This Saturday is the 144th Kentucky Derby. As we have several Thoroughbreds at Hanaeleh, I thought it would be interesting to get a horse’s point-of-view of the race.
I was bred to race, although you would not know it from my conformation. My mother’s name is Florecita and my sire is Mud Route, the son of Strawberry Road, a famous Thoroughbred racehorse in New Zealand. I was weaned from my mother at a scant four months so she could be bred again, so I never really learned how to be a horse, nor how to socialize with other horses. When it became apparent that I did not have the physical conformation to race, my owner gave me away, and I was shuffled from one barn to another until I came to Hanaeleh. A live birth was recorded but I was never registered, as my owner did not want to make public that my sire and dam created a failed racehorse. This happens quite often; owners will only register their horses after they make a decent showing on track. This is deceitful, as people breed their mares to the stallions, believing that the foals who are registered are the culmination of the foals produced. It also means that I don’t have papers, which are highly coveted in the Thoroughbred industry, and would confirm my age. The only way that Hanaeleh could prove my heritage would be through a blood test, which would cost about $2,000.
What happens to foals like me? Usually, we’re sold at auction and to slaughter; over 50% of all horses at auction are sold to slaughter. The majority of horses sent to slaughter are between 3 and 10 years old. I am lucky that Hanaeleh rescued me and kept me for two years while I grew up, and is currently training me to be a pleasure horse. Certainly my breeders couldn’t be bothered once they knew I wouldn’t be racing for them.
Ruby- 16 year-old Thoroughbred
As a granddaughter of Seattle Slew, I was raced 16 times before I retired, making almost $17,000 before I was sent out to be a broodmare. I was lucky in that I was not used to breed other racehorses, but my owners concentrated on breeding me for jumpers or endurance. I was able to nurse my foals, which many Thoroughbred mares are not able to do. When a mare has highly coveted bloodlines, her foal is taken away from her and given to a “nurse mare” so she can be bred again immediately. The mare gets almost no time to recover from one pregnancy before she has to endure another one, leading to shortened life spans and sometimes aborted foals. In addition, having her foal stolen from her is terribly traumatic for the mare, and for the foal as well. It is worse, however, for the foal of the “nurse mare,” who is taken from her. Sometimes he is killed immediately, and sometimes he is slowly starved to death so his hide can be used for leather.
I was never trained to ride, or for any sort of life beyond racing or being a broodmare. Now, at 16, with many years ahead of me, I have few options. I am fortunate that I am sound enough for riding, and that I am being trained at Hanaeleh to be ridden under saddle. Not every off-the-track-Thoroughbred has that option.
I was raced 39 times before being retired. Many of the horses who I raced against were in pain and were permanently lamed, but the veterinarians cleared them anyway. It is no secret in the racing industry that many horses are given illegal drugs. These drugs are used not only to increase performance, but also to mask pain. Approximately 1-in-10 racehorses will test positively for illegal drugs; statistically speaking, that means that two of the horses in the Derby could test positive for illegal drugs.
Drugging horses who are lame often ends up in physical breakdowns. Last year before the Derby a horse broke down and had to be euthanized right on the track. That part, of course, was not televised, but it’s not a random occurrence; a horse dies EVERY DAY on the track (actually, more than that; about nine horses per week). Instead of acting to stop these deaths, the industry continues to turn a blind eye to the fact that we are dying by the thousands for people’s “entertainment.”
Horses don’t stop growing until we are six or seven years old. The Kentucky Derby, however, races three-year olds. This means that these have someone riding them less than a year old! Working us too early and too hard puts a unnecessary amount of stress on our legs, ankles, and knees. Many of us are permanently lamed on the track, and then, as we are no longer useful, are sold at auction, and will most likely will end up at a slaughterhouse.
I was one of those horses. I was rescued by Hanaeleh because I was sold to a trader and was going to be sent to Mexico for slaughter. This is the second time I was in danger of being sold to slaughter; when people no longer want me, they take me to auction. What happens to racehorses after they are no longer able to run? The truth is that we either race or we are sold or we die. Those are the options given a Thoroughbred racehorse.
I was never on the track; I have no tattoo, and somehow my papers did not follow me as I was sold from one person to another throughout my life. Instead of performing on the track, however, I was trained to be a jumper, a sport which Thoroughbreds used to be the choice of mount. As the racing industry continues to focus merely on breeding for racing, however, people have moved to other breeds for longevity and soundness. Many off-the-track Thoroughbreds can be retrained for other careers, but the majority are so broken down or so specifically bred that they cannot compete with warmbloods or other breeds in the show ring. Our racing career will be terribly short or even non-existent; it is unfathomable that these breeders continue to breed only for racing, and not for the multitude of disciplines that Thoroughbreds COULD excel in, if only we were bred more like we were in the past.
This is straight from the horse’s mouth, and these are merely some of the reasons I cannot watch the Kentucky Derby; I cannot watch without thinking about Brutus and Bear and Ruby and Sapphire- and all of those other Thoroughbreds we’ve rescued or have known. I cannot support a horribly corrupt industry that does not take into consideration the long-term effects of their actions, but merely discards their horses when they are no longer profitable.
Until the public puts enough pressure on the horse racing industry to change, these horses are going to continue to be at the mercy of an industry that deems it acceptable to lie, to drug, to send horses to slaughter. I refuse to support the horse racing industry until it puts its horses above its profits.
And that’s why I won’t watch.