Although I have never been openly outspoken against synthetic surfaces since they began making their way onto American racetracks a few years ago, when the subject of horse safety comes up I have always asked the same question:
Why do the powers that be place so much emphasis on racing safety but continually ignore the issues of unwanted horses and slaughter? After all, the number of racing fatalities each year numbers only about two per every one-thousand starters, while it has been reported that as many as 100,000 horses go to slaughter every year. It has always seemed to me that the problem of horse safety is being incorrectly addressed.
Thankfully, it seems that the issue is finally beginning to be addressed as a priority. In the last few months, the industry has begun to tackle the problem - in my opinion the single biggest problem in the industry - like it actually matters. Although there is still a whole lot of work to be done, it is encouraging to know they are moving in the right direction.
Perhaps the biggest step in the right direction came from the newly-formed Safety and Integrity Alliance. During its Oct. 15 news conference, the NTRA unveiled a series of safety reforms that will be executed in the near future, one of them the "implementation of placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete." Former Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson will oversee the alliance.
I was disappointed to learn a short time later that the NTRA officially took a neutral position on the issue of slaughter, but I guess we can only fight one battle at a time. At the very least, the issue is finally coming into the forefront and not being swept under the rug.
Also encouraging are steps being taken by racetracks like Suffolk Downs and Mountaineer, and companies like Magna, which have recently adopted anti-slaughter rules. Finger Lakes is another place doing the right thing, as they became the first North American track to open a rescue facility on racetrack grounds. It's also good to hear high-profile trainers like Nick Zito have a voice on the subject.
Great work on the problem has also been addressed for some time now by organizations like the Unwanted Horse Coalition (UHC), which contends that the issue may be reaching epidemic proportions. Just this week, the UHC announced they will partner with the American Horse Council (AHC) to begin an extensive study to research the problem. Here is a link to the press release.
And of course, there are fan-based organizations such as the "Fans of Barbaro" who have raised money and awareness to tackle the issue of slaughter.
In closing, there is still much to be done to protect unwanted horses. The problem is not going away and will only get worse if it is not seriously addressed. More research is needed, rules have to be put in place to make owners and breeders more responsible for their own horses, and Congress must get around to passing a law that prohibits the transport of horses outside of the country for the purpose of slaughter. The bill keeps falling through the cracks.
But at the very least it's nice to know that these problems are finally being addressed on a national stage. And on this holiday weekend, let's all give thanks to that.