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October 28, 2011

Race Horses and Rescues

by Melissa
First I want to tell you that when it comes to rescuing animals, I am always first in line.  I currently have a cat that was rescued from the Humane Society on “kill day” and a dog that was rescued from a neglect situation.  The dog came to me with mange and pneumonia; which cost me a small fortune to fix.  And if you’ve been reading my blog up until now, you know I have rescued a mustang.When it comes to horse racing, I do not have problems with the idea of the sport itself.  Horses love to run and are supremely competitive.  I think my own mare was a race horse in another life, as she revels at the idea of leaving another horse in the dust.  That said, the horse racing industry has two very big problems; starting and running horses too young, resulting in permanent debilitating injuries and casting away horses that are no longer needed.In order to reduce horse leg injury, I think that horse racing needs the same overhaul Endurance has received; requiring veterinary soundness checks and increasing age minimums to ensure the horse has enough time to grow before it must be broken to be kept on par with a successful training schedule.  As the rules stand, all horses born in a given year are given the same birthdate, January 1.  That means if a horse is born December 31st 2009, on the books his birthday would be January 1st 2009.  Horses run their maiden runs at 2 years of age; which means it is possible to race a horse that is 1 year and 1 day old; resulting in almost certain long-term injuries.

Many (not all of course) of the racing farms breed large numbers of horses, hoping for the winner.  The horses that are not on winning streaks get cast away. Before the horse slaughter ban, many of these horses were shipped straight to the meat processing plant, but with the ban in place, racehorse farms can’t kill the unwanted horses.  That does not mean they end up happily ever after…. The lucky horses end up in budget-strapped 501.3c organizations, paid for by outside donations (for example  The horses are then “adopted” by private individuals.  The trouble I see with these adoptions is that 1. These organizations should not be budget strapped; these organizations should be fully funded by the racing farms! 2. The vast majority of potential owners are beginners.  Sensitive and reactive, these thoroughbred racehorses are bred for performance, which is seldom compatible with beginners.  While there are numerous Cinderella stories of race horses making great pets, or of them being cross trained into another discipline, many new owners find themselves in over their heads.

Control-Loss Progression

The racehorse “adopters” may quickly find themselves in a dangerous situation that easily spirals out of control.  The common progression is that the horse is spooky and either takes off or throws the rider.  The rider then becomes spooky as well as she fears coming off or being injured by her horse.  The horse now picks up on the external stimuli that spooked him before as well as the rider’s new fearful behavior.  This creates an even bigger problem… and on and on it goes.  The relationship reaches the breaking point when the rider is injured or thrown one too many times, and the horse experience went from a childhood fantasy to a scary and expensive nightmare.

In addition to all of these problems, these race horses have also saturated the market, pushing out reputable breeders who place a high priority on temperament.  Breeders are told not to breed, because there are already too many horses… but if they stop, who will champion the maintenance of good bloodlines that emphasize character?

All of this begs the million dollar question, why are these wealthy race horse breeders not held accountable?  Probably because the passionate organizations that do the horse saving know that if they blow the whistle, the breeders won’t change but go underground and ship horses over the boarder for slaughter.

Do I have an answer on how to deal with this situation?  No, I wish that I did.  I would recommend however, to discontinue any patronage or financial support of the race horse industry.  If you have any ideas for how this issue can be solved, please leave a comment.

Finally, I do want to commend those race horse breeders making names for themselves because of their ability to cross train horses and also keep them healthy and sound.  These breeders are taking big risks among their peers and should be supported and commended for taking on this critical leadership role.  One such group is called Horse First Racing.

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