I'm a horse lover. I watch every leg of the Triple Crown to see the horses: Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont.
I watch in awe, and I watch in fear.
I'm in awe of the horses: their strength, beauty, and will to persevere and win (ie, SURVIVE).
I'm in fear of the industry that pushes them to win and what may happen in that pursuit as we sit watching.
Two things to consider about this industry outside of the nefarious gambling associated with it:
1.) As a horse lover, how can I not be heart-broken when I read about the orphaned foals whose mothers are rented out as "nurse mares" to the top bred Thoroughbred foals, their own dams shipped off to be re-bred? Most people can't imagine this scenario, but for Thoroughbreds, a mare must be "Live Covered", meaning she has to be shipped to the stallion rather than artificially inseminated. The top-tier-foal she leaves behind on her annual breeding (you have to maximize those breeding years) needs to be nursed. Thus, the leased "nurse mare" who comes in to do the job. The nurse mare, in order to have milk, also must produce a foal, but those foals are removed from the mare and sold to Last Chance Corral or, I assume, rescue organizations like them or shipped to slaughter.
2.) As a horse lover, how can I not be heart-broken when a horse is put down from injuries sustained in a race? On the same day, same Park, as the now legendary American Pharoah Triple Crown win, another horse, a 4-year-old colt from France named Helwan, broke his left front cannon bone during his race and was put down afterward.
Oh, this wasn't an isolated incident. One week earlier, a 5-year-old horse named Soul House collapsed and died shortly after finishing seventh of 10 horses at Belmont Park. One day before that, a 5-year-old horse named Icprideicpower died at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in upstate New York after a training session. Since January, 43 horses have died in racing or training.
Died in New York, that is.
According to the New York State Gaming Commission, 10 horses have died since Jan. 16 at Belmont Park.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 186 horses died in 2011.
Died in California, that is.
So yes, I celebrate American Pharoah. You bet I do. What a horse. If his feet ever hit the ground, I didn't see it. He was flying! He is a champion. He is perfection.(
But as he ran, I was less concerned about him winning than staying safe. I didn't breathe easy until I saw him the next morning on The Today Show with his jockey and trainer. He was, from what I could tell, healthy and gregarious. He'll now spend his days breeding mares (Live Cover, of course), about a hundred times per year, for an estimated $100,000 per breeding. The "Good Life," right?
Maybe not. If you're curious, read about his sire's life, Pioneerof the Nile, and the challenges getting him to breed mares.
So, I didn't want to write this, but I did. I didn't want to take anything away from American Pharoah, but I couldn't balance that with my hope that the industry is exposed for what it is at its worst--not just celebrated for what it is at its best.
I've lived to see what I never thought I'd see, a Triple Crown winner. Maybe now I'll live to see something else I never thought I'd see, a humane Thoroughbred racing industry.
But is that possible?