Monday, April 21, 2008

The Tragedy of Big Brown

I am haunted by an article that I read this morning in the New York Times. It was a story about a favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby named Big Brown. The horse was bought last fall by a group on Wall Street called International Equine Acquisitions Holdings who are raising $100 million to breed, sell and race horses like they are a hedge fund.

This horse has only raced three times. The three year old colt has hoof abscesses in both its front feet. That’s why it hasn’t been able to race more. They say that the injury was caused by “concussion”, his feet hitting a hard surface. They have hot glued some special shoes with a polyurethane bottom to cushion his feet, and they are racing and training him again with hopes that he will win the Triple Crown. It makes me want to find these Wall Street dudes, drill holes in their feet and make them run as fast as they can for few miles everyday to see how they would feel. It also makes me sick.

This is the reason that I can’t go to a horse race anymore. When I was a little girl, my dad used to take me to the track in Arlington Park, just outside of Chicago. I have wonderful memories of the horses in the paddock and the beauty of them thundering down the track. We moved near Del Mar, California, “where the turf meets the surf”, when I lived in California. The first time that I went to the races there, I felt like I had fallen into a marvelous time warp. The whole scene was just like I remembered as a child. I used to take my four year old daughter to the track very early in the morning to watch the horses warm up.

My fond memories were dashed when the horses that were running began dying. In 2005, in the first seven days of racing, seven horses had to be euthanized. I almost took my daughter to see a friend’s horse race, but our schedule changed. Fortunately, we weren’t there when the horse broke its leg during a race and had to be put down on the track in front of everyone. That season, in 43 days of racing, 16 horses died while racing on the dirt track. They put in a new polytrack, which has significantly lessened the number of deaths. About 800 horses die on the racetracks in this country each year.

When I lived in California and worked in a tack and feed store, I got to know some of the trainers and jockeys and grooms while they were there in Del Mar for the season. They all believed that the horses are started too soon. They’re so young, and their bones aren’t strong enough. Unfortunately, racing is all about speed and short-term profit. It used to be that stamina and long-term durability were the key, but now that horses are the new hedge funds, it’s all about making money fast. I know that horse racing isn’t the only place where this happens. Look at the reiners and jumpers that can barely walk by the time they are ten or twelve years old because they were worked so hard so young.

A horse is not a race car or a snowboard. It is a spirited, soulful creature that loves to run and jump and generously allows human beings to come along for the ride. It should be illegal for a horse to be treated like a hedge fund.

P.S. You can go to, the owners' website and leave them a note where it says "Contact Us". I just did.


Janet Roper said...

Shiloh & Janet Roper

Callie said...

Amen sister! What a bunch of jerks!

billie said...

Amen from me as well.

detroit dog said...

Thank you so much, Victoria, for this important post.

Horse races mirror what happens to greyhounds on the track. Thousands of greyhounds are 'put down' annually after their track careers. Horrendous accidents have happened on the track. Greyhounds run at 40-45 mph (second only to cheetah), and when they crash into each other or railings, it is not pretty.

Anyway, back to your point. You are right, horses should not be treated as hedge funds - no animal should; that a life is worth a buck or nothing at all is a sad statement about our social values.

Grey Horse Matters said...

I think you are absolutely right about this. It is disgusting what people will do to these poor animals for money. When they break down or die, oh well that's just a business expense. They are started too young in lots of disciplines but I think racing is one of the worst offenders in the horse industry and there should be a law about how these animals are trained and treated. The poor horse you are talking about should be disqualified now because of his feet and the owners should be fined. Something has to be done, unfortunately nothing will be because there is just too much money involved, and everyone know money talks and bull***t walks. Excuse my French but I am so mad right now I can't control myself. I despise people like this.

Heidi the Hick said...

I agree!!!!

It makes me boil. Thank you for speaking out.

Pony Girl said...

You said it, and you said it well, Victoria. Don't even get me started on this subject. It makes me sick, I can't watch horse-racing anymore, although I start to feel the pull to watch the Derby as May approaches. But after Barbaro....that was just heartbreaking. They need to stop racing these horses so young. But they won't. Not when a hedge fund is on the line.

EquusEditorial said...

I didn't know this about Big Brown's feet. How much can a horse enjoy running (the industry's justification for running the horses) when in pain? The Racehorse Memorial Wall, of which I'm the founder and owner, attests to the harsh reality for many fine racehorses. Great lesson from Big Brown, if not very sad. I pray for his safety and survival. ~Connie

Cassi said...

And thank God for places like that take animals like him in so they don't have to be put down...

M. C. Valada said...

This is infuriating. Thanks for the heads-up.

The head of the Pierce College riding program went to Pierce with one of the top trainers at Santa Anita who only races older horses, most of which he gets in Europe where they do not start racing careers as early as is done here.

Barbaro was a real heartbreak and I can't imagine that these duffuses think they are doing anything good for the sport when word gets out that they are racing a hurt horse.

Victoria: Did you work at Mary's in Del Mar or some other tack shop down there?

Victoria Cummings said...

MCV - I did work at Mary's Tack & Feed in DelMar. It is a horse lover's toy store - the best! I started out to just get a part-time job while my daughter was in school nearby, and it turned out to be one of the most fun and educational jobs I've ever had. Mike and Wendy and Dale are good people.

Horse Gal said...

You said it all. I hate the fact that hundreds of horses are put down each year because of racing.

40whatever said...

Right On Victoria!

They are starting them too early and with too many steroids and artificial enhancements that are contributing to the breakdowns i believe. Its not just racing either. If you see the 2 yr old futurity winner in your local APHA/AQHA show, get a good look because you probably wont see them again. Where are they when they are 10? They are not showing and most are not riding. There are exceptions, but they are the exceptions.

djbrown said...

Thanks for speaking out about this--we need more voices speaking for these creatures who have no vote with what is done to them.

M. C. Valada said...

After going to the website, I am reminded of Ron Weschler's words "If you want to make a small fortune in the horse industry, start with a large fortune." I think the ICC should do an investigation of this operation. Talk about speculative.

Victoria: I make a pilgrimage to Mary's when we go to San Diego for Comicon every summer and sometimes I make a special day trip for the fantastic sale there in February. I've been doing this ever since I got Ace. Everyone is very nice. Depending on when you left the area, I might have passed you by in the store.

Mary's is rivaled out here by Broken Horn Saddlery, near Pomona, which is much larger and closer for me. It bills itself as the largest tack store west of the Mississippi, and I wouldn't doubt it. The place is on two floors, with a mezzanine stocked with blankets and fly sheets separating the custom from the prefab western saddles departments.

Broken Horn has a custom saddle shop on the premises for western saddles and has an English saddler on site for repairs. It carries a huge number of manufacturers saddles in a large variety of sizes.

It has a big western clothing and boot department and a big sale every September. I bought Ace his western saddle there--not a custom, but a nice one from a manufacturer in New Mexico which perfectly matched the tracings and cut-outs we did to measure him. My instructors said that we did as well as we would have with a custom saddle in matching his back, but we had to check out a lot of saddles in a bunch of shops before we found it. The saddles marked "Arabian" were all too narrow for him.

I do regret passing up a used, black Victor Arabian western show saddle with a round skirt which was exactly to his measurements I saw there one day. At $1000, it was a steal, but I didn't have the money at the time. It's unusual to find a place with as many used saddles as Broken Horn has in stock.--Christine

Transylvanian horseman said...

Thank you for highlighting this issue.

I just met an acquaintance who trains racehorses in England. She remarked that she has six horses in for rehabilitation because of broken pelvises, and that the numbers suffering this injury have increased dramatically with the introduction of all-weather training surfaces. The horses are run too hard, too young, too often.

There is a serious shortage of ethics in the racing industry.

Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Thanks for the update on Big Brown. He looks a poor bet to win the Derby. I am backing Adriano.

Life, for horses and humans, is good but not fair. It has been centuries since horses were reserved for racing until they were full grown and put into longer, less stressful races than they run in these days. Trying to turn back the clock on the horse racing industry sounds like a damn fine idea, and the racing industry may one day again be that small.

Rick said...

I hope you'll post a contrary view, as IEAH, owners of Big Brown, are constructing an equine hospital in NY. Big Brown won geared down in the Preakness with his $500 glue-on shoes. Enjoy this moment as he reaches for the Triple Crown.

From their site:
Construction on IEAH Corporation's Ruffian Equine Medical Center at Belmont Park continues to progress ...The facility will encompass approximately 23,000 square feet and the project cost is currently estimated at about $16 million. It will offer multiple surgical suites, nuclear scintigraphy, treadmill endoscopy, and all other equine healthcare necessities. IEAH has secured the services of top equine practitioners Dr. James Hunt and Dr. Patricia Hogan for the facility.

Bones said...

Every time I start to think, Maybe horse racing is okay, I see something like this article in today's NYTimes:

I want to love the sport, but I just can't.