There is one thing that many people in horse racing refuse to accept: public perception matters.
In this day and age, bad news spreads like wildfire. Photos and videos of tragedy can make their rounds on social media in minutes, reaching millions of people before the day is done. Horse racing needs to look at what became of greyhound racing, a once popular sport that is now banned in all but a handful of states. The public didn’t like what they heard about the way greyhounds were treated and so they came together through social media and television to end a sport that they thought was cruel.
It left thousands of dogs homeless and countless people out of work. Did the public think about that? Probably not. Their concern was over the dog’s living conditions, the sport’s contribution to the overpopulation of dogs, and the possibility for injury. These are many of the same concerns that the public has about horse racing.
Santa Anita’s string of breakdowns have made news stories throughout the nation, especially in California where the track is located. The public have begun to voice their concerns about horse racing. They are concerned about the drugs, the possibility of injury, and what happens when a horse’s career on the racetrack is through. The stories of love, care, and dedication that those in the industry have for their horses do not make headlines, but breakdowns do.
Our sport has arrived at a fork in the road. Do we take the same path we have been traveling down for centuries? A path of tradition where some drugs like lasix are allowed. A path where vet records don’t always follow the horse where it goes, a path where not every horse has a fund behind them that will give them a sure home when their time on the track is through.
Or, do we take the path of progression? A path of stronger drug regulations, a path where every horse has a home after they retire. A path where there is more resources available for injury prevention, limited stud books, and where the condition of life for racehorses at all levels and at all tracks are improved.
The latter will not always be comfortable for those who are use to the way the sport is run now. It will take adjustment and a break from tradition. Despite the inconvenience, it is the path that we must take for our beautiful sport to survive.
Those who work in horse racing or follow the sport know that love is the basis of all that happens. Love is the reason why the grooms and hot walkers wake up before the sun rises to take care of the horses they have been trusted with. Love is the reason that exercise riders and jockeys put their lives on the line every time they swing their leg across a horse’s back. Love is the reason that a trainer will kiss his horse between the eyes even after it finishes dead last.
But the public does not see this love. The public does not see an exercise rider hug their mount. The public does not see the horse lower their head into their groom’s arms for a scratch behind the ear. Instead, they see the stories of the breakdowns and the tragedy of an ex-racehorse ending up in an auction.
We must work to change their perception of the sport. We must show the public that we do indeed love our horses and are willing to do whatever we can to keep our sport around. We must support the initiatives being started around the country.
This means supporting Churchill Downs, The Stronach Group, and other independent tracks in their plan to phase out lasix by 2021. It’s supporting Santa Anita’s investment into PET and MRI machines to help with injury prevention and recovery. It means joining hands with groups like We Support Horse Racing as they fight against animal-activist groups on a political stage. This means supporting The Jockey Club’s consideration of limiting stud books to 140 mares. It’s giving funding to Thoroughbred retirement programs and starting more programs like the NYRA’s aftercare assessment. This means supporting the Horse Racing Integrity Act that will help keep our racehorses safe from drugs.
Horse racing has needed to get it together for some time now. The public thinking our sport is cruel is nothing new. We must show them that it’s not. We must show them that the love we have for our horses outweighs all the money in the world. The bad apples needed weeded out and the industry’s real problems need fixed.
We must no longer stand at that fork in the road, debating on which path to take. We must move towards progression, towards change. Let’s put our differences aside and move towards what we know must be done. It is for the good of the sport that we all cherish.
Thank you to my Ko-Fi supporters: Amy W., Stephen A., Keryl W., Joe S., Jennifer K., Debbie W., Robin L., Brian R., Cody V., Debbis S., Lisa P., and Lisa B.
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