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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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From My Window

Issue Date: May 22, 2019

Horse Racing

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

For some reason, one of my sisters and I became horse-crazy little girls. Our great-grandfather, Edward Thibodeau, owned a mare named "Maggie" he doted on - but she was not just the apple of his eye, she was his transportation as she pulled a buggy on the streets of Peshtigo. But the love of horses skipped a few generations in the family after that, since my Grandfather Lawrence told of being "hoisted off his feet" in the stable when Maggie picked him up by the shoulder; and my dad, probably influenced by this story, never cared for horses either.

When we were little, we anxiously awaited the Kentucky Derby, since it was one of the few TV programs featuring horses other than westerns and "Mr. Ed" the talking horse. My Dad's friend, Sam would organize a ten-cent "betting pool" among his kids and my siblings and I on Derby Day; and we watched and cheered our choices in the big race. My exposure to racing was limited to what little was televised annually. But when we moved to Oklahoma, there was a track in Tulsa. So we took our horse-crazy daughter to watch the races in person.

I would compare the experience to my reaction to watching a rodeo in person vs what you see on television. In short, there is no comparison, and after a couple visits I never wanted to attend a rodeo again. The treatment of the equine and bovine participants is tough to watch; I saw a bucking horse literally dragged out of an arena on its side. Horses endure a painful "bucking strap" and raking spurs - while bucking is a naturally occurring behavior, the straps and spurs are not. And watching calves roped around their necks slammed to a stop by hitting the end of the rope and flipping was not enjoyable to me, nor was the use of cattle prods to cause them to "shoot out" for the roping; even the incessant lashing of the barrel horses with the reins turns me off.

In my time at live racing tracks (smaller bush-league tracks) I saw horses euthanized right in front of the grandstand from leg injuries; take terrible falls when their legs got tangled with those of another horse, causing a pileup; and loose horses running into guardrails and gravely injured. I also saw jockeys fall and get run over; this is also horrible to watch; but they willingly chose their job, the horses do not. In fact you see horses who want no part of what they are made to do; and the use of drugs for horses, while illegal, lurks.

Every year, about 20,000 registered Thoroughbreds are born in the U.S. A tiny fraction of them go on to be successful race horses. Those unsuitable for racing may be kept for breeding if they have excellent bloodlines; and some amount of the rest are used for other purposes like show hunters/jumpers, polo, fox hunting or eventing.

But substantial numbers of failed racehorses are left with no "job" to earn their keep. There are some organizations who rescue those horses and retrain them for new jobs as riding horses; but about 80,000 U.S. horses cross the borders to Canada and Mexico every year destined for slaughter. (These are all kinds of horse breeds; and even foals and yearlings can be found on slaughter trucks.)

Even a moderately successful racehorse can end up on one of these trucks; many horses incur injuries on the track. Horses normally begin racing at two years of age; most horses in other disciplines are not even broken to saddle until they are physically mature at three years. This early stress on their immature fragile legs leads to lots of injuries; and a horse that can't run is not earning any money.

Just last weekend on the Friday racing leadup to the 2019 Preakness Stakes a lovely filly named Congrats Gal collapsed and died on the track after finishing a race. And anyone who watched the horror of Barbero shattering his leg on camera during the 2006 Preakness will never forget the sight.

Then there is the nasty business of "nurse foals." Since high-value Thoroughbred brood mares can only have one foal a year, owners want those mares bred back the minute they have a foal. Mares normally go into a heat cycle right after birth, but since they must sometimes travel right away to visit the chosen stallion to be bred, a nurse mare is sometimes employed to take care of the high value baby. Those mares are low value animals, the only necessary quality is that they have just given birth themselves. Hundreds of the nurse mare's own foals, removed from their mothers, are a by-product of this business need. Some are removed from the mother immediately at birth; others within a day or two. And many of the lucky ones end up at the Last Chance Corral in Texas, a charity that takes in the "waste" foals and tries to find homes for them. Imagine a foal a few hours old loaded onto a truck without its mother to be shipped to Texas. (You can google them or find them on Facebook if you find this sad situation as hard to believe as I did.) The high value foal gets a foster mom, the newborn nurse foal loses its mom and, if lucky, gets a stressful truck trip to a horse orphanage.

I don't want horse racing to end. It is one of the world's oldest sports; and it is one of the few ways most people see the beauty and glory of horses. There are thousands of horse-loving people involved in the racing industry. But more can and should be done to ensure horses discarded by the racing industry have avenues to a long and happy life; it should be the responsibility of the owners to ensure their horse does not end up jammed on a truck being hauled out of our country to unregulated slaughter in Mexico. California is experimenting with a ban on whips - the present metal-cored leather wrapped whips are being replaced with dense foam bats much less likely to injure or cause pain to horses. (There is no sense arguing "racing" is natural to horses if you have to whip them to get them to run. It's like saying fighting dogs is "natural" - dogs do fight naturally but it is not natural that they are trained and conditioned to do so and then put into pits urged on by their owners where retreat is not an option, as it is in nature.)

Any time there are large amounts of money and animals it pays to look carefully at what "price" the animals are paying.

We have a registered Thoroughbred horse. "Replica" is now 22, happily retired from his career as a show hunter. He never set foot on a race track. We know he was born in Arizona, fathered by Sky Harbor. He spent time in Texas, where we bought him for our daughter. He was a gifted athlete but earned his barn name, "Oscar the Grouch." After our time in Oklahoma, he came to Wisconsin with us, because finding a safe place for an old horse is difficult. Sell him, lose track of him, and have a nightmare of him on a truck to the border. He is well taken care of and enjoys the company of "Ugly Betty" an equally senior rescue Quarter Horse. Oscar is a "good mover." Betty may be one of the worst movers I ever saw. My plan is they will live out their natural lives here with us, comfortable and well cared for.

He still has the long, lean athletic build of his breed. An attractive bay with two white hind feet, black stockings, mane and tail and a forehead star, he is lovely standing still but even better when he's running around, rearing and bucking as he and Betty let off some of their senior steam. It is my dream that every horse have a retirement like theirs.

Trivia: A classmate from Angela's early days at Holy Family School in Marinette is a professional jockey, riding at Saratoga in New York as well as Australia and other tracks. Salute to Kali! And reader Pam is a veritable encyclopedia of information about her favorite horse, the immortal Secretariat. While his glory days of racing were in the early ඎ's, Pam watches and knows his descendants racing today, and cheers them on like the horse fan she is.

You can reach me for commentary, alternative viewpoints or ideas at this e-mail address: JanieTMartin@gmail.com.




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