If you thought your 9-year-old son had the makings of a great football player, would you force him, under threat of whipping, to conduct extreme physical drills designed for the top college prospects just to impress NFL scouts? Fortunately, that wouldn't come until some 10 years and a hundred pounds later.
Thoroughbred racehorses aren't so lucky. Before they are ever entered in a race, juvenile horses, some of whom are not even 2 years old, are being forced to sprint at top speeds on fragile, undeveloped bones and joints for an eighth of a mile--sometimes to their deaths. This is an ugly first step into an industry that exploits animals as commodities and then throws them out like trash when their bodies are worn out and broken.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went undercover to document what happens at the "under tack shows" that thoroughbred auction companies put on before the annual auctions. The sprints are meant to impress potential buyers, and young horses are made to run at speeds faster than they ever would in an actual race.
PETA's video footage shows terrified horses panicking and running into guard rails. Some suffer career-ending injuries or catastrophic breakdowns in which their still-developing bones snap like twigs.
One of the horses captured on video suffered a compound fracture of her cannon bone while being pushed hard to sprint at breakneck speed at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Auction in Timonium, Maryland, on May 19. Fragments of bone can be seen exploding from her foot.
Because the auction failed to cancel the event despite unsafe weather and track conditions, PETA has asked the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office to bring cruelty-to-animals charges against the auction.
PETA also videotaped another young horse who suffered a fatal burst aorta when pushed to sprint in temperatures exceeding 100 degrees at the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company auction in Florida on June 19. The danger of sprinting in severe heat is well known in the racing industry, and some tracks cancel races in such weather. PETA is urging the county attorney to file charges against the company for violating Florida's anti-cruelty laws.
Recklessly endangering--and even killing--very young, inexperienced horses simply to put on a show for potential buyers is animal abuse, plain and simple. It's also what happens when animals are viewed as "investment opportunities" rather than individual beings.
PETA has sent thoroughbred auction companies a list of simple, lifesaving recommendations, including preventing horses under 2 years of age from sprinting, eliminating the timing of sprints, mandating that under tack shows be postponed in unsafe weather conditions and banning whips and other devices that force the horses to run at excessive speeds. It's time for the "sport of kings" to do right by the animals it claims to love.
Kathy Guillermo is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org .