Tag Archives: thoroughbreds

Racing young horses at reckless speeds needs to stop

By Kathy Guillermo

If you thought your 9-year-old son had the makings of a great football player, would you force him, under threat of whipping, to conduct extreme physical drills designed for the top college prospects just to impress NFL scouts? Fortunately, that wouldn’t come until some 10 years and a hundred pounds later.

Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t so lucky. Before they are ever entered in a race, juvenile horses, some of whom are not even 2 years old, are being forced to sprint at top speeds on fragile, undeveloped bones and joints for an eighth of a mile—sometimes to their deaths. This is an ugly first step into an industry that exploits animals as commodities and then throws them out like trash when their bodies are worn out and broken.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went undercover to document what happens at the “under tack shows” that thoroughbred auction companies put on before the annual auctions. The sprints are meant to impress potential buyers, and young horses are made to run at speeds faster than they ever would in an actual race.

PETA’s video footage shows terrified horses panicking and running into guard rails. Some suffer career-ending injuries or catastrophic breakdowns in which their still-developing bones snap like twigs.

One of the horses captured on video suffered a compound fracture of her cannon bone while being pushed hard to sprint at breakneck speed at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Auction in Timonium, Maryland, on May 19. Fragments of bone can be seen exploding from her foot.

Because the auction failed to cancel the event despite unsafe weather and track conditions, PETA has asked the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office to bring cruelty-to-animals charges against the auction.

PETA also videotaped another young horse who suffered a fatal burst aorta when pushed to sprint in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auction in Florida on June 19. The danger of sprinting in severe heat is well known in the racing industry, and some tracks cancel races in such weather. PETA is urging the county attorney to file charges against the company for violating Florida’s anti-cruelty laws.

Recklessly endangering—and even killing—very young, inexperienced horses simply to put on a show for potential buyers is animal abuse, plain and simple. It’s also what happens when animals are viewed as “investment opportunities” rather than individual beings.

PETA has sent thoroughbred auction companies a list of simple, lifesaving recommendations, including preventing horses under 2 years of age from sprinting, eliminating the timing of sprints, mandating that under tack shows be postponed in unsafe weather conditions and banning whips and other devices that force the horses to run at excessive speeds. It’s time for the “sport of kings” to do right by the animals it claims to love.

Kathy Guillermo is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Plan would spare thousands of horses from slaughter

By Kathy Guillermo

U.S. thoroughbred racing is an industry of numbers. Consider the projected statistics for 2011 alone:

The number of horses running in the Kentucky Derby: no more than 20.

The number of thoroughbred foals born: 24,900.

The number of thoroughbreds who will die on the track: 1,000.

The number of thoroughbreds cast off by the racing industry: 21,000.

The number of thoroughbreds sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico: 10,000.

Crunch those numbers and the conclusion is obvious. There are too many thoroughbreds born, too few retirement options, and way too many violent deaths.

The racing industry should be ashamed of these numbers — and of course every number isn’t a number at all, but a living, breathing being. When horses who have given their all can no longer race because they’re injured or too old, or when they stop turning a profit, most owners and trainers rid themselves of these animals by sending them to a livestock auction. One out of every two thoroughbreds sold at auction ends up in a slaughterhouse.

The Jockey Club, through which all foals must be registered and which is the only horse racing authority in a position to impose a fee that applies to all thoroughbreds in all racing states, responded to this crisis with its Retirement Checkoff program, a voluntary donation that can be made when owners submit required registration papers.

In 2010 this program generated only $43,000 from 30,000 foal registrations—a paltry $1.44 per horse. Even with the Jockey Club’s supplemental donation toward retirement, this absurdly inadequate amount cannot begin to provide for the enormous annual costs of caring for tens of thousands of horses, multiplied by many years of retirement. Recent reports of thoroughbreds being denied adequate food and care in the stables that are supposed to be supported by the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation tragically prove this point.

The racing industry needs to deal with this life and death issue. Thoroughbred retirement is a racing industry obligation, not a voluntary donation.

While the best bet for the horses would be an end to breeding, racing, and killing thoroughbreds altogether, at the very least the racing world must provide a decent retirement for the horses it no longer wants.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has come up with a plan — the Thoroughbred 360 Lifecycle Retirement Fund — to jumpstart this effort. This proposal would require a mandatory $360 retirement fee with every foal registration, a $360 fee for every transfer of ownership, and a $360 fee for each stallion and broodmare registration.

This is affordable for thoroughbred owners and would generate more than $20 million toward retirement. It wouldn’t solve all the problems — clearly the fund would have to be used wisely. This would require proper planning and administration. But without a substantial sum, nothing will be done. Thoroughbreds will continue to be trucked across our borders to their deaths by the tens of thousands.

The Jockey Club should implement this plan before this Triple Crown season ends. Trainers and owners have turned their backs on the animals they claim to love for far too long.


Kathy Guillermo is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.