5 Feb 2008

The Fate of Working Horses

In the movie of Black Stallion, the horse was slated to be a race horse but soon was passed downwards from roles to roles, until he was rescued by his former owner.

Thoroughbred Race Horse In the real life, the killing of horses for human consumption is a controversial and hushed-up business in English-speaking countries. In Australia, it is illegal to eat horse meat, but the only two horse abattoirs there still slaughter horses for export. In 2003, 10,000 horses were killed and 3,000 tonnes of horse meat were exported. In the United States, the last three facilities were effectively put off operation by court cases in 2007; two of the abattoirs are located in Texas and the other one in Illinois. Today, the American horses are now being trucked across the borders to be slaughter in Canada and Mexico. In Canada, six licensed facilities imported about 30,000 American horses. Statistics Canada shows 80,000 horses slaughtered in 2007 and 50,000 in 2006; horse meat exports worth C$70 million in 2007.

The horses bound to slaughter come from various sources - the wild horses, the work horses and the race horses. It seems that a high percentage are Thoroughbreds in correspondence to the use of horses. The slaughter of injured, retired and non-winning racehorses remains a very convenient option for horse owners. Putting down and disposing the horse cost a little sum of money, but selling the horses on the other hand brings some income.

In the heated debate, a horse slaughter prohibition act has been re-introduced to the U.S. Congress in 2008. The act is to prohibit the shipping, transporting, moving, delivering, receiving, possessing, purchasing, selling, or donation of horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption, and for other purposes. At this moment the horse lovers, supported by celebrities such as Bo Derek and Willie Nelson, campaign to stop horses from being slaughtered for meat in Canada.

The Canadian Horse Defense Coalition Campaign now at least calls for tougher federal laws to protect horses in Canada, saying that current legislation allows the animals to travel for as long as 36 hours without a stop for food or water. In addition, a few lucky race horses are rescued from slaughter every years by nonprofit organizations, such as The LongRun Thoroughbred Retirement Society in Ontario, Canada.

However, horse lovers recognize slaughter is a necessary. If the unwanted horses are not killed for human food, then there are endless ways to dispose the horses — pet food factory, zoos, tanneries, fertilizer plants, etc. One should be careful in considering this debate which might lead the horses to much more sadder fates. The horses are very intelligent and sensitive. If someone know about them, the horses like the other livestock are brave enough to pass through life as a dark tunnel. At the end of the dark tunnel, it will be light.

Tragic Accident at the Kentucky Derby

On Saturday, 3 May 2008, a jovial crowd of 157,770 witnessed another tragic death of horses at a race track. As soon as Eight Belles, the only filly among a field of 19 colts, passed the finish line, she fell to the dirt track. She shattered her front ankles and could not get up again. It was necessary to euthanize the horse before the fans. After this accident, the 20 year-old jockey Gabrial Saez was criticized to have whipped the filly too hard; Eight Belles finished second after the winner Big Brown. With the similar injury of Barbaro's and his subsequent death after the 2006 Preakness still fresh in the mind, no one could not disagree that racing is an extreme and strenuous sport for horses and the riders.

However, the jockey should not be blamed onerously to cause the death. According to the president of Kentucky Derby Bob Evans, this kind of accident was very rare. Her trainer Larry Jones was also at loss how the filly broke her ankles. From the outsider's viewpoint, the weight of the filly and the 116 pounds she carried should not have made her front legs snapped suddenly under normal racing circumstances.

In Canada, every horse is visually examined before every race, although the examiner sometimes might allow a horse with a very minor problem to run. An artificial track made of soil and grounded-up plastic materials is currently used at the Woodbine race track in Toronto, Ontario. This new all-weather track is said to minimize the pounding stress on the feet and legs of horses and is a significant improvement to the racing industry. Nonetheless, some writers have an opinion that the thoroughbreds are now bred too strong for their slim legs. In the future, the autopsy of Eight Belles and scientific researches might be needed to reveal the cause of this accident.

After this tragedy, some are now calling for reforms or total ban of the thoroughbred racing. Fast money is of course a primary factor in horse racing, but the high speed always carry a risk factor in all speed sports, for horses or even for humans. In this particular incident, the trainer scratched Eight Belles from the preceding big race, the Kentucky Oaks, to save her for the Derby. His gamble paid off at the Oaks, as his another filly triumphantly won. His gamble on Eight Belles also succeeded - in the sense of making money, although the horse died.