Putting the Horse First? - by Dr. Patricia M. Hogan

The American Association of Equine Practitioners recently released its White Paper containing veterinary recommendations for improving the safety and welfare of the Thoroughbred racehorse. It is an admirable effort and contains many constructive suggestions for the racing industry to consider. But in reality, the AAEP is a continuing education organization for veterinarians that relies on voluntary membership and has no ability to enforce these suggestions for policy even within its own membership, let alone within the racing industry as a whole. Elvis Presley put it so well—how about “a little less conversation and a little more action please.”

In case anyone reading this publication has been living under a rock, public perception is king these days. And animal welfare issues are at the forefront of the public’s concerns. As veterinarians involved with racing, we have been woefully unprepared to meet the challenges put forth by the public concerning the welfare of the racehorse. When the issue of horse slaughter was brought to the public stage a few years ago, both the AAEP and the American Veterinary Medical Association aggressively spoke out in favor of the practice without anticipating the tremendous public backlash that would ensue. The AAEP’s strategic move to then officially change the term “slaughter” to “horse processing” in all future discussions on the subject just added fuel to the fire and further contributed to the public’s growing mistrust of veterinarians. Perhaps taking a neutral position on the politics of slaughter and, instead, putting our efforts into demands for revisions of the welfare and humane-care violations surrounding this issue would have been more befitting of veterinarians in the average person’s mind. With half of the annual Thoroughbred foal crop going to slaughter every year, this vocal stance taken by the veterinary community tends to warp the public’s previously treasured “James Herriot” view of veterinarians and has caused great pause and confusion. To this end, we have encountered credibility issues.

We live in an age now where very little is truly discreet. The use of the Internet and visual communication has made the dissemination of information rapid, and often graphic. To some degree, this has hurt racing terribly. When faced with troubling images associated with our sport—whether it be the trials of racehorses shipping from the backstretch to the slaughterhouse, Eight Belles in a heap at the end of the Derby with the winner’s circle celebration commencing just a short distance away, or the reports of trainers and/or veterinarians under investigation for medication violations—often it is just the perception that is the reality to the public. It does not really matter if we have explanations for these situations that may make sense to those of us within the industry. What matters is what appears to be obvious to the average person. We ask the public to embrace our sport, follow the careers of our stars, even join track fan clubs for the very elite performers, and yet we have no plausible explanation for the shocking paradox that exists concerning the lack of care and the eventual demise of the poor performers. It is becoming painfully obvious that the irony has not been lost upon the general public.

The concerns with the overuse of medications, breakdown injuries, the slaughter of racehorses, and the often “tabloid-like” reporting of medication overages, etc., have suddenly thrust the racetrack veterinarian into the role of the villain, or at least an accomplice, in some of these situations. With few exceptions, that is just not the case. But the impression exists because we have not prepared an offense and are merely playing catch-up defense. And because we do not truly understand our opponent: public perception. Veterinarians who work with any of the racetrack retirement programs can tell you that the physical condition of many of those horses “donated” (a clear misuse of the word) render second careers or even adoption as pets next to impossible. Yet, these horses were actually racing often just days prior to entering these programs—how is that able to happen? And is there a veterinary role in this? The public seems to think so.

If we want to be “part of the solution,” then we truly need to examine our role in the problem, and actually put our own house in order. Put some “teeth” into our bite. But that commitment needs to come from within our own circle before we can expect our advice to be heeded by other factions within the racing industry.

If we had been truly living by the mantra of “putting the horse first,” many of the issues we are facing today would simply not exist.

United we stand, divided we fall. That statement has never been more true for horse racing. And for the veterinary community supporting it.

Dr. Patricia Hogan, a veterinary surgeon and AAEP member, operates Hogan Equine in Cream Ridge, N.J. 


Leave a Comment:


Thank you DR. Hogan for this article and the wonderful work you do here in NJ. I am only a fan, (I have worked with racehorses from time to time), but when I talk to folks that say they love horses, many seem to take the easy way out. When I took an equine science course in my youth, I was told that when a horse is no longer useful, "send him down the road." I believe too many folks live by this creed. I say take responsiblity for your horse, make the hard decision to put him down humanely if you can't take care of him and he doesn't have a clear future.

As far a the track is concerned, we must make it safer for these horses. I wanted desperately to go to see the Gotham, but with the rash of breakdowns in NY, I didn't make the trip since I was afraid to witness another death. (Sure enough, my favorite horse lost the race and in the next race a horse broke down; #12  including Wanderin Boy, since that track started it's winter meet in Dec.08)

If I think about not attending the races, how will we ever get new fans there. ( I plan to attend the Wood Memorial )

Something has to be done to save this wonderful sport and these wonderful animals.

10 Mar 2009 10:03 AM

My thoughts as stupid as they may be would be an intervention by Vets when they either see  mistreatment of a racehorse or those who can no longer race to bring it to someones attention so that they can either be humanely put to sleep or sent to a rescue site to be trained for some other purpose.  Not all horses are grade one quality but with their hearts they give all they can and should be allowed to live in grace after their careers are over.  A lot of these horses race week in and week out in the lower claiming ranks and deserve a chance at life after the track or at least to be put to sleep, not meat for oversea consumption and a cruel death to boot. I am by no means an activist but what is right is right.

10 Mar 2009 10:16 AM

Well done.

10 Mar 2009 11:06 AM

Here's something I've always wondered.  Why don't racehorses wear protective boots?  All other performance horses do.  It might not help much, but it's something to help those fragile legs.

10 Mar 2009 11:08 AM

You (racing) want to win back the American people? Install a national authority like the other sports in this country; reduce yourself to a few quality venues; LIMIT the breeding(!)(if half the participants are slaughtered, then maybe half could not even have to be produced);impose strict medication limits, with get-caught-and-you-are-out-of-the-game consequences; GIVE ALL THE ANIMALS A MONTH OR TWO OFF.

I other words, downsize and upgrade. Make becoming a trainer, or jockey, or exercise rider, or even a groom a job that one has to qualify for in the strictest of terms.

Clean up your act, and people will give you some respect.

10 Mar 2009 11:14 AM
Vanessa - Cincinnati, OH

Why doesn't euthanasia get into the discussion more often? Perception is that there are two choices - slaughter or adoption. Horses have not been bred for centuries as livestock to be slaughtered and consumed by humans. They have been bred as companion and performance animals, to work closely with humans. They do not deserve to die like cattle or hogs. And just because they do it in other countries, does not mean we should sanction it here. On the other hand, some horses are not fit for life outside the racetrack or have become too infirm to be useful. And horses are costly eating machines. It is not feasible to provide a loving home, food and vet care for all horses where their owners are not able or unwilling to support them any longer. So why isn't there more discussion for humane euthanasia when a horse's career is over and a home is not available? I understand that euthanasia and disposal is expensive. Are there ongoing discussions or proposals on how to make this a more affordable option? It beats sending horses to auction and trucking to a slaughter house, be it across the border or in this country. It also beats seeing a horse neglected out in a pasture, in a barn, or lot. We humans created the problem of the unwanted horse. We need to put our heads together to come up with viable yet humane ways to fix it.

10 Mar 2009 12:55 PM

This is an excellent article . Thank you , Dr. Hogan, for having the courage to tell it like it is . So many vets just go along to get along but none of them were polled by the AVMA for their opinion --the Board only gave it. Most vets I know are against horse slaughter and realize it is nothing but cruelty.

10 Mar 2009 1:33 PM

Very well said.. Racing industry needs to def. put "horses  first"  their saftey & well being on the tract and when they can't race again..... not the $$

10 Mar 2009 2:59 PM
Gail Vacca

Kudos to Dr. Hogan for saying what has long needed to be said.

I hope that this article will serve as a wake-up call to the veterinary community and in particular to the AAEP and AVMA.

As horse owners, we expect veterinarians to always put the welfare of our horses first, but sadly, often times this is not the case. It truly infuriates me to hear vets expounding the "necessity" of horse slaughter out one side of their mouth, while dispensing instructions on how best to keep a horse healthy and sound out the other. So what is it then...do some vets only care about the welfare of the horse while it is a paying client?

The vet groups need to wake-up and take a proactive approach in advancing the welfare of ALL horses, and they should start by immediately reversing their position on horse slaughter.

The racing industry is taking  action to promote the safe and humane retirement of race horses and many tracks have implemented zero tolerance anti-slaughter policies. As an industry we are anti-slaughter/pro-responsible, humane retirement. I dont see how can we rely upon and respect the AAEP and AVMA until they follow suit.    

As Dr. Hogan so eloquently put it..its high time we put the horse first.  

10 Mar 2009 3:00 PM
Rhonda from Saskatchewan

Dr. Hogan makes many valid and timely points regarding the status of the veterinary profession in the eyes of the general public as related to thoroughbred racing.

However, that status in the eyes of the horse-owning public has also suffered immensely because of their stand on the issues of slaughter and horse welfare.

Dr. Hogan makes the point that the majority of veterinarians are not the "villains' or "accomplices" that the public perceives them to be when discussing the goings-on at race tracks all over the world.

I just don't see how this argument has any legs to stand on when the track veterinarian is the one who ultimately decides if a horse is fit enough to compete. When a horse is euthanized in its stall on track grounds that is also done by a veterinarian. Many horses are put to death in this way simply because they are no longer making money for the owner or have suffered an injury that may be reparable but the owner does not want to spend the money or time. That makes the vet complicit in anything that befalls that animal on the track or in the barns and, therefore, an accomplice in the animal's injury or demise.

This is not "irony" but malpractice no matter what the reasoning.

And, when an organization of people, who are supposed to give medical support to animals, espouses slaughter as "necessary" but in the same breath acknowledges that half of the thoroughbreds born each year will go to slaughter without condemning the practice of over-breeding, it is no wonder that the public sees them as "villains".

Dr. Hogan is right about "putting the horse first".

Without the horses, there would be many jobs that wouldn't exist, many dollars that wouldn't be spent and many hours of enjoyment that wouldn't be had.

Let's hope that the vets, breeders, owners, trainers, barn staff, track owners and fans of thoroughbred racing and horses, in general, stop defending their indefensible, old ways of thinking and start "putting the horse first".  

10 Mar 2009 3:29 PM
Caroline Jaffe

Thank you for saying what you did.  "It's a tough job, but somebody has to do it," as they say.

I suggest that all who want to remove US horses from the madness of the slaughter industry, pls visit


and sign up for action alerts and more.

10 Mar 2009 4:14 PM

Dr. Hogan:

I've read, and re-read your post several times, but fail to grasp what is your point. For example, you first seem to imply that most veterinarians are not "accomplices" in the various ills which you describe. Later, however, you suggest that many (?most) vets have not lived by the mantra "putting the horse first". The latter is likely the reality, but not necessarily your position... Your message (call to arms) is directed toward those in your profession, but seems limited mostly to the issue of communication misconception rather than to the plight of the racehorse, etc. Much could have been accomplished had the veterinarians taken a stand (blown the whistle)in matters related to horse (particularly racehorse) welfare. Instead, they have sheepishly remained silent, perhaps fearing monetary repercussions or, worse yet, viewing their patients as merely means to an end. There was certainly ideal opportunity to speak out-Barbaro, Eight Belles- yet little was heard from the veterinary community aside from statements protective of the racing industry. Racehorses, for one, require far closer scrutiny than is afforded them. Why haven't you spoken out before? Even now you appear to be skirting the issue...Your message here is one solely directed to your colleagues, yet it appears on this page, directed to the public. This causes one to question your motivation, and to wonder if it's only self-serving.            

10 Mar 2009 4:23 PM
Nicholas Dodman

Well said Patty. At last a voice of reason!

10 Mar 2009 4:59 PM

Thank You!!!

10 Mar 2009 6:49 PM
Barb AZ

Thanks for the wonderful article. It is certainly high time the horse, the "athlete" is put first. That includes putting and end to horse slaughter.



10 Mar 2009 8:24 PM
Brenda Ryder

Well done and I thank you for that.

The most stunning if statements is

more than half of the thoroughbred foal annual crop goes to slaughter.Simply not acceptable.but thank you for putting it out there in black and white.

10 Mar 2009 9:09 PM
belles forever

very well done.thank you for taking the bull by the horns

10 Mar 2009 10:03 PM
Susan Pizzini

This is why Kristina Kremer is coming from Colorado to start walking across the United States from Delaware to California.  If you would like to help with this walk please contact me at Barnmom45@aol.com and I'll invite you to our Yahoo Group for Walk Across America for Horses.  She'll need support as she walks across the country, this is a relay walk so she would like to pass the baton for breaks.  She plans to visit the US Capital then head west and hoping to visit Cavel and Lexington, KY.  While on the east coast I'll show her the New Holland sales barn, perhaps she can take time on Monday and hold her spot in northern Maryland before she continues to DC so she can see New Holland in action.  Her rescue with 120 horses and other rescued animals is in Capulin, CO.  

10 Mar 2009 10:58 PM
needler in Virginia

It would be my guess that MOST vets (track and otherwise) would much rather have a living patient than a dead one. From some of the previous posts, it appears that some believe that not to be the case. I would also bet that the vets despair of the sheer numbers of horses being bred, as they of all people, know what will be their fate. BREEDERS, on the other hand, are the ones to plan what to do with Sally, the "lovely mare" in the backyard or back pasture, and ship her off to a "wonderful stud" down the road.....very simplistic, I know, but you get my drift.

I really do believe that the majority of vets want their patients alive and healthy and I REALLY DO BELIEVE THAT MORE VETS SHOULD OFFER AN OPINION (NOW AND THEN) THAT A STALLION OR MARE SHOULD NOT BE BRED TO ANYTHING. NOT what most owners would want to hear, I know, but as the "expert" we rely on for advice and opinions, the vet  has a responsibility to to step out on that limb. We, of course, could hope that more owners would be more responsible (OH, SURE!!), but after having seen far too many dog owners breed their lovely Suzie to the lovely dog Fred, fail to sell any puppies, or WORSE sell them to pet shops, I've given up on "responsible" people.  I KNOW what comes next....the money people will rear their heads and recite chapter and verse about being able to sell yearlings to make money so they can breed another round for next year, but does the number 50% ring any bells? Take a look at sales results lately.......horses are a dime a dozen, the hugely expensive ones get bought back, no one is making money in horses these days. Maybe this would be a good time for vets and breeders to begin to work together and cut back on the thousands of babies that get born each year...very few of which EVER reach the track at all.

I would think it would also behoove the vets to do a little PR with the uninformed public....many of whom watch one horse race a year, and that's the Derby. Great look for last year, too. PETA had a field day. I would think the vets have a golden opportunity here to educate everyone a bit; while not delving too deeply into the physiology of the horse, the public needs to understand that very often getting an animal off the track AT ALL is damned near impossible, that euthanasia on the track is all that is available, and is the kindest thing we could do for the animal. I HATE THAT AND IT SUCKS, but what else could be done for a creature in pain and terror thrashing and trying to run away from the pain of a shattered leg?? Do you really want the public (or any of us, for that matter) to see THAT on TV?

Everyone should try a bit harder to remember this sport is still called HORSE racing for a reason and that without sound horses we don't have horse racing at all. If everyone can't see the trouble this sport is in, maybe we should just pack it in and raise goldfish..........

11 Mar 2009 1:01 AM
Joanne McIntosh

KUDOS for you Dr. Hogan for saying it straight!  Thank you!

11 Mar 2009 1:49 AM

I love my vet and value his knowledge and expertise.

That being said, you wrote: "half of thoroughbred crop goes to slaughter" and simply is over-breeding trying to get the "golden winner"...as veterinarians you may not be able to stop that (though you could try), but the very least you could do was ensure that techniques to kill horses is humane, which the AVMA has not even attempted to address in their carte blanche acceptance of killing horses with equipment developed and fitted for slaughtering cattle, despite the differences in metal head halters to hold the head of cattle not panicking horses, as well as the placement of the stun bolt.

We don't try to euthanize our cats and dogs with an ill-placed blow to the head, do you really think our horses (or our food stock) has earned or deserves this?

11 Mar 2009 7:35 AM
Anne A.

Thank you Dr. Hogan, for sticking up for these wonderful animals.  They deserve to be treated with kindness and not beaten down, then thrown away when they do not make their owners money.

11 Mar 2009 9:28 AM
Adele Maxon

Thank you Dr. Hogan.  But here we go again...more responsibility needs to be taken by breeders/stallion managers re overproduction.  As we are seeing at the sales where horses don't find homes...out of a hundred mare book, probably the second fifty shouldn't have been bred.  Maybe the current economic conditions will force the reduction in mares bred anyway!

11 Mar 2009 10:09 AM
Barbara L.

As the administrator of Turning For Home, Philadelphia Park's Racehorse Retirement Program, which is set up on the backstretch of the racetrack, I work closely with all of the private practice veterinarians.

Most of them have been fully cooperative with donating their time and expertise so that we can move injured or noncompetitive horses out for rehabilitation and then adoption. Many of them have suggested to trainers that they put their horses into our program.

We have taken 145 horses into Turning For Home in a little over 10 months at the rate of 3-4 horses a week, and in the last three months, I have noticed that our horses are retiring a bit sounder without that "one last race" that pushes them to the pasture pal only status.

Dr. Hogan is correct (and btw, she has been a wonderful and important part of our program, and we are always thankful for her efforts on behalf of our Thoroughbreds).

Public perception is everything.

Bad news hits the media first--the tragedies, the negligence. It is what sells newspapers and tunes people into TV.

We need to combat it with the good stories, and let the public know that the racetracks are taking care of their own.

Since the inception of our program, many other track managers or horseman's representatives have contacted us and asked how we put our program together, so that they may do the same.

That is positive! Without the track veterinarians, we'd have a much more difficult time. Without track management, and especially the horsemen's group from Philadelphia Park, we'd never be able to do this. That's positive!

It is the industry taking care of its own and it is a start.

Barbara Luna

Program Administrator

Turning For Home, Inc.

11 Mar 2009 10:42 AM

Before the introduction of legal race day drugs the average American Thoroughbred raced 54.3 times, today that figure is less than 20 lifetime starts and continues to decline.

Before the introduction of legal race day drugs I remember well the many published comments by race track vets that those drugs would destroy racehorses, however, since they became a cash cow for the veterinary industry they have changed their tune. Right now it is only Anabolics that are a problem according to those who should have the best interest of their patients at heart. It should be ALL legal raceday drugs.

I put a large part of the blame for the breakdowns and far to short racing careers of most American Thoroughbreds right where is should be and that is on our American Veterinary industry.

Watch the barn of many leading USA trainers and you will see that it is the veterinary who is training their racehorses.  Walking down the shedrows day after day injecting horse after horse.  When all drugs are outlawed as they should be you will see a much improved Veterinary industry and some leading trainers fall by the wayside very quickly. I personally cannot wait for that day!

E. Abraham Ola

11 Mar 2009 10:45 AM
Dr. Patti Klein Manke

Thank you Dr. Hogan for standing up for what is right.  I saw the abuse more than 20 years ago and knew I could never be a veterinarian at a race track.  I now am the Executive Director for Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL.  It has been going on for a long time and the public will not tolerate it.

11 Mar 2009 11:30 AM

Thank you Dr. Hogan for "daring" to speak up and call out your colleagues to actually PUT THE HORSE FIRST.  A huge opportunity exists for the AAEP and the horse racing industry to work with the public (ie. people who care about horses and love the positive aspects of horse racing), to improve racing.  I believe that we can have a thriving horse racing industry, fiscal well being, and SUSTAINABLE EQUINE CARE AND MANAGEMENT.

Thank you Dr. Hogan, I hope your colleagues respond (and act) in a positive way (and CHANGE IN A POSITIVE WAY).

11 Mar 2009 1:22 PM

Its very interesting the lack of confidence that breeders and race fans have in the trainers staying away from illegal substances. there is a poll now on www.thoroughlybred.com on one of their blog pages relative to trainers being banned from the hall of fame if they have 3 positives to their record. the blog is interesting, but not as interesting as the poll numbers. check it out

11 Mar 2009 1:27 PM
A Veterinarian

I am unaware of any valid statistics that support the statement 15000 to 20000 Thoroughbreds go to slaughter annually.  Please provide a reference for that statement.

11 Mar 2009 2:54 PM
April Clow-Gelina

Thank you Dr. Hogan for your bravery and for saying what has been LONG overdue on the part of many vets. You are a credit to your profession.

Vets who support horse slaughter are in the wrong business, period.  It is animal abuse. Vets are supposed to be the protectors of animals.  Have some of you forgotten what you have been entrusted to do?

11 Mar 2009 4:46 PM
D. Masters

WOW!!! Looks like Dr. Hogan hit a nerve here (pun intended). I think any central governing body on racing needs a rep from the medical community, jocks, fans, gamblers, human rep for the horses, tracks, etc.  But they need to be the single, sole source regulating and enforcing body for the race game...Period! I appreciate the piece here.

The credibility of the AVMA and AAEP is definitely on the line here.  If they can't get humane death and transport down on paper ethically, how in the H*LL are they going to get meds right? DR. H... you folks got a BIG problem! And racing does too.

11 Mar 2009 5:00 PM

A Veterinarian: In response to provide "proof" of equine slaughter statistics, this is from the American Veterinary Medical Association website (www.avma.org) dated Sept. 5, 2008 "We do know that 90,000 to 100,000 unwanted horses have been sent to slaughter annually, and that the total number of unwanted horses is substantially greater than this."

I'm not sure how the tables will come out on the blog, hopefully as I typed them (I hope)


1998 72,120 23,152 95,272

1997 88,086 21,729 109,815

1996 113,399 26,082 139,481

1995 112,677 30,000 142,677

1994 109,353 35,000 144,353

1993 184,320 51,000 235,320

1992 243,585 60,000 303,585

1991 236,467 74,000 310,467

1990 315,192 70,000 385,192

* U.S. slaughter statistics courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture.

* Canadian slaughter statistics courtesy of the Canadian Ministry of Agriculture.

US Canada stats

2004 65,976 (US) 17,535 (Can)

2003 50,564 21,269  

2002 42,312 23,796

11 Mar 2009 5:55 PM

Great article.  I know that I want to go see some horse races locally, but cannot get myself to go.  All I would think about is whether the horses I'm watching and betting on, would be getting loaded up at the end of the race and either sent direct to slaughter, or maybe given a small chance at another life and end up at the local auction.  Despicable way to treat the stars of the show.

11 Mar 2009 6:27 PM

very cool piece.  as an x marketing professor, i have to agree.  perception IS reality!  

but sadly in our case, both perception and reality are not good at this point.  cheers, alex

11 Mar 2009 6:28 PM
Dr. Patty Hogan

In answer to one reader's request for a reference on the statement, "with half of the annual Thoroughbred foal crop going to slaughter each year..."

Your question is important as it is difficult to provide accurate statistics since the USDA does not require breed data to be recorded on slaughterhouse inspections.  However, groups with opposing views on the subject are in general agreement that approximately 130,000-140,000 horses are sent to slaughter annually from the US.  Estimates of breed distribution in this population put the Thoroughbred at a range of 11-15%.  The Jockey Club anticipates a 2009 prospective foal crop of 35,400.  Thus the statement.

I think the Unwanted Horse Coalition is currently trying to get more accurate information in this area.

summary there are

11 Mar 2009 6:34 PM

well said, ola. while i applaud dr hogan's efforts to some degree, the paradox remains: why do vets administer race-day drugs to cover infirmities or injuries that should prevent a horse from running at all! if they have the welfare of the horse (and, lest we forget, the human on its back) in mind, then should not their consciences force them to decline to administer such drugs? as for disposing of unwanted horses, again the horse welfare groups have their hearts in the right place, but let's face reality: there are many thousands of horses out there, and not just thoroughbreds, that are not fit to fill any role other than as field ornaments. what do we do with these during a period when few people can afford to keep such animals? i think the peta crew et al need to take a more realistic view of what is possible in this regard. the horses exist. they cannot be wished away and there are far too many for them to be adopted en masse. humane euthanasia is a far better solution than allowing them to starve, which is what will happen if we ban all slaughter and shipping for slaughter outside our borders.

11 Mar 2009 8:26 PM
Anne Russek

Thank-you Dr. Hogan for your insightful comments relating to the racing industry and the verterinary community. You are 100% correct that the pro slaughter position of the AAEP and the AVMA did immeasurable damage to veterinarians and our perception of their ethics. Even now, it is these same pro slaughter veterinarians within the USDA, and state agriculture departments, that aide and abet the slaughter pipeline everyday by failing to implement the minimal regulations that are supposed to protect these horses at auctions and in transport.

As for racing, Dr. Hogan is correct that "lip service" is not the same as enforcement. Every day horses are removed from the backsides of "no slaughter policy " racetracks, and pipelined to slaughter How? because the tracks refuse to impress upon their security employees that the stable gate is the best means of stopping the pipeline. Over the years it has been established that the same owners and trainers utilize slaughter to dispose of their horses. In some cases, these

are leading trainers supplying the pipeline. Management is reluctant to ban a leading trainer, just as racing is reluctant to ban a leading trainer with multiple drug infractions. As an industry, we appear to protect our worst representatives , while penalizing our honest trainers and owners by creating an unfair playing field.

Dr. Hogan makes an excellent point, how is it that a thoroughbred can be rescued from a kill pen on Friday, with a bowed tendon or multiple knee chips, after just being raced 24 hours earlier? How can a veterinarian x-ray a horse for a trainer, discover that the horse has a hairline fracture, or a chip, or a blown suspensory, and then allow that trainer to "walk " the horse into the race and never have an ethical obligation to notify the racing secretary and declare the horse unsafe?

As for the newly formed integrity task force, one need only ask why is it that tacks like Charlestown only report horses put down on the track, and not those that hobble off the track to be euthanised in their stalls? By the way, why don't these task forces contact the rendering companies that pick up the broken bodies of these horses and document those numbers?

I hope that Dr. Hogan can make a difference, she has more support than she may know, but is racing listening?

11 Mar 2009 10:33 PM

I echo the sentiments of others regarding the lack of education and discussion about humane euthanasia for racehorses that are crippled and incapable of being placed in homes.  As Dr. Hogan points out, reducing racing medications might lower these numbers.  Why can't the AAEP or vets on an individual basis offer low cost euthanasia so it would become a more viable option? (California is doing this). It still remains to be seen whether those who sell their horses for the meat price would bother to pursue this option as it will entail some expense.  But so does trailering a horse to auction.

11 Mar 2009 10:51 PM
vicki tobin

Bravo, Dr. Hogan. The AVMA and AAEP need to reread the oath their veterinarians take and start living it. The AVMA, in particular, speaks out of both sides of their collective mouths. They tout euthanasia to their clients but the bolt to Congress. Their stance on horse slaughter is hurting the profession and the veterinarians that are truly committed to animal welfare. They are being painted with a broad brush by organizations that have no concern for horse welfare.

Horse owners can adopt, donate, euthanize or sell to another owner. The NRA has already gone on record stating they can handle the number of horses that are destined for slaughter. The difference is they have to pay instead of being paid. If they don't want the responsibility of ownership, the fix is easy. Don't own a horse. If they don't want to provide responsible care - and that includes a humane death, don't own a horse. Horses are not raised or bred for food and to turn them into livestock after they have worked, raced or provided services to make a few hundred dollars is despicable and a betrayal to the horse that has served the owner. As long as there is a dumping ground for the irresponsible, the status quo will continue. History has proven that we can’t slaughter our way out of it.

12 Mar 2009 12:52 PM

like the abortion issue, slaughter will now be with us always as those many non-horse owing racing fans chime in on their uninformed opinions.  the doc got one thing right.  perception or misperception is the real enemy of the horse.  95% of horse people and probably more understand that anti-slaughter = abuse and neglect.  in my large metro area there would at this point in time be maybe 100 people willing to take on a retired race horse and there are 10s of thousands every year.  reality, as almost every vet and horse person understands, requires a humane slaughter policy, and our vets need to continue to have the courage to speak out, as does my own respected vet at my farm.

12 Mar 2009 1:10 PM
DJ Bryant, DVM

Dr. Hogan,

From what I can tell by reading the white paper, the racing vets participating congregated to point the finger at about every aspect of thoroughbred welfare other than what many in our profession do on a regular basis, and what many trainers and owners want and wilingly pay for, which is "what can we get away with?'"

12 Mar 2009 3:09 PM

Dr.Hogan, thank you for your article.  Its time this atrocious killing of horses stops.  

12 Mar 2009 3:10 PM

One of the best articles I have EVER read.  Thank You. :)

12 Mar 2009 3:23 PM
Michael N

Dr. Hogan-

I have read your post several times and cannot parse out what you are trying to convey.  You state:

"Yet, these horses were actually racing often just days prior to entering these programs—how is that able to happen? And is there a veterinary role in this? The public seems to think so. "

Don't you? Are you claiming veterinarians have no role in the condition of horses at the track?  Are the number of horses running on deadened nerves and bad legs just constructs?  Who administers the "medication", allowing these horses to run?

Everyone is complicit in this charade.  From the vet to the bettor.

Ultimately, personal responsibility is lacking throughout and whether you think the problem is bad press or a misunderstanding of your profession, that obligation cannot be abrogated.


Michael Nikolic

12 Mar 2009 5:49 PM
H.I. McDonaugh

I find it interesting that the spokespeople for racing issues related to the veterinary community are always surgeons, and that veterinarians involved in the day in/out grind are never the ones to speak out on integrity or horse welfare. I suppose any discussion on the topic, however, is useful.

12 Mar 2009 6:45 PM

Each track will need to hire more vets, and also assistants. Each morning (except dark days) a vet will come to the stall of a horse entered in a race that day and be shone the veterinary history of the horse. This can be a 'life time' account (which is too much to go through, would not be effective) or a one year history. A horse can not enter the paddock if a vet hasn't viewed and signed off on the history.

Although country wide regulations would be very useful, running on different surfaces will require different equipment, and that also includeds warm weather/cold weather conditions.

12 Mar 2009 9:52 PM
Ann Banks

WAIT people, the welfare of the thoroughbred race horse and the slaughter pipeline begins with the licensed "Trainer" - do not blame the backside veterinarians for being expected to make up for the conspicuously absent commonsense horsemanship and lack of  moral compass exhibited by the people with "Trainer" licenses pertaining to the thoroughbred race horses in their shedrows. The issue of broken race horses starts with each state's racing commission tightening the licensing proceedures and not handing out "Trainer" licenses to anyone with a racing form because the commission is afraid of litigation. Car dealer one day race horse trainer the next. Geeeeze. I see an alarming lack of horsemanship and a flagrant disregard of horsemansip every time I go to the races which is why I prefer not to go - Get it industry? (and the thing about whips is it is a tool for forward movement not punishment for stopping & soundness jogs should be before AND after a race) -   I personally have spent my whole life with horses - riding, competing in several disciplines, studying, learning, applying and what I have witnessed is a D pony clubber has more horsemanship than most licensed thoroughbred race horse trainers. I am not a veterinarian nor am I a licensed race horse trainer - I am a "licensed" owner who breeds a few, buys a few and claims a few and am immersed in the care giving of thoroughbreds which entails conditioning athletes for the winner's circle from our farm, a retirement field on our farm, many with 2nd careers on several show circuits,  support of the Kentucky Equine Humane Center because no horse is turned away and unlike many retirement centers euthanasia is an option.   People with "Trainer" licenses who don't understand the anatomy, exercise physiology, much less the nutrition or even a balanced foot of an equine athlete permeate the backside of the race track so unfortunately the track vet is expected to make up for the trainer's failings with the cheapest drug therapy to get the thoroughbred competitive in its next start.

Don't blame the veterinarin, blame the licensed trainer who employs "him" and the racing commission who permitted the licensing. Begin there.

13 Mar 2009 11:24 AM
Steve Zorn

Dr. Hogan is one of the best -- and most compassionate -- equine vets around.  She's been just wonderful to the horses we've sent to her clinic.  So, when she has an opinion, we should definitely all listen.  A united front by racetrack vets to protect our horses' health, rather than a race to see who can find the most effective "won't test" meds, would be a great development. Let's hope it happens.

13 Mar 2009 2:22 PM

Ann Banks

I agree with you on the trainer part.  It is really the trainer that is in control of the destiny of these horses.  Sadly some of them just don't care about the welfare of the horse.  I have seen trainers haul their horses off to slaughter because they didn't hit the board after a few tries.  That just kills me.  I like your post.  This article is like a goldmine.  It pretty much sums it up.  Without the horses, how can there be racing?  We don't need MORE horses, we need better and more sound horses.  

14 Mar 2009 11:46 AM

DR.HOGAN.. ARE YOU FOR SLAUGHTER OR AGAINST SLAUGHTER??? you seem to have taken both sides in my opinion and just fueling the fire

14 Mar 2009 12:42 PM
Gina Powell

This is a major problem that must take a multi-faceted approach for the sake of the racehorse. We need to develop and enforce strong laws that are attached to the breeder and/or owner of the racehorse. If you breed a horse then you should be held fiscally responsible for that horse should it be found in a killing pen on the way to the slaughterhouse. Further, if an owner has made a certain amount of money from that horse while it was racing, then they should be made legally and fiscally responsible for that horse until it dies that includes paying board bills for that horse or they should be sued.It is simple as that. If there was such a law, then it would eliminate these people breeding and owning racehorses for the sole purpose of being ego hungry for that horse in the Breeders Cup or Kentucky Derby parade who usually end up in the slaughterhouse if they do not finish in the top 3 or worse they get sent down the claiming ranks and like MIGHTY BEAU(after making millions) ended up in a $4000 claiming race at Penn National snapping his leg off in the stretch - great end for a horse that made millions huh?

15 Mar 2009 7:26 AM
Alexa R.

Great article Dr. Hogan. One of the big issues here is that there are just too many thoroughbreds being born each year. More horses may mean the potential for more stakes winners, but it also inevitably leads to more animals that can't perform well. Unfortunately, you can't turn every slow racehorse into a calm school horse or jumper. Especially in today's economy, a stable can't spend money taking care of a horse that needs to be rehabilitated into a new career and is not "earning its keep." If the number of horses decreases, there will be fewer unsuccessful runners that need new jobs and there won't be such a large excess of unwanted animals that "create the need" for slaughter.

15 Mar 2009 1:49 PM

Thank you Dr. Hogan for having to courage to speak out.  I hope others join you in walking the walk.

15 Mar 2009 9:37 PM

Thanks for the honest article and the oourage to say the things that need to be said.  Unfortunately, there is a lot of money in horse racing and that always brings out the worst in some people.  After all, the love of money is the root of all evil.  Some people would sell their grandmother if the price was right.  I agree whole heartedly with one of the previous postings that talked about the licensed trainers.  There should be some kind of universal guidelines to get a trainer's license other than filling out a form and paying a registration fee.  It is not acceptable or responsible to put the care of a horse into the hands of someone who is not qualified.  There are lives at stake (jockeys and horses)!  I watch horse racing frequently and I am a huge fan of the sport.  The horse slaughter issue is the one issue that will drive me away from the sport.  I don't like the idea of euthanasia either but accept that it is necessary, it is certainly preferable.  Breeding less horses would be a good start.  These are living creatures not slot machines that can be discarded at the local dump.    

15 Mar 2009 11:49 PM

Most on this blog seem to feel that breeding fewer horses is part of the solution. While many (including some of the above same) would prefer it otherwise, racing is contracting due to lack of popularity. This may inevitably reduce some of the numbers (less demand), but may not appreciably alter the economics of racehorse ownership. Our laws will not permit arbitrary exclusion of owners,mandates that breeders/owners remain responsible for the good care of their horses for life-just take a look at the plight of so many dogs and cats-if the public won't demand such laws for them, the legislatures certainly won't enact such a law for horses. As far as a more stringent test for trainers, I doubt that any test would do much to sort out the bad from the good. And one cannot test for greed or heartlessness, etc. There are no simple solutions, but perhaps one avenue may be through raw economics. This wouldn't create the total solution, but might substantially improve the situation. What if we simply restricted the total number of lifetime starts a horse would be permitted to run? Unlike some of the other proposed laws, such a law could be enacted by the various racing governing bodies without much fear of constitutional redress. Limiting the permitted lifetime starts should drastically decrease the owner/breeder base-due to economics. There would still be racing, but then as much more of a sport than a business (not that even now it's much of a business). Those (owners) (trainers) that remained would then go to great lengths to be certain their horses were "right" before competing. Gone would be the drops down the claiming ranks. Those retired would be far liklier to be sound, and suitable for another career. This would create many other ramifications. It would likely lessen the public's interest in the sport (lesser starts/lesser chance of creating heros) and, no doubt, remove many of the "better" (along with more of the bad) owners/breeders from the sport. But, to a diminished extent, we would perhaps have our cake and eat it too-horseracing/far more protected horses.        

16 Mar 2009 12:49 PM
Dr. Patty Hogan


I actually did not give a personal opinion as to how I feel about horse slaughter. I was only pointing out that the aggressive pro-slaughter political stance taken by the leaders of the AAEP/AVMA contributed to the public's mistrust of veterinarians.  That sort of political position did not seem to coinicide with what the public expected from veterinarians in regards to equine welfare.  So I was trying to point out that we have credibility issues that we need to be aware of if we want to be considered an authority on equine welfare issues.

Also, racing is truly an entertainment venue in this country, and as such, relies on public acceptance and support in order to operate.  Regardless of anyone's personal views on slaughter, the fact that a large number of Tb racehorses are slaughtered is just bad for racing - plain and simple.  And if we as an industry do not recognize that very important point, ignoring it will certainly continue to contribute to our decline.

16 Mar 2009 1:07 PM

Re: Dr. Hogan's last comments:

So I suppose from her perspective it's better to do the wrong thing for the right reasons (perhaps hers), or the right thing for the wrong reasons (perhaps, most of the bloggers). Neither, I'd suggest, is the proper course. Rather she in this blog, and all of us, particularly the veterinarians, should be involved in discourse in debating what are the "right" reasons.    

16 Mar 2009 7:01 PM
Susan Pizzini

I believe Dr. Hogan's testimony before Congress is more than we need to hear about her position on horse slaughter.  She has been very open about where she stands and I thank her for standing up in spite of the oppostion's power and influence.  You have to admire that kind of courage of conviction.

16 Mar 2009 10:32 PM

Bottom line what are you going to do with all the unwanted ones? TB's or otherwise and don't tell me that there's homes for all of them.

17 Mar 2009 9:34 AM

As a fan of horse racing, I think euthanisia, though not the only, or best option should be still be considered, at least for the most damaged horses. It would help to enable better controls over vanning and stabling, and reduce the number of horses to be adopted or retrained, thereby increasing their chance at a new life.

Volunteers,as terrific as they are, do not provide a permanent solution, and quite possibly give these owners and trainers a guilt free, way out.

All in all this is better than a horse tied to a tree, chewing bark, because the " owner " can't properly feed or vet the animal.

18 Mar 2009 10:39 AM

WELL STATED! There is a very big difference between putting a horse down and "Slaughtering" them. I understand that horses may need to be put to sleep due to injury etc, but having respect for these horses and doing it humanely should not be a debate, it should be the law!

21 Mar 2009 9:17 PM

It is time for the racing industry to put itself in check and in truth, PUT THE HORSE FIRST.

Where is the glory of racing when the realty is becoming more transparent.  

The racing industry needs a recovery program for the horses, just as the nation's economy.  It is way past time for regulations for responsible racing, ownership, and the rules of the game.

Maybe, if that day ever comes, half of thoroghbred foals will escape being someone's dinner overseas, and I won't read about another death.  This past year, I can name so many horse ahtletes I followed who died.

I guarantee racing will die as the sport of kings for our next generations of racing fans, if meaningful action isn't taken.

26 Mar 2009 1:59 PM

One question:

you state that half the annual foal crop of thoroughbreds is slaughtered each year. Where does this information come from? Do we have numbers of registered thoroughbreds slaughtered each year?

One observation:

As a trainer I also volunteered for my local horse retirement group and have found second homes for many, many thoroughbreds. As I now operate at a track which will suspend me if any horse I trained ends up at a slaughter house, I have to reconsider the efforts I have made to give horses a second chance. It seems that my only option with these horses now is to recommend humane euthanasia. I would much rather try to find each horse a home but a consequence of well intentioned laws makes it too risky for me to do so.

26 Mar 2009 3:56 PM

The information regarding half the foal crop each headed for slaughter is within the original article.

Frankly, I hope it is an inflated statement.  However, the less foals there are each year the less death, one way or the other.

31 Mar 2009 3:10 PM
June McIntosh

It's clear that horse racing as a profit-making industry needs to go.  Let horse-racing continue as an amateur hobby, where the prospect of win/lose profit/loss does not rear its ugly head so much.  We do not see huge numbers of gymkhana ponies being disposed of because they don't make the grade.  

09 Jun 2009 10:20 AM

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