In the wake of Eight Belles' unfortunate accident and subsequent euthanization at the Kentucky Derby, the age old question of "Is horse racing animal abuse?" has annoyingly been brought up again. Naturally no one ever asks this question when a horse isn't dead on the track, but we'll let that slide for now.
So far the two biggest outcries have come from PETA and the New York Times.
PETA - which is almost impossible to take seriously anymore - wants the jockey of Eight Belles, Gabriel Saez, suspended for not preventing the injury. PETA faxed a letter Sunday to Kentucky's racing authority claiming the filly was "doubtlessly injured before the finish." Although how in the world they would know that is beyond me - or even Eight Belles' trainer.
The second, more plausible attack on horse racing comes form the Times. William Rhoden wrote an editorial condemning the sport on a number of levels. Here's one of the key quotes.
The sport is at least as inhumane as greyhound racing and only a couple of steps removed from animal fighting.Now, the easy thing to do here is to simply say, sure, I agree with both of these arguments on some level. I love animals. Horse racing sucks.
But you know what, I'm not going to do that.
That's because first of all, as I've said before, there's no reason to ever take PETA seriously. They simply like being in the news, and they'll say whatever ridiculous thing they can to draw attention to themselves. I don't even need to waste my time lambasting their argument.
But I also don't follow Rhoden's logic either. He's overly dramatic, and too black and white, on an issue that is anything but clear.
But let's be clear about one thing. Regardless of what your thoughts on horse racing are, it isn't dogfighting. And despite what Rhoden may think, horse racing is way more than a few steps removed from cockfighting or dogfighting.
The horses aren't put in a ring and forced to fight each other to the death. They're trained to run fast for a short period of time. Yes they're bred in a way that makes them more likely to break certain bones, but they aren't poked with knives or electrocuted to make them extremely aggressive.
Rhoden also makes this incredibly bold claim about horse racing as well.
This is bullfighting.You know what William, it's not. I've been to bullfights in Spain before. There, every time a bull enters the ring, you know it's eventually going to be killed. And it's going to be stabbed multiple times by the picadors and then the matador. And at the very end, the matador is going to try and stab it right between the eyes with a sword in an attempt to kill it quickly - after it's been suffering for the past half hour. And sometimes the matador misses and has to try a few extra times, and it gets pretty disgustingly bloody.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but horse racing isn't quite the same.
Rhoden also makes the rather lame argument that horses race for profit but don't share in any of it. Except that, you know, they're cared for 24 hours a day and they can't spend money anyway because they're a horse.
I'm not saying that what happened to Eight Belles isn't unfortunate, but it's worth putting in some perspective. Most race horses are treated quite well and cared for better than a number of human beings are - like say Barbaro. Don't think there aren't human beings out there who could have used the equivalent kind of medical treatment that was spent on Barbaro.
On top of all that, if race horses aren't a philly like Eight Belles, they get to spend the rest of their lives breeding. Ask any one of Michael Vick's pitbulls if he'd prefer that to dogfighting - even at the risk of maybe dying on the track while racing - and he'd probably say whatever the dog equivalent of yes is.
In my mind, it's stupid to overgeneralize and paint an inappropriate picture of horse racing. Is it animal abuse? Yes, on some level it certainly is. But is it anywhere near bullfighting or dogfighting? Not a chance in hell.
Until you fully understand what the problems of the sport are and address them rationally - unlike PETA and Rhoden - nothing beneficial for the animals involved will ever happen.