As a general rule, I don’t approve of governmental meddling in sports, so long as the issue at hand isn’t one of genuine public interest. With that said, a part of me is gratified that Congress–overstepping its mandate or not–is scrutinizing the horse-racing industry.
I approach this issue as someone for whom animal welfare is a cherished cause. So the fact that as many as 800 North American thoroughbreds die on the race track each year troubles me quite a bit. Change, sweeping change, is needed.
A cousin of mine is a large-animal veterinarian, and she’s received commendations for her equine-rescue work. So I asked her recently whether she thought horse racing was inhumane. Her answer surprised me: “No,” she said. “Horses love to run.”
She’s right, of course: horses do love to run. And run they should. But what we have now is an endeavor that’s far outside the ordinary course of nature. Prior to a race, horses are pumped up with steroids, pain-masking medications, anti-inflammatory drugs, drugs that control bleeding in the lungs–anything to make the horse run faster and keep her going when she should be resting and convalescing. Predictably enough, the injuries, often fatal, follow.
Of course, if those horses happen to survive their racing years, then, well, even winning the Kentucky Derby won’t necessarily keep them out of a Japanese slaughter house.
So clean up the sport. Rid it of the drugs, impose stiff penalties for racing injured horses, and institute the uniform application of synthetic tracks. Then it’ll be something as natural as the oats-and-hay diet: horses running.