Since the filly Eight Belles was euthanized at the Kentucky Derby after breaking both ankles, race horse welfare has come into question.
Death of Eight Belles at Kentucky Derby Raises Horse Welfare Concerns
It is unusual for a filly to be able to compete successfully with male horses in the sport of horse racing. Eight Belles was the exception to this rule, and managed to come in second in the Kentucky Derby this year. Unfortunately, this valiant effort cost her life. The filly had to be euthanized due to shattered ankles. This horrible accident has led to questions concerning animal welfare issues surrounding the “sport of kings”, which include excessive use of the whip, performance or pain-masking drugs, and race horse health management in general.
The Jockey Club could contribute to the general health of race horses by moving the official birth date of January 1 to sometime in the spring. Foals born during inclement winter weather may be excessively confined. Foals confined to stalls are more likely to develop foot problems such as contracted heels, and have less opportunity to exercise and build strong bones and tendons. There is also the problem of foals born in December that are regarded as yearlings because they were born before January 1. Some of these foals have been destroyed in the past simply for being born at the wrong time of year.
Thoroughbred horses start their careers at a tender age. On some farms, they may even start training under saddle as early as thirteen months of age. Actual racing starts at the age of two, even though a horse’s legs are not fully developed till the age of three. Starting young horses too early can result in major injuries to bones and tendons. When pain causes a racehorse to stop performing, pain-masking drugs may b used. The use of drugs causes the horse to further damage himself, running his heart out because he can’t feel the pain that would normally keep him from straining a tendon, or breaking leg. Permissive drug policy on U.S. tracks is risking the lives of horses, and jockeys as well, since riders can be severely injured or killed when a horse goes down. Drugs should not be used to keep injured horses on the track.
Broken down race horses are quickly discarded, as trainers charge several hundred dollars or more per month to keep a horse. Though responsible race horse owners do make efforts to find homes for their retired race horse, unwanted horses can end up rotting in back pastures, or sent to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. Better health management of race horses would give them a chance at a second career after retiring from the track. Please help support the efforts of race horse rescue and adoption operations – especially now, when feed prices are higher than ever.
Submitted by J.R. Wise, author of “Give a Horse a Second Chance: Adopting and Caring for Rescue Horse.”
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