View Full Version : Race Horse Welfare - Death of Eight Belles at Kentucky Derby

05-19-2008, 07:15 PM
Death of Eight Belles at Kentucky Derby Raises Horse Welfare Concerns

It is unusual for a filly to be able to compete successfully with male horses in the sport of horse racing. Eight Belles was the exception to this rule, and managed to come in second in the Kentucky Derby this year. Unfortunately, this valiant effort cost her life. The filly had to be euthanized due to shattered ankles. This horrible accident has led to questions concerning animal welfare issues surrounding the “sport of kings”, which include excessive use of the whip, performance-enhancing or pain-masking drugs, and race horse health management in general.

The Jockey Club could contribute to the general health of race horses by moving the official birth date of January 1 to sometime in the spring. Foals born during inclement winter weather may be excessively confined. Foals confined to stalls are more likely to develop foot problems such as contracted heels, and are unable to obtain the level of exercise necessary to build strong bones and tendons.

There is also the problem of foals born in December that are regarded as yearlings because they were born before January 1. Some of these foals have been destroyed in the past simply for being born at the wrong time of year.

Thoroughbred horses start their careers at a tender age. On some farms, they may even start training under saddle as early as thirteen months of age. Actual racing starts at the age of two, even though a horse’s legs are not fully developed till the age of three. Starting young horses too early can result in major injuries to bones and tendons. When pain causes a racehorse to stop performing, pain-masking drugs may be used. The use of drugs causes the horse to further damage himself, running his heart out because he can’t feel the pain that would normally keep him from straining a tendon, or breaking leg. Permissive drug policy on U.S. tracks is risking the lives of horses, and jockeys as well, since riders can be severely injured or killed when a horse goes down. Drugs should not be used to keep injured horses on the track. The continuous use of drugs can also cause problems with the digestive system.

Broken down race horses are quickly discarded, as trainers charge several hundred dollars or more per month to keep a horse. Though responsible race horse owners do make efforts to find homes for their retired race horses, unwanted horses can end up rotting in back pastures, or sent to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. Better health management of race horses would give them a chance at a second career after retiring from the track. Please help support the efforts of race horse rescue and adoption operations – especially now, when feed prices are higher than ever.

Submitted by J.R. Wise, author of “Give a Horse a Second Chance: Adopting and Caring for Rescue Horse.”

you are welcome to copy this post as long as you properly credit the source - J. R. Wise

05-20-2008, 04:55 AM
As much as I agree drug use and early training are an issue with race horses, I fear a later date could be just as harroing, most horses are born around March and April, a horses jestation period is close to 12 months and they actually have no true jestation, the world record is 13 or 14 months I think. If they moved the date to mid way through the year you would have even more of this hiding foals and premature aging four month olds would be a year. Personally I agree with the idea of the triple crown uping the ages by a year or two, perferably two. Horses continue to grow until they're five and until that growth is done, joints ligiments and musle are not done forming.

Many unwanted race horses have a chance in the dressage ring and other show rings, but your right, they also go to slaughter which is very sad and that should indeed be delt with. However I must also add, the Eight Belles was in perfect health before this race, and whatever occured to cause this injury it was a sad and tragic event. The fact that race officals are looking into it and trying to find ways to reduce injuries is a good sign. But we must not lay all blame on one person, its not just the track officals, not just the trainers, not just the owners and not just the vets.

There must be a combination, owners must know what is happening with their horses, they must trust their trainers, who must be humane, and considerate of their horses needs and know everything going into and out of their horses, including what it dose and its side effects. Vets must be trust worthy and open, and explain all recommendations to the trainers and make sure the right decisions are being made for the best intrest of the horse. And Race officals must make rules that make since in protecting their jockeys, their horses and their fans, that is mkae limits on drug rules, make change to footing to help reduce impact, change age cut offs, all things that must be looked into for the good of the horse and the good of the sport.

..P.S.. Most rolled heels are caused by shoeing, not confinement, early shoeing restricts a horses foot from proper development, being in a stall dosen't, it has nothing to do with being in twelve by twelve stalls, but having trainers or owners throwing steel on their feet before the feet have had a chance to develop.

06-25-2008, 12:28 PM
Thanks for caring about horses and for taking the time to read my post. I got my info on contracted heels from vets and farriers, though shoeing a horse too early can contribute to the problem.

06-25-2008, 01:37 PM
Just saw a thread today claiming that Eight Belles might have survived the Kentucky Derby if she had been treated with flunixin meglumine ( a popular nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent) prior to the race. Perhaps in the not-too-distant future, technological advances will allow racehorse owners to be able to install drug implants in their horses to deliver pain-killers on demand.

If genetic engineering really gets going in the next few decades, maybe scientists could breed spider monkeys or capuchins to ride the wasp-waisted, fragile racehorses of the future so that the weight of human jockeys won't slow them down. Or they could develop bionic racehorses operated by remote control computer chips in their brains and eliminate the weight of a rider altogether.

submitted by J.R. Wise, author of "Give a Horse a Second Chance."

you are welcome to copy this post as long as you credit the source

06-26-2008, 05:44 AM
I hate it when the owner of a notation is not part of the group its being used in as it doesn’t give them a chance to defend themselves, but this last bit is just ridicules. This isn't a defence, this is just getting stupid. The race officials are doing what they can to make the sport safer, they don't make money on horses dieing or jockeys getting injured, all this dose is make their sport more scrutinized. So to say that race officials are at fault here is foolishness.

I might add, I'd like to here your actual thoughts instead of quoting other sources. I've been part of the racing industry since I was a child, I know what goes on in the barns and what goes on in the owners offices. I'd like to here your point of view instead of quoting sources who like to exaggerate or not do their research before slamming the racing industry. I don't mind hearing a persons point of view, but please, before you write something that is expected to be taken seriously, do your research.

06-26-2008, 10:55 AM
I spent a brief period of time during my misspent youth exercising and grooming racehorses on a thoroughbred farm. I went to work one morning only to find the same horses whose legs I had tenderly wrapped the night before moaning softly. Due to an application of some witch's brew of caustic and pin-firing, their poor legs were swollen to twice the normal size. Granted, this was many years ago and racehorse management might have changed, especially on the high end of things.

By the way, what do you think happens to those cute little nurse mare foals during the dead of winter?


06-27-2008, 06:33 AM
Foals born in the dead of winter are normally stabled with their mom's, breeding practices attempt to make sure the foal are born as close to the new year as possible. I have heard of thoroughbred farms that hide foals born before and bring them out after the new year passes. What practics have you seen when it comes to foals, I'm very cruious?

My own trainers used as you put it a whichs brew. I was tought from day one how to put the liniments on, since the liniments contained DMSO, Cool Lotion, Rubbing Alcohol, and Absorbine, it was a liniment that needed only sparing use, very little. As I left the racing world and moved on to continue my life with saddle horses, I continued to use this combination liniment, mixed carefully the way I was shown, and used sparingly, as I knew if I put too much on it would blister my horses legs. When a horse went lame in a boarding stable I was staying at, I was asked for the liniment I used. I gave it to the stable owner with strict instructions to use very little, as long as you didn't use too much you were fine.

Horses around here are still pinshot when the trainers believe it nessecary, personally I hate the whole idea of it, but at least not its performed by a registered vet and they don't do it the way they use to. The horse we got from the track had been pin shot, no one wanted to admit to doing it, but there it was, pin shot marks. Now I've never heard of anyone, pin shooting, then rubbing down, then bandaging a horse all in the same day. However I can also say I have never been near a horse that was litteraly just pin shot, maybe swollen legs is a natural reaction to having it done?

I do agree there are practices that go on behind the scenes that people don't know about and shouldn't be done. We're things really that bad back then? I know pin shootinbg use to be done with caustic agents, but the practic is widly not used anymore.

06-27-2008, 09:32 AM
Since it's been a few years since I have been involved with the racing industry, I appreciate the opportunity to discuss these matters with someone who still has some direct involvement. Other practices which used to be common in the racing industry were severing the patellar ligament and the "jack" ligament. I assume the term "jack" ligament referred to the annular ligament which may restrict the movement of certain tendons, though I am not really sure on that particular point.

I also tend to have some issues with the sort of weight restrictions which tend to lead to anorexic jockeys.

06-28-2008, 01:32 PM
Yeah I really don't get the handicapping thing, why not up that and make it a heavier weight that all horses have to carry, I mean like McGuire said on SeaBuiscet (sp) "I'm an after thought" Even a small thousand pound horse isn't going to notice an extra couple hundred pounds really. I haven't heard of anyone severing ligiments, not recently anyway, I have read of the practice, but I'm not so sure its common anymore. Pin shooting and splints are most common around here both done by a certified vet. The thing around here that peeves me off is the use of Layzex, and when they banded it from use in this province the company put out X-leyze or something like that, just renamed the same drug. If your horse can't run a mile without bleeding in the lungs, your horse shouldn't be running.

Whip us gets to me, in Standardbred racing they made a rule that drivers are not allow to let go of the reins when using the whip, I think they need to make a similar rule in thoroughbred racing.

07-05-2008, 08:12 AM
I hope that responsible members of the industry get together and solve some of these issues before the government has to get involved, which is always prohibitively expensive and ineffectual, since most people who work for the government are poorly acquainted with an honest day's work.

Thank you again for taking the time to provide information about the modern race horse industry. Perhaps I misheard my source about the annular ligament thing, and he said "check ligament" which I believe is a common name for the annular ligament.

Oh well, anyone who is interested in learning more about these issues can go to news.bloodhorse.com. There is a pdf of the "Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse" summit, which was underwritten by the Jockey Club and other racing organizations.

02-13-2011, 12:01 AM
The use of drugs causes the horse to further damage himself, running his heart out because he can’t feel the pain that would normally keep him from straining a tendon, or breaking leg.
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