Thoroughbred Racing

As a young woman, I loved horse racing.  Watching the magnificent horses thunder around the track gave me goose bumps.  I remember cheering for Secretariat as he finished the final leg of the Triple Crown.  He was poetry in motion.  I hoped to become a large animal veterinarian and someday work with race horses.  All that changed in the summer of 1985 when I went to work on a track. 

Between freshman and sophomore year of veterinary school, I worked in the drug testing barn at Canterbury Downs Racetrack in Shakopee Minnesota.  Although the job was less than glamorous (I caught urine with a cup attached to a stick), it taught me more about the horse racing industry than I ever imagined.  I discovered that the industry allows horses to run with performance enhancing drugs in their bodies – drugs that would disqualify a human athlete from competition.  I learned that pre-race health inspections were often a mere formality.  I saw the veterinarian  representing the racing commission certify horses standing in garbage cans full of ice as “racing sound”.  But perhaps the most disgusting event I witnessed was the breakdown of a black mare on the track.  This mare was the most successful horse in her stable, winning almost every time she ran.  I noticed her limping after a race.  She sustained a minor injury that would heal with rest.  It was sad to learn that she would not receive this much needed rest.  Her stable was in financial trouble.  Instead of allowing her to recuperate, the trainer raced her as frequently as the rules permitted.  She was euthanized a few races later after breaking her leg.  Quite often, the death of a race horse results in the stable receiving a large payment from the insurance company. 

To be fair, I did observe a handful of ethical trainers who cared about their horses.  These men and women made the welfare of the horse their top priority.  The problem is that too frequently the ethical people are squeezed out of the business.  The playing field is not level when some athletes are on performance-enhancing drugs.   

I recommend the following changes be instituted nationally.  For those unfamiliar with the Thoroughbred Racing Industry, each state is currently allowed to make up their own rules:

1)  Ban all drugs from horse racing, training and sales.  This includes:   

  • Furosemide (Lasix is the common trade name.)  Lasix is used to treat a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.  The stress of racing causes tiny blood vessels in the lungs to rupture in some horses.  The mixture of blood and bronchiolar secretions interferes with respiration causing the horse to slow down.  “Bleeders” are given a dose of this powerful diuretic to decrease blood pressure which in turn, decreases bleeding.  Horses raced on furosemide lose several pounds prior to racing which may give them a further advantage.
  • Phenylbutazone:  This non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug is often called “Bute”.  It is a potent pain reliever that allows trainers to race horses with physical injuries.  I watched minor problems turn into career-ending injuries when unscrupulous trainers used it to mask pain.  Like other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, Bute interferes with platelet function.  This may be a factor in exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.
  • Steroids:  Winstrol, Equipose, Durabolin and testosterone are the four legal steroids of horse racing.  Steroids enhance performance by artificially increasing muscle mass making the horse more powerful and faster.  Since these drugs are banned in human competition why are they allowed in horse racing?   

2)  Require all horses to be four years of age or older.

3)  The veterinarian conducting pre-race soundness exams must be independent from the racing commission.  As it stands, this position generally reports to the racing commission.  A veterinarian who disqualifies too many horses might jeopardize their employment.    

4)  Set high, common sense standards that each horse must meet in order to race.  The first standard should be that lameness of any severity is an automatic disqualification.  There should also be a ban on ice therapy for 2 hours prior to the veterinary inspection.

5)  The use of whips during competition should be banned.  

6)  Ban all traction devices on horse shoes.

The Jockey Club set-up the Thoroughbred Safety Committee to investigate problems which effect the welfare and safety of equine and human athletes involved in horse racing.  In their report dated June 17, 2008, the committee called for the elimination of steroids and traction devices on front horse shoes.  Unfortunately, they only recommended changes to the rules for whip usage.  To read more about the committee and their recommendations check out the media center news releases at www.jockeyclub.com.

Tragic events in recent years have justifiably tarnished horse racing.  Let us hope the bright light of greater scrutiny brings about a safer and more humane industry.  An industry which places the welfare of the horses first.

   

Tigre, The Cat Who Picked My Husband

        Tigre

As a veterinarian, I usually adopt the hard luck cases.  Animals that I affectionately refer to as “medical rejects”.  After our beloved cat died, my husband and I drove to the Arizona Humane Society to adopt a cat named Cuddles.  Someone tried to kill him by crushing his skull.  The sweet cat survived the ordeal although his face was grossly disfigured.  As long as his blood tests came back negative, he would be joining our family.

Unfortunately, Cuddles tested positive for corona virus.  We could not adopt him and risk exposing our other cat Genny.  Instead Tigre joined our family.  Tigre was a patient at the Arizona Humane Society’s Second Chance Hospital.  The poor cat suffered a large wound that penetrated deep into the muscles along his spinal column.  The outline of the wound resembled the profile of a knife.  Thanks to the great care provided by Dr. Croteau and his foster family, Tigre made a complete recovery.  He arrived for his final checkup the day we went to adopt Cuddles.  He took one look at us and decided that we should adopt him.  He stuck his paw through the bars of his hospital cage, tapped Steve on the shoulder and meowed.  Talk about persuasive.  Tigre stole our hearts in less than five minutes.

Tigre blossomed into a handsome cat with a friendly personality.  I like to describe him as a “pack cat”.  He always wants to have someone around.  If he can’t get human attention, he seeks out Susie for some canine company.  Sometimes he wonders into another room and begins to cry loudly.  I respond with “Tigre, we’re in here buddy.  We didn’t leave.  You did, remember?”  He follows my voice back into the room, happy as a clam to have “found” his people again.  Although he is not the brightest bulb on the tree, he is certainly the most grateful.  

In my experience, adult animals that have gone throught a shelter experience are especially grateful for a permanent home.  If you are considering adding a new animal member to your family, I encourage you to  adopt an adult from your local shelter or rescue group.  Please pay special attention to the older animals that aren’t as “adoptable” as the youngsters.  They will shower you with love and affection in return.

P.S.:  Cuddles found a permanent home shortly after we adopted Tigre.