Monday, April 27, 2009

The Luck of the Irish Part Two

Yesterday, I talked about Shorty's self-preservation habits and work ethic with the phrase, "Luck of the Irish." For a horse born on March 17th, St. Patrick's Day, the implications are purely coincidental, but somehow meaningful to me anyways (I always try to assign meaning to the various aspects of my life, even when it makes no sense to do so).

The phrase, "Luck of the Irish" has another meaning for Shorty. Unlike thousands of Shorty's "peers" in racing, Shorty was adopted from the racetrack and eventually found his way to a home. Real Sports, an HBO program, did an excellent expose on racing last year after the dramatic death of Eight Belles, the filly that nearly won the Kentucky Derby, only to fracture both front legs at the end of the race.

Here's a synopsis: “Hidden Horses: Few casual horse racing fans are aware that many former racing horses are slaughtered for profit. When a thoroughbred race horse reaches the end of its career or is simply no longer profitable on the track, it is often taken directly to auction and sold for meat. Because horse slaughter is no longer practiced in this country, these thoroughbreds are now being shipped by ‘killer buyers’ to slaughterhouses abroad, which are frequently less regulated and less humane than former U.S. slaughterhouses. Correspondent Bernard Goldberg, who recently won the 2008 Sports Emmy(r) for Outstanding Sports Journalism for his 2007 REAL SPORTS story on the NFL concussion crisis, traces the disturbing journey many of these young and healthy horses take from the track, to auctions, to slaughterhouses, and finally to the plates of European and Japanese diners who pay top dollar for the delicacy.”

I was able to find a rather rough version (by rough, I mean someone filmed their TV, but the information is still relevant and the sound isn't bad) on Youtube. Be warned; the video contains graphic imagery.

And here we are at the heart of the issue: Hundreds of thousands of horses are bred to be racing potential in the United States. Only a percentage of them actually make it to the track due to improper breeding and poor foal raising. Even breeding a great dam and sire does not gaurantee a high-quality foal, although good confirmation and smart breeding practices go a long way. Others never make it through the rigorous training programs imposed on horses at an extremely young age. Of those that do race, odd are slim to none that they will retire peacefully with no injuries, chronic pain issues, or other forms of mental or physical issues.

Shorty is one of the lucky ones, even with old injuries and arthritis. The horses at TB Friends and Old Friends Retirement are the lucky ones, along with other rescues that actually take good care of the animals in their barns. And what happens to the rest? Many end up on double-decker trailers meant for smaller livestock like sheep and goats, bound for Mexico or Canada. It is a long, hot, and cramped ride. Fugly Horse of the Day did a great post on double deckers, again, beware of very graphic images.

Other horses end up in the hands of ignorant horse owners with little understanding of ethical training methods and the meaning of the word patience. Shorty ended up in the hands of an ignorant owner for four years before he was nearly sold in an auction by his owner, allowing me to step in and claim ownership of the horse.

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