Saturday, May 17, 2008

Apparently It's Not a Good Thing to be a Race Horse in Puerto Rico

Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown buzzed past his rivals in the Preakness today. I didn't see the race myself. I was busy teaching riding lessons. But I got a play-by-play from my sister, Jill, who-- as a young reporter-- covered Santa Anita and Hollywood Park race tracks for the Los Angeles Times. She's very good at adding color commentary and interjecting quotes from jockeys and trainers when necessary.

Perhaps because Big Brown is poised to be a possible Triple Crown champion (the Belmont Stakes is his final test) the Associated Press circulated a very disturbing news article about the fate of Thoroughbred race horses in Puerto Rico. The one major track in that U.S. territory is Hipodromo Camarero, where as many as 400 race horses a year are quietly euthanized by lethal injection at the veterinary clinic tucked behind the track.

These are not badly crippled, mortally wounded Thoroughbreds. In most instances, they have one fatal flaw: they're losers. Once a Thoroughbred falls off its form and begins costing more to keep than it's winning at the track, owners cut their losses and pay a small fee to have their unwanted horse neatly disposed of.

Though the story is widely distributed on the Internet, you can try this direct link to the AP story as carried by an online San Diego newspaper:
Disposable Race Horses

I must admit, in my lifetime there were a couple of horses that I could not wait to see head down the road in someone else's trailer. But to simply euthanize an otherwise sound, lovely Thoroughbred because it hadn't turned out to be another Big Brown is just plain wrong.

Here's an idea: If you don't have any interest in finding an after-market home for your unwanted race horse, how about you don't get involved in the business?

I realize that there are not many options for off-the-track Thoroughbreds in Puerto Rico. According to the article, recreational riders in Puerto Rico prefer a less hot, more manageable breed of horse like the Paso Fino. That's understandable. Not everyone is meant to ride or re-train an ex-race horse. But to summarily kill it just to make it easier to cut one's losses and move on to the next race horse (or future dead ex-race horse) is just deplorable. Some owners, according to the article, have a luckless horse euthanized "for revenge." In other words, they're angry at the horse for not winning money, and in response they pay the $20 or so to the track vet and have the horse put down.

That'll teach those Thoroughbreds to run faster.

The alternative, however, could be worse. In the article the reporter mentions that some emaciated ex-race horses have been found barely subsisting along the rural roadsides, living semi-feral lives of a hellish existence. Rather than euthanize them at the clinic, their owners simply turned them loose.

Now, before you think the AP article was bereft of any good news, I will point out that some owners and trainers-- even the executioner (I mean vet)-- do make some attempt to find homes for the nicer, sound Thoroughbreds. But that's not good enough.

As a horse lover, it was an upsetting article to read. I'll try to make myself feel better by stepping outside and feeding a handful of carrots to Wally.

Please share your thoughts by clicking on "comments" below or emailing me at:


Anonymous said...

Oh wow, that's terrible! What do they do with all the bodies? Does the U.S. slaughter ban extend to Puerto Rico? I hate to hear of perfectly good horses going to such terrible fates. It isn't even as bad for our Mustangs. People are trying to help Mustangs, and I am very fortunate to be a part of that; I am a trainer for the 2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover which is helping people realize the worth and trainability of these wonderful horses and get them adopted. Can't something like that be done for off the track Thoroughbreds? I'm sure there would be a large number of trainers ready to step in an help rehabilitate the horses.

Anonymous said...

Personally I think they have a better plan for their race horses then we do here in the U.S. At least there it is a option. Here they get shipped off to slaughter or dumped on whom ever can take them, often on to someone who can not handle a OTT, so that the horse is left out in the pasture,or holed up in a stall turning even wilder. Many get neglected beyond hope. For me it is better to kill the horse humanely then left in such conditions.

Anonymous said...

I agree with what Anna horse lover likes to hear about this sort of thing, but when you think about the alternatives atleast this is a more humane option.

Cindy Hale said...

You all make valid points, as did the people who emailed me.

Christina, I don't believe what occurs in Puerto Rico would be considered "slaughter" as it's done at a vet clinic vs. a kill plant.

I completely AGREE that it's more humane to have a licensed vet euthanize the horses rather than simply turn them loose in the countryside to fend for themselves. However... I just can't stomach the thought that the horses are viewed as just a by-product of racing. We definitely have the same sort of problem in this country, but at least there are some chances for re-homing an OTTB.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's awful! I think it's worse for dogs & cats in Peurto Rico; I won't go into any detail. But still, that's just awful.