As if it wasn't enough that several top-level event horses have suffered mortal injuries during competition in recent months. Now the Kentucky Derby, perhaps the most hallowed horse race in America, has been marred by a death on the track. You might have missed the whole thing, because it occurred about a quarter of a mile past the finish line. The highly-regarded filly in the race, Eight Belles, finished a game second to the brawny Big Brown. But once the field galloped out-- sort of an opportunity for the jockeys to rein in and slow down the speedsters before turning around and trotting back to the barn-- Eight Belles stumbled and fell. She'd fractured both front ankles, to the point that the bones were protruding from the skin. And there, in the midst of the curve of the far turn of Churchill Downs, while crowds were cheering the return of the victor to the winner's circle, Eight Belles was quietly euthanized.
Why are we killing so many of our horses?
I know, "things happen" in intense, athletic competitions. Heck, human athletes get hurt all the time. Careers are ended when a ball player twists his arm wrong or takes a bad step and rips his knee. But you know what? Humans can make the conscious choice to step onto that playing field. They can verbally say to someone, "Hey, my ankle just isn't feeling right today. Can I see the doc'? Or perhaps I could sit this one out." And if a human athlete does get injured, it's for sure he doesn't undergo some x-rays or an MRI and then have a surgeon look at him solemnly and say, "I'm sorry, Joe, but there's nothing modern medicine can do for that broken bone or those torn tendons. Say your good-byes because we're going to have to euthanize you. I promise. It won't hurt a bit."
My little rant isn't meant to put any outright blame on the competitors who were riding horses that got mortally injured or the trainers who saddled them up and sent them into battle. I'm quite certain they're grieving beyond measure. However, I'll share a little analogy.
Several years ago I had a fairly common surgery. My doctor was just a big ol' sweetie pie fellow, the kind of guy who epitomized everyone's big brother. I liked him a lot. I ended up hemorrhaging during the operation, requiring a blood transfusion and ending up in ICU. He was absolutely distraught and I felt sorry for him. Once I was stabilized and coherent, I told him, "Look, things go wrong sometimes. It wasn't your fault."
He replied, "Cindy, you weren't bleeding to death when you went in to the operating room, so of course what happened was my fault."
Eight Belles wasn't dead when she started the Kentucky Derby, so...
While we'll never prevent every injury that happens to horses used in performance events, we should-- we must-- be able to minimize their occurrence. Instead, sadly, it seems that they're happening more frequently. Though there are few things more glorious than horse and human competing together as a team, whether it's in barrel racing, showjumping, western pleasure, endurance riding or horse racing, we as a horse loving society must do more to ensure that the risks are not too high simply so that our rewards are greater. So what if the time to finish the course (or the race) is not a record breaker, or if the jumps are a little lower or less demanding? At least our horses might be safer. And the unavoidable sports injuries that do occur will likely be less fatal in their prognosis. The blue ribbons and gleaming trophies will be so much more treasured if they aren't marred by tragedy.
Of course, this is only my opinion.
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