I’m not going to lie. I hate the horse-racing industry. But I also hate how hateful and judgmental the debate about horse racing causes many people to become.
On the one hand, I’d be relieved beyond belief if I woke up tomorrow to news that the Kentucky Derby was cancelled and the horse racing industry was being shut down forever. On the other hand, it would mean that thousands of horses and thousands of employees in the industry would find themselves suddenly displaced and facing grave new dangers. The truth is, shutting down the horse racing industry in one fell swoop would be a devastating decision; one with incredibly complex consequences that none of us are prepared to deal with effectively. It would also do nothing to address the very real problems in other sectors of the horse industry.
On this eve of the annual Run for the Roses, I’m acutely aware that for many horse lovers like me, the decision of whether or not to watch (or attend or bet on) The Kentucky Derby can be a difficult one. This is because, whether we admit it (even to ourselves) or not, at some level, most of us feel torn.
Let me explain. I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. But I grew up a suburban kid with no direct access to horses except for ten magical days of summer camp each year. The rest of the year, I collected Breyer model horses. I learned how to draw and paint horses. I read every book about horses I could get my hands on. I named my bike Midnight and pretended we were galloping down the streets of my neighborhood together.
For kids like me, The Kentucky Derby (and the entire Triple Crown series) was a precious gift. Every spring, I anticipated and then devoured the pre-race information printed in the sports section of my local paper, including stories and photographs of the horses and graphics of the silks each jockey would be wearing. There was no such thing as the Internet or Equestrian TV or the Total Horse Channel back then. The only opportunities I had to watch REAL horses in “live time” were when the big races or international show jumping competitions got aired on one of the three primary network television stations.
As a child, I didn’t understand that there is a dark underbelly to the equine industry. And even if I’d known, I don’t think I would have cared. I just loved watching the horses. There wasn’t anything on television that I got more excited about than the Triple Crown. I was seven years old when Seattle Slew won the Crown in 1977. And then Affirmed did it again in 1978.
In 1979, my heart broke into a million pieces (along with every other horse lover’s in the nation) when the amazing grey colt, Spectacular Bid, fell short on his magnificent quest to make it three Crowns in a row. But then the very next year my wounded heart got healed as I cheered the mighty filly, Genuine Risk, to victory in The Kentucky Derby. then I watched her give all the boys a run for their money in both the Preakness and the Belmont. What a role model that feisty red-headed filly was for young girls like me!
You get the picture. Horse racing was a life-line for me, just as it was for many other young girls and boys who had no other access to horses. I honestly can’t imagine my childhood without it. To this day, my heart is emotionally hard-wired to pitter patter in excitement as I watch the pre-race shows. And I know I’m always going to feel tears running down my face as the most amazing creatures on earth somehow find yet another gear turning into the homestretch and racing headlong toward the finish-line.
But as an adult who is now also an experienced horse woman and who has seen first-hand the ugliness of the horse-industry (which is, in no way, limited to horse racing alone!), I have many other emotions as well. I cringe at the unbelievable physical and emotional demands these animals are burdened with at such a young age. I find myself needing to turn away when I see their tongues lolling and mouths sawing during the pre-race parade.
I shake my head when I see the metal shoes holding their cracked and split hooves together, knowing that selective breeding for speed and stamina has resulted in the horrible deterioration of the hoof structure among Thoroughbreds. I’m disgusted by the equipment that’s deemed acceptable for controlling the stressed-out, scared horses and that’s used to keep them focused on the job at hand. I know that many of the horses have probably been drugged to mask pain, if not today, then on other days. And, of course, I follow the devastating statistics about the number of equine deaths at U.S. tracks.
So, what are we horse lovers to do tomorrow in the face of these challenges? Do we simply turn off the TV and naively hope that if enough people choose not to watch or support horse racing, the industry will shut itself down or self-monitor? Do we say hateful things (in person or on social media) about those who are involved in, or support, the industry? I say no. I don’t want you to do either of those things. I actually want you to watch the races tomorrow. I want you to NOTICE what is happening – good and bad. I want you to learn more about the industry. But I also want you to do something else. I want you to help me start a NEW tradition related to horse racing:
Every time we watch a horse race (or any other competitive horse event), either on television or in person, and we see something that makes us cringe… let’s vow to take a deliberate POSITIVE action toward creating a better future for horses. There are lots of options to choose from: you can make a donation to an equine rescue group or an equine-assisted therapy/learning program that is providing homes for horses that are no longer viable competitively; you can take a course or seminar about the humane treatment, training and management of horses; you can lobby for positive change in the horse industry. Or, you can simply support a small business like mine: Unbridled, LLC.
I’m doing my best to advocate for horses (and the people who love them!) and I’m working hard every day to pave the way for a NEW approach to making a living with horses – one that is as good for the horses as it is for the humans!
In fact, to help you get started with this new tradition, I’m going to make it super easy for you to take one positive action RIGHT NOW (that’s also really fun)! My newest online learning experience called Change is the Only Constant launched on May 1st. I’m extending the deadline to enroll to this Sunday so you can take advantage of the pilot price (just $99!).
Obviously, this is a self-serving suggestion. But it’s so much bigger than that! I’m happy to be the one working hard and doing the heavy lifting to create a viable new heart-centered model for businesses in the horse industry of the future. I owe it to all the amazing horses that have touched my life in large and small ways, many of whom paid heavier prices than they needed to. But I can’t succeed without the enthusiastic support of other horse lovers like you.
So, will you do more this weekend than just attend a Kentucky Derby party, watch the race or wish for change? Will you join the dynamic discussion I’m leading about what WE can learn from horses about becoming better humans? Click here now!