Saturday, May 2, 2009

And They're Off!

Okay, it's going to be one of THOSE posts. Today is the running of the Kentucky Derby.
If you like Mint Juleps ( bourbon, ice and mint) and big fancy hats, this day is tailor made for you. If you like horses, not so much of a good day. For years I have grumbled and griped about the horse racing industry. Not only the sheer waste of good horses, but the fact that they are simply running babies flat out, over and over again, from the time they are a mere 20 months old in some cases. There is no doubt Thoroughbreds are bred to run, and love it they do, but no matter the breed, horse physiology is the same. They mature from the ground up, slowly. Simply put, the bones have neither closed, beefed up or hardened by the time those barely 2 & 3 year old's hit the track. They feed them to grow fast, not grow well. Those with big dogs know the issues with too fast growth, the bone never gets dense it's spending so much time growing. Hence on racetracks all over the country horses shatter leg bones, you just don't hear about it. That's the obvious injury, there are a whole host of stress and tendon injuries that will plague an animal for life aside from breakage.
Those that make it off the track are usually bothered for life by bad legs, bad feet and at times, bad attitude. It isn't just the body that is immature. A few in the racing sport have stepped up to the plate and launched rescues for TB's and that is a wonderful thing. For every winner, hundreds if not thousands of horses are bred and raced hoping for a Derby winner, or even a stakes winner. Some make the switch into show jumping, a very few, others might make it into hunters or dressage but the percentage is very very small. Most are destroyed or end up in auctions, useless to themselves or anyone else. It's a sad dirty industry on many levels. There is nothing about racing that is done for the good of the horse. Since this is an equal opportunity blog, racing isn't the only horse related industry that puts terrible strains on their young stock. Quarter Horses in many of the western sports; reining, barrel racing, roping etc, start their babies way too young for those repetitive endeavors. Horses can turn on a dime, run very fast, jump very high and stay collected all on their own, the difference is they don't do it over and over and over again in pursuit of  "perfection". 
Why do they do it? Well, money. It costs a lot to keep a race horse and waiting until they are say 5 means that much more out of pocket, that much more risk holding onto an animal that may or may not pan out on the track. They might be a fraction faster too, since the frame is still immature and the muscle mass long and lean. Mostly it seems to be tradition since there sure isn't a lot of science that goes into starting a horse so young. They spend all that energy on trying to keep the animal sound once they have decided to run them as babies. 
For me, the winner of the races are the noble young equine athletes that manage to finish their race without injury.


  1. You know, I never realized until I read this post, that running such young horses is why horses have so many leg injuries during races. It totally makes sense....but I never realized it.

    Another thing I didn't realize til some of your comments today is that you actually are heading east for a visit. I know you've been saying stuff about it for months, but I somehow didn't realize it would actually happen. I sort of thought you were joking.

    I'm sounding less than brilliant, aren't I? I might not catch on quick, but at least I catch on!!


  2. Very interesting post. I didn't know anything about this either and appreciate your very clear and compelling explanation.


  3. Gals,

    There was a nice article about racing and such on MSNBC yesterday. I should have gotten the link. Anyway, I'm glad you both found my rant interesting.

    Sue, yes I really do go to MA every spring. I like lobster and my parents enough to get on the exploding tin can of doom. ;-)

  4. I had a rescue greyhound for a couple of years. It's the same thing, only smaller animals. I saw the jockey interviewed after the race, flanked by the owners on either side of him. They looked like thugs.