A Friend of Thoroughbred Racing

Today is a bad day.

I never expected, walking into work today, I would walk out feeling in shock, saddened and confused about the state of racing today.

Lately, there has been a lot of hype and numerous conversations going on about the risks associated with sports that I love. After several fatal falls on the cross-country course this year alone and now two horse deaths at Pimlico in just 4 races today, it’s easy to understand why people are in an uproar.

This conversation is not a new one. People involved in the racing community and eventers near and far know that there are risks associated with these sports. For years, there have been measures taken to increase safety of participants in these events. However, having two horses die at a Pimlico track packed full of racing enthusiasts and casual fans is certain to spark a whole new wave of conversation.

It’s easy to understand why people are upset. We love these beautiful, majestic animals who pour their hearts out for our enjoyment. We have whole industries that center around their athletic ability and to watch them break down participating in a sport that’s supposed to showcase their athleticism is heart-wrenching. There are websites devoted to painting the picture of Thoroughbred racing as a cruel sport, with horses drugged beyond belief, sent to slaughter the second they stop being profitable, and run until they break down and are no longer usable- or worse.

I’m sure these deaths at such a high-profile event will have critics coming out of the woodwork left and right. The people who are only involved in racing once a year- when there’s a big party involved and the hope of another Triple Crown winner is arousing excitement among thousands who no longer care the second Nyquist loses by a nose. These people will quote statistics found online and admonish the racing industry for being so cruel and terrible. But will you ever find these people anywhere near the shedrows, or actively following a foal out of their favorite mare with tears in their eyes as the horse breaks their maiden? Will you ever see these people with a pitchfork in hand, volunteering at an OTTB rescue? Probably not. So, before these “fans” who know nothing of the industry start criticizing the sport that I love- here’s my opinion.

  1. All sports have their inherent risks. Hell, my dad broke his leg 3 times playing soccer. I have been riding and training horses for the greater portion of my 24 years of life and I have never once broken a bone. To criticize a sport because it causes injuries is to criticize every sport that ever existed. And the vast majority of horses don’t break legs on the track or have heart attacks and collapse after winning on 9-1 odds. In fact, over 99% of horses that walk on to a race track, walk off safely afterwards.
  2. No, horses aren’t forced to run. For anyone that’s ever been around horses, you can tell when a horse isn’t keen on doing something. Their 1200 lb body mass can easily tell you when they’ve had enough. Most Thoroughbreds actually enjoy running. Take Homeboykris for example. The 9 year old gelding died doing what he loved doing. Could he have easily been retired as a 5 year old like most other horses? Yes. But he was running and winning until the day he died. With 2 wins in 4 starts this year alone, and a speed figure nearing 100 in March, it’s easy to see this horse loved his job. Don’t believe me? Watch the race replay and tell me you see a broken down, used up horse that hates his job- because you won’t. You’ll see a healthy, in-shape animal, ears perked and head held high as he walked into the winner’s circle, surrounded by the connections that loved him.
  3. Horses have lives after the track. Contrary to popular belief, Thoroughbreds that just aren’t cut out to be racehorses aren’t thrown away like yesterday’s meatloaf. There are dozens of organizations in the United States alone devoted to re-homing horses when they come off the track. Staffed by dedicated and wonderful people, these organizations help thousands of horses find homes and lives outside of racing. And their track connections help. In 2015, over $100,000 was donated to New Vocations by owners and trainers of racehorses to help fund their aftercare program so that their horses can be successful somewhere other than the track. There are aftercare alliances and programs being launched all the time with the sole purpose of increasing demand for horses off-the-track.
  4. Health and safety of horses and jockeys is continuing to improve. Helmets and body protectors are continuously being held to higher standards so that jockeys are safer every time they mount. Veterinary care is also improving year after year. With ultrasounds and x-rays, therapeutic hoof-care and other veterinary practices becoming staples in the shed-rows, horses are being better taken care of every day.

I sit at a desk every day talking with racing offices around the country and building files for all the data you see in the programs when you walk into tracks across the country. Hundreds, if not thousands, of races cross my desk and it shocks and saddens me to hear of fatalities in the sport. It’s not a daily occurrence.

I take horses off the track and re-train them to succeed in other careers. I work with these animals every day and see the heart they have for whatever they do. I know the trainers and have seen behind the scenes, where the horse’s connections know their every move and have their utmost health and safety in mind. I know the love owners, trainers and jockeys have for this sport and for their horses because I have seen it first hand.

I help a thoroughbred aftercare program by processing adoption applications. I see how in-demand these horses are after they are done racing. I know how excited people are to bring these animals into their lives and to develop them into something other than a racehorse- something just as great.

Overall, yes it’s a time to be sad and it’s a time to be frustrated. But instead of berating the industry and jumping to conclusions, let’s take the time to think this through logically. Yes, it’s a sad day for racing, but let’s rally around the industry in support. Donate to research to improve health and safety standards. Volunteer at aftercare programs and rescues. Be a friend of the horses by being a friend of the industry.

18 thoughts on “A Friend of Thoroughbred Racing

  1. Well said, Lindsey, with heart & intelligent opinions! I’m older than you are, with a lifetime of experience, but we absolutely share passions for horse welfare – not limited to racing! I know the trainer & family, who lost Homeboykris yesterday, They’re friends with highly regarded reputations for their devotion & dedication to horses. They are not humans who would abuse ANY animal – as many “backyard” owners, ethnic groups & the BLM do regularly – – then send tormented & broken animals to auction & ultimately slaughter. The uninformed public bases broad opinions on what they see…as opposed to facts. The best informed, insiders can do is make every effort to inspire changes & protect ALL animals … through hands on advocacy. Thank you for taking time & thought with your excellent message!

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      1. Nancy white

        Thank you, I agree with everything you wrote. I love the horses. I notice how a lot of people turned on Nyquist and his connections. It really hurts when horses die. Saturday i was down all day after the bad news, but I understand. We suppose to enjoy them while they are here. I picked Nyquist months before K Derby to win I just loved him. I just knew he would win. I don’t bet i just follow their careers. I have about 200 horses in my horse family. I tell people when I go to heaven, i want to help take care of the horses. A very good article and straight to the point. Have a wonderful day!

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  2. Suzy Armacost

    There are a lot less deaths in racing then there used to be. It is much safer. I remember going to Charlestown races in the winter time, and there were so many horrific snapped legs, ect. The racing surfaces are so much more modernized, and they are more likely to call the races off when the track just doesn’t seem ‘right’.

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  3. Pamela Giovanelli

    your opinions are well thought out but much more needs to be done; first and foremost, you do not race a 2 year old; the ossification process is not complete and people wonder why so many 2 year olds break down and don’t make it til they’re 3.

    i love horses; i own two – one is an off the track thoroughbred (rescue) and the other a “mutt”. but, these owners are in it for profit and there are still too many legal drugs (Lasix, etc) that can be used. how long did it take for glucocorticoid steroids to be banned?

    over 20,000 are sent to slaughter each year and while some are rehabbed, much more needs to be done. the horse i lesson on is a ex-racehorse from california (McCovey) and is doing great as a hunter/equitation horse.

    while i can understand your commitment to these horses and your love of racing, you and others in the industry must admit that more needs to be done to ensure the safety of these horses. there is an insidious underside to racing and the horses bear the brunt.

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  4. Keylar

    Much of what you write is usually true, but I worked at race tracks for years, and unfortunately saw a lot of what I’d consider mistreatment of horses that didn’t race well, that would be raced even with injuries and serious threat of breaking down in cheap, claiming races, often with not nearly enough rest between races and yes, often with drugs that help hide their issues, hoping someone else would buy the horse before they were worth nothing, and then getting mad at the horse for losing when they had no chance of winning anyway. These trainers wouldn’t do anything illegal but certainly didn’t treat the losers with anywhere near the same kind of care and concern that the horses that won got. It can often be a very different world in the everyday, local racing scene than the pampering that stakes race horses get. Ultimately, any industry that is primarily based around winning and making money is always going to push the limits of what is considered cruel.

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  5. Gail Stahlbaum

    I also in agreement that the “sport of kings”, has a diverse population of horse owners and trainers. From the huge billionaire stables to “gyps” trying to win the last race at Charlestown. Some are caring of their money making animals and others are caring of the money making only! So with so many racetracks all over the US and Canada, the breeding aspect of tge the businesss is of course always producing and breeding more horses. My question is where do they all go? If everyone in the United States adopted an unwanted ex racer, there would still be an excess. So how about limitinge the amount of times a stallion can be bred and closing some of the struggling “gyp”tracks and put equestrian centers in place of. And of course what should already be in place but isnt, No racing until a horse is 3 years of age!! Thanks for a well written article.

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  6. mhorn

    If “horse lives matter”, maybe organizations like PETA could get on rescuing and rehoming the many thousands of Amish work-horse throw-aways that are sent to slaughter every year, rather than riding the wave of sensationalism as they always do whenever a race horse dies at a nationally televised event. Horses are mistreated in lots of varying settings outside of racing. At least racing is *trying* to right it’s wrongs.

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    1. Exactly! What goes on with other horses doesn’t get the headlines a horse dying on Preakness day does, however, and PETA is looking for HEADLINES they can use to further generate donations from those who are ignorant (which there are too many of in our society).

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      1. mhorn

        The horse, “Charles”, that escorted the Preakness winner to the winners circle this year was himself a rescue. The operator of a TB rescue saw him malnourished and near death in the paddock of a PRIVATE horse farm. She took him in and nursed him back to health, not caring that he wasn’t a TB. Now he has a owner who loves him (the Pimlico outrider who rides him) and a job he loves too!

        Kind of ironic that a TB rescue and a race track employee came together to rescue and give a good life to a starving, abused horse that was not owned by anyone associated with racing!! Again, these stories about racing people/horses don’t make headlines but those of us closer to the sport than the average public hear about them on a regular basis.

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  7. This is a point that gets lost on many. There are too many who assume Homeboykris was mistreated because of too many other trainers who have known reputations for abusing horses and going too far with them. That mentality is a BIG problem.

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  8. Iris Dugas

    Unfortunately, we will all die one day, and I hope I die doing something I love. Animals die every day, that’s just the way it is. No one wants that to happen, people lose their pets everyday. Horses are the same. I have 12 who are living the grand life, but I know one day I’ll walk out and find one of them has crossed the rainbow bridge. The only way to never feel that pain is to never have an animal, and what kind of life would that be. We are all here for a short time, people and animals alike, whether they are racehorses or lap dogs.

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  9. nanzyb

    I am sad for the horses that die as the result of ill treatment, or when the accident could have been averted. But really, Homeboy Kris died after running in(and winning) a race, which he obviously relished from his demeanor on the gallop out and succumbed to heart attack on this way back to his own barn. He was 10 and enjoying his life and it seems that there are a lot worse ways to go.

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