Saturday, October 4, 2008

Stop the Madness of Equicide

HORSE SLAUGHTER: Ending the Madness of Equicide: Part 1

By Marion Altieri and John Pricci

Thirty years ago, in the fall of 1978, when racing was more about sport and less about dollars, the great Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham brought the wonderful racehorse Exceller to New York in search of an Eclipse Award title. To do that he would need to defeat not one but two Triple Crown champions.

Born the year a horse named Secretariat put thoroughbred racing on the front covers of Time and Newsweek, Exceller, a son of Vaguely Noble from Bald Eagle’s mare, the champion Too Bald, shipped into Belmont Park after having won the San Juan Capistrano, Hollywood Invitational, Hollywood Gold Cup and, under a steadying 130 pounds, the Sunset Handicap, Grade 1 races all.

But the time had come to show the Eastern racing establishment what he could do by coming to the right coast for two races in which the five-year-old bay colt would take on Seattle Slew and Affirmed in the storied Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes.

In the five-horse Woodward, the speed of Seattle Slew was simply too dominating. Slew, always taking the lead from the start, set realistic fractions shadowed by Exceller throughout, but 10 furlongs in 2:00-flat was simply too much speed to overcome. Slew won by four lengths comfortably.

However, Whittingham figured that the Jockey Club’s mile and a half would be a great equalizer, and that the addition of the speedy Affirmed to keep Slew honest, would level the playing field.

Ending the Madness of Equicide, Pt. 1;

Ending the Madness, Pt. 2;

By Marion Altieri and John Pricci

The mantra “unwanted horses” is the rallying cry for pro-slaughter advocates. This group believes that slaughtering unwanted horses is more humane than if the horses were neglected or abandoned, allowed to die a slow death. It’s a resolution that conveniently ignores the humane component.

John Holland works with the group Americans Against Horse Slaughter and is a staunch defender of horses. In his research paper, “The Relationship Between Horse Slaughter and Reported Cases of Abuse and Neglect” the charts, graphs and text indicate that the reduction of horse slaughter does not significantly increase neglect and abuse of unwanted animals.

Russell Williams, vice president of Hanover Shoe Farms, the largest and most prestigious Standardbred farm in the United States, emphasizes that as long as slaughter is available, alternatives won’t be considered, that it’s nothing more than death made an easy first option for owners and breeders looking to shun their responsibility. “We’ve got to keep in mind that [breeding and racing] brings with it an obligation to properly handle the unwanted horses we end up with. If we don’t eliminate slaughter, we’ll never come to grips with proper ways to solve that problem. It’s expensive, and it’s hard, but it’s got to be done.”

Jackson Knowlton, managing partner of the Sackatoga Stables group that owns 2003 Kentucky Derby champion Funny Cide and a member of the New York State Task Force on Retired Racehorses, places the responsibility of equine welfare squarely in his own lap and those of his peers. “From an owner’s perspective, we all have a responsibility to assure that the horses we race have a happy and healthy retirement. I believe that all owners should share in the financial responsibility to assure that this becomes a reality.”

The most humane solution is not necessarily an easy decision, however, even if it’s the only option available. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito and his wife Kim have been active slaughter abolitionists for years. “The main thing is that this problem has been going on for too long; we’ve been aware for a very long time now. ‘What do you do with these horses?’ If you must, and only absolutely must, you euthanize them. Look, we all know the humane thing to do, and we have to do it. You don’t send horses to be slaughtered.”

In addition to making horsemen responsible for the privilege of ownership, there are two other possible ways to address the problem of unwanted horses. The first is staggeringly simple: Don’t make so many of them. Last year alone, 161,313 new foals hit the ground: 9,133 Standardbreds, 34,350 Thoroughbreds, and an astounding 117,830 Quarter Horses.

According to the American Quarter Horse Association web-site, there are over three million Quarter Horses in the U. S. alone. The AQHA is funded via the process of registering American Quarter Horse foals. These staggering numbers are made possible through artificial insemination. One good stallion can be responsible for 5,000 foals a year, a conservative estimate say some.

If a Quarter Horse doesn’t have the talent to earn his way, becomes ill, or just doesn‘t have the physical tools, the slaughter option makes it easy. It’s not difficult to understand why the AQHA is a vocal advocate for horse slaughter. Last year, 76,000 horses were slaughtered according to the Humane Society’s Perry, who added that slaughterhouses are on track to butcher 100,000 horses in 2008.

It’s encouraging that not all Quarter Horse owners feel the same way about slaughter as policy. “How could I not be opposed to this appalling cruelty,” asked Steven Long, an owner of retired Quarter Horses and author/editor of the publication “Texas Horse Talk.” “These are the c reatures that built America. The agribusiness industry views them as a commodity. I have many cowboy friends, and I love them, but they’re just wrong. Horse slaughter must end now.”

Until the enabling of slaughter is abolished in this country, there are other options. Horses can have a career that doesn’t involve beating other horses to a finish post. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sent a questionnaire to horse owners seeking to learn how horses can have a second career. “There’s such a big area but it’s expensive,” said Thoroughbred breeder-owner Frank Maner of Quiet Oak Farm in upstate New York. “There’s so many horses being sold who never race. We need a middleman, an organization to find new owners, to broker [an exchange].”

There are many worthy retirement organizations doing important work, such as the Exceller Fund, named for the 1978 Gold Cup hero. Trainer Gary Contessa is the new president of the Exceller Fund, a non-profit organization that transitions former racehorses into new careers. “My whole life has been built around racehorses. I see this as an opportunity to give even more back to these wonderful animals,” said last year’s record-setting trainer on the New York circuit.

“I have numerous retired Thoroughbreds at my farm in upstate New York and have b een a major supporter of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation and Equine Advocates. But I want to do more. My primary focus will be in raising awareness and funds for the continuing care of horses,” Contessa said when named the organization’s president last month.

The best hope for insuring that the slaughter of American horses stops is H.R. 6598, the Conyers-Burton Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008 introduced by Rep. John Conyers (D-Michigan), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. The bill’s passage, approved by voice vote in committee Tuesday night, would prohibit the sale and transport of horses to foreign countries for slaughter and eventual human consumption. While the bill has heightened awareness in the halls of power, it still needs public support.

“As a Representative of one of the premiere Thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S., Saratoga Race Course, I find it imperative that we pass this commonsense piece of legislation,” said Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York). Sandy Treadwell, her Republican counterpart who’s running for Congress for to return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

“H.R. 6598 is the best chance we’ve had in years to pass this legislation,” affirmed Willie Nelson. “Call your representatives today and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 6598. Te ll them their decision should be an easy one.” “Those who are trying to stop this are responsible for horse’s deaths,” added Perry. “The bill’s passage is urgent.”

Like most Thoroughbred horsemen, the august Jockey Club, the sport’s registrar, wants equicide abolished. “The Jockey Club is opposed to the slaughter or processing of Thoroughbreds for consumption by humans or animals. This includes the sale and/or transportation of Thoroughbreds for slaughter or processing for consumption by humans or animals. The Jockey Club maintains its long-standing commitment to the care and welfare of Thoroughbreds and believes that Thoroughbreds should at all times be treated humanely and with dignity,” said Bob Curran, Jockey Club vice president of Corporate Communications.

The great Exceller, winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup run 30 years ago this weekend, never did win a formal championship. And so, after running the race of his life, defeating two Triple Crown champions in the process, Exceller entered stud service at Gainesway Farm in Kentucky. But not long after that he fell out of favor. Foreign interests had begun their assault on the American stud book. Speed had become the commodity of choice, more important than heart or stoutness or versatility or, as some might argue, ultimately, class.

So off Exceller went to Sweden, sold to a bre eder named Gote Ostlund. According to the Exceller Fund web-site, and contrary to rumor, the horse was not infertile. Indeed, he covered more than 40 mares in his final season at stud in Sweden. But Ostlund had made some bad business decisions, went bankrupt, and demanded that Exceller be slaughtered.

In 1997, Exceller, the same year he was nominated for--and would eventually gain--admission into the Racing Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, this extraordinary horse found himself in a Swedish slaughterhouse, thousands of miles from the dirt and grass upon which he raced and grazed and achieved greatness, and from the fans who admired and loved him, Exceller was murdered for no good reason.

Gandhi said that a society is judged by its treatment of its weakest members. The Bible teaches people to “rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.” And, as Edmund Burke reminds us, all’s that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Going forward, as racing fights for its financial and aesthetic survival, pressured from without and within, the horse industry might do well to recall the cautionary words of Martin Niemoller on the subject of the inactions of the past and what it might portend for the future. To wit:

“When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist. When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn't a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”

Written by Marion Altieri and John Pricci

From the HorseRaceInsider;click title above to go to site.

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