeders can “produce” a few, a few dozen or few hundred foals each and every year.  This is done with the full knowledge that approximately 70% +/- will not have the opportunity to live their full life, the majority will not survive past the age of 10 and only a small fraction will ever be “good enough” to race. This is of no concern to the breeder. Their job is to crank out as many as they can. In fact, the Thoroughbred breeders want to increase breeding numbers and also want more funding for that purpose. They have no conscience.

Chapter 4 – The Racing Industry

Remember Barbaro? He was euthanized at 3½ years old due to catastrophic injuries sustained while racing. Eight Belles was euthanized at 2½ years old due to catastrophic breakdown while racing.

Young thoroughbreds die every week on racetracks from injuries sustained while training and racing.

When Rachel Alexandra lost her last race she was shipped off to be a baby making machine. She suffered grave complications at the birth of her first foal.

Chapter 5 – Horse Racing Wrongs 2013

Horse Racing Wrongs is a blog by Patrick J. Battuello who meticulously documents deaths and injuries of thoroughbreds on America’s race tracks.  The entries are not Mr. Battuello’s opinion; he is simply documenting what occurred.  They are unalterable facts. Each death occurred on the race tracks while the crowds cheered.

This chapter contains just a few blog entries for the recent 2013 racing season.  There are several hundred additional entries you can read for yourself on www.horseracingwrongs.com. 

Patrick J Battuello has been writing on animal-related issues for several years now. His blog, “Animal Rights,” debuted in the Times Union (Albany NY area) in 2009. It was the first of its kind in a Capital Region mainstream publication. In addition, Patrick has written for both the Albany and National editions of the Examiner, and has maintained three separate independent sites.

Chapter 6 – Horse Slaughter

Before we even discuss slaughter you should know how horses are transported to the plants.  Horses are usually transported in stock trailers, which are open without compartments.  All types of horses are together; old, young, babies, sick, injured, pregnant and blind.  Thoroughbreds, work horses and miniature breeds are loaded on the same trailer.  Those that are injured, too small or too weak to withstand the long trip are trampled.  When the trailer arrives at the slaughter plant those that have been trampled or are down are dragged out with a chain wrapped around their neck or a leg.

Horse slaughter is a savage, cruel, violent and barbaric solution to a man made problem. It is horrific, excruciating and brutal.  Nothing about it is humane.

Chapter 7 – What About The Other Horses

In my opinion horses are the most brutalized, abused and mistreated animals.  Maybe it’s their size or maybe it’s their beauty that makes men need to dominate, control, brutalize, harm and torture them.  There is something very deep, very dark and very, very primitive still lingering in our un-evolved psyche.

We live in a society where people are emotionally dead.  Perhaps it’s the internet or social media which has removed us from any personal sensitivity to horror, blood, guts and gore. Thanks to all the groups within the media industry (TV, films, computer games, etc) we have become immune to violence. We can witness the most appalling atrocities first hand and there is little or no reaction.  It barely causes a ripple.

Chapter 8 – In The News

The “In the News” chapter could have been filled with a ton of recent horrific articles.  Sadly there is no lack of appalling stories related to horses.  If you are inclined to read more the internet puts every news agency in the world and their archives at your fingertips.

horse-hat

 

Death In The Fast Lane: Reaction to PeTA Exposé

Standard

peta - horses aren't machines

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

It used to be that phenylbutazone was what got a horse disqualified from a race. Dancer’s Image became the only winner in the Kentucky Derby’s 134-year history to be disqualified for using a banned substance, when bute was found in his urine sample after the race in 1968. Two years after Secretariat’s recordbreaking US Triple Crown took the sport to a new level of popularity, the breakdown and death of Ruffian brought on a new era of safety concerns.

Analysis of horse carcasses submitted to the CHRB Postmortem Program revealed that 40.9% of all fatal injuries occurred during racing and training in 3-4 year old racehorses. Injuries, unlike accidents, do not happen by chance. The science of injury prevention has demonstrated that injuries and the events leading up to injuries are not random. Like disease, they tend to follow a general pattern. Studying these patterns has made it possible to learn to predict and prevent injuries from occurring, Yet this type of knowledge is ignored when pitted against the profit incentive of racing.

PETA-Kentucky-Derby-3As a result, many fallen jockeys have found that their mounts eventually became wheelchairs after they were paralysed in falls by their horses or horses they were trailing who should have been scratched from races. In 1990, apprentice jockey Benny Narvaez was paralyzed from the chest down after his horse threw him while jumping over another horse who had broken down directly in front of him during a race at Tampa Bay Downs. A jury found that Tampa Bay Downs was responsible for Narvaez’s injury because the track veterinarian failed to perform an adequate pre-race examination on the horse he was trailing. That horse’s pre-existing conditions had been cloaked by drugs a few days before the race.

So the recent PeTA expose of trainers Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi in the New York Times wasn’t all that surprising, except in how quickly it went viral and how many racing fans jumped into the fray to excoriate PeTA. This wasn’t just about anyone – these guys who are accused are at the top. Asmussen has built one of horse racing’s largest operations. He ranks second in career victories, with more than 6,700; has earned more than $214 million in purses. But now they are accused of subjecting their horses to cruel and injurious treatments, administering drugs to them for nontherapeutic purposes, and having one of their jockeys use an electrical device to shock horses into running faster. Asmussen and Blasi are also accused of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms, producing false identification documents, according to the complaints filed with state and federal agencies. Asmussen also paid the PeTA investigator $5.95 an hour — less than minimum wage — and did not pay proper overtime wages, according to complaints filed with the labour departments of Kentucky and New York. In 2012 the Asmussen Horse Center dumped 10 of their bred mares at one of the biggest kill buyer auctions in Texas, so they hardly sound like an upstanding group of people.

Sport of Kings,  or exercise in controlled chaos?

Nehro, the horse in the surveillance video, was acknowledged to be in pain and needed to be retired, yet still he continued to train. On the morning of last year’s Kentucky Derby, Nehro got sick on the backside of Churchill Downs and later died from colic in a van on the way to the hospital. In all likelihood,  he may have had ulcers from excess medication with bute,  which may have contributed to his colic.  Blasi and the farrier spent so much time conspiring in that barn that they were unaware everything they said and did was being recorded by an investigator who used a hidden camera to record terrible mistreatment. Ultimately, PeTA filed 10 complaints with the state and federal authorities.

I’m surprised at the vitriol hurled against PeTA for this undercover work. Lots of defensiveness and doubling-down, shoot-the-messenger type comments on the various message boards, including that of the New York Times. Lots of 1111111_1024debate also as to whether the farrier was referring to Nehro not having a pulse in either his legs or his feet being as  good thing or not. A horse’s foot is highly vascularized – circulation is needed to help them function and repair damage. A healthy pulse in either foot or leg is faint, but discernible, especially to an experienced vet. In the context of the video, Blasi and the farrier are complaining about Nehro’s foot being a “nub” with an enormous painful hole in the frog and hoof walls held together by glue. A horse with such extensive hoof damage should have an strong bounding pulse due to inflammation. The lack of pulse despite such physical evidence of damage suggests heavy duty dosages of painkillers that are numbing both blood flow and pain responses to the feet. It sure seems medically unlikely that a horse could have such holes in the frog and hoof wall and simultaneously have no pulse unless drugs are being used to mask the pain.

While PeTA has always had some serious credibility issues for me, I’ve always thought that their investigative work was first-rate. Problematic for me is that they’ve long been accused of objectifying women for their cause. Between a banned Super Bowl ad claiming that vegetarians have better sex and their “Save the Whales, Lose the Blubber” campaign, it often felt to me as if PeTA was promoting animal rights at the cost of the women’s movement – issues that are both paramount for me. A quick browse through their print campaigns clearly shows that while women are often depicted naked, with few exceptions, men are depicted clothed. The problem is that, after looking at half-naked celebrities, few people want to sign a petition or take action. And aggressive and often misguided attempts by various Huffington Post authors to discredit PeTA have had some impact – I’m seeing the oft-repeated mantra of their articles perpetuated in other social media channels. These so-called journalists are confusing the provision of a quick and painless end to what would otherwise be a miserable life, with a gleefully murderous objective. PeTA is not killing animals for amusement or for profit.

peta quote 1

Another huge gaffe for PeTA caused intense frustration amongst horse people who were lobbying furiously against horse slaughter in the US in 2013, when they misguidedly proclaimed that slaughter should return to the US as it was the “lesser of two evils” – the other evil being long transport to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. Imagine how shocked horse advocates were to hear pro-Ag and pro-slaughter mouthpieces quoting PeTA back to us! Exasperatingly, the PeTA statement in favour of a return to horse slaughter was one of the main reasons the Oklahoma horse slaughter law passed. The legislators used that statement as a banner. Yet PeTA is an anti-slaughter group and they promote the passage of the S.A.F.E. Act.

I’ve included some of their print campaigns against racing in this blog post. I think these ones are a lot more thought provoking than the ads featuring naked celebs. But it was a few undercover campaigns that really put them on the map. Whatever you think of them, you’d probably have to acknowledge that they have really demonstrated their ability to create dialogue about things that many people hold sacred, such as circuses and animal labs. Over the past 30 years, PeTA has aggressively assailed corporations for the way they treat animals. But the Asmussen/Blasi investigation was PETA’s first significant step into advocacy in the horse racing world.

The Silver Spring Monkey Investigation

One of PeTA’s founders, a student named Alex Pacheco, set out to gain some experience in a laboratory and began working undercover at the Institute for Behavioral Research.   IBR was a federally funded laboratory in AB004594Silver Spring, Maryland, run by psychologist and animal experimenter Edward Taub, a man with no medical training. There, Pacheco found 17 monkeys living in tiny wire cages that were caked with years of accumulated feces.

“The monkeys were subjected to debilitating surgeries in which their spinal nerves were severed, rendering one or more of their limbs useless. Through the use of electric shock, food deprivation, and other methods, the monkeys were forced to try to regain the use of their impaired limbs or go without food. In one experiment, monkeys were kept immobile in a dark chamber made out of a converted refrigerator and then repeatedly shocked until they finally used their disabled arm. The inside of the refrigerator was covered with blood. In another experiment, monkeys were strapped into a crude restraint chair—their waist, ankles, wrists, and neck held in place with packing tape—and pliers were latched as tightly as possible onto their skin, including onto their testicles.”

The trauma of the monkeys’ imprisonment and treatment was so severe that many of them had ripped at their own flesh, and they had lost many of their fingers from catching them in the rusted, jagged cage bars. Workers often neglected to feed the monkeys, and the animals would desperately pick through the waste beneath their cages to find something to eat.

PeTA gathered meticulous log notes detailing what was happening inside IBR and secretly photographed the horrible living conditions. Then, after lining up expert witnesses and showing them around the laboratory at night, PeTA took the evidence to the police—and an intense, decade-long battle for custody of the monkeys ensued. Their investigation led to the nation’s first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused animals from a laboratory.

Peta quote 5

The Japanese Horse Slaughter Investigation

As many as 20,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Japan, partly because of overbreeding of thoroughbreds in the U.S., where racehorses are exploited as disposable commodities.

PeTA’s 2009 horse slaughter investigation took place inside Japan’s largest horse slaughterhouse in Kumamoto. Horsemeat from Claude Bouvry’s plant also makes its way to Kumamoto. Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was sold to a Japanese breeder and a few years later, when they were done with him, he was unceremoniously slaughtered. PeTA also discovered that Derby and Preakness winners Charismatic and War Emblem are at breeding farms in Japan right now. With their useful breeding days winding down, they are likely to share the fate of Ferdinand. For all I know,  War Emblem may in fact already be dead, since he was something of a failure as a stud and he would now be 15 years old.

peta quote 4

Articles about animal abuse always bring out both the best and the worst of internet posters. In this scenario, racing fans were quick to come up with some flimsy reason why the investigation is bogus, or perpetually ask why we care more for animals than people, make protestations about edited video and the need to provide context, complaints about PeTA’s methods, and any number of other defensive reactions that illuminate how little we want to actually examine our role in the ongoing suffering of animals.

Peta quote 3

The lawyer for Asmussen and Blasi is apparently shocked that someone would go undercover to actually expose the relentless abuse, avarice and greed they visited on these horses. Ironically, Blasi and Asmussen are probably going to see the greatest censure visited on them as a result of the identity falsification charges; after 9/11, this is probably going to be taken pretty seriously – probably more so than the abuse charges. So, an investigation about mistreatment of horses also involved the mistreatment of the human beings who took care of the horses. And If a horse needs electric shock to run faster, then it is no longer the “sport of kings,” but a matter of chaos, controlled by whoever has the biggest cattle prod.

Northern Dancer

Northern Dancer won the American Eclipse Award as Three-Year Old Male Champion of 1964 and the Sovereign Award for Horse of the Year. In 1965, he became the first horse to ever be voted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, an honour he held for thirty-one years and now shares with Canadian Equestrian Champion Big Ben. On its formation, he was part of the first group of inductees into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1977, Northern Dancer won three world sires’ premiership titles being for the number of international stakes winners, international stakes wins and progeny stake earnings. He was retired from stud in 1987 at the age of 26. He died in 1990 and is buried at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Windfields Farm has subsequently been abandoned, and Northern Dancer’s burial site is not publicly accessible. This is the life-sized bronze statue of him outside Woodbine Race Track in northwest Toronto. While tenderness in a tendon ended his career, he belongs to an “old-school” period when horses weren’t run on thyroxine or frog juice.  He did not continue to race on drugs for years with broken-down legs or feet.  Nor was he sent to slaughter after his breeding days were over.