I have wanted to post a thread about the racing industry for some time to see what everyone thinks about the issue, after reading some of the arguments in the slaughter debate, I think this is an issue that deserves more attention than it gets, I am interested to hear any and all opinions.
Personally I think there are far too many horses produced each year which results in many ending up at slaughter houses, or worse, dying of neglect and/or starvation. People get very heated when the issue of slaughter arises but I feel that we are all pointing fingers in the wrong direction. The slaughter houses themselves are not to blame; they are merely a symptom of a much greater underlying issue: There are too many horses and not enough people and resources to adequately care for them.
Sure, Backyard Breeders are somewhat responsible and that is also an issue that also needs to be addressed. However, surely one of the main culprits is the racing industry, why is it that so many racehorses are allowed to be bred each year when so few actually go on to become winners themselves? Here are some interesting facts, the charts are taken from the Jockey Club website and reflect the number of thoroughbreds born each year, and the number that have at least one start as a two year old. There was a slight reduction in foals born in 2010 due to the economic recession however the figures are still staggering.
Do the math: In 2007 almost 35,000 foals were born and in 2009 less than 5,000 made it to the track. That is less than 15% strike rate. And they aren’t even horses that necessarily won anything, just the ones that had at least one race.
So why are so many bred? What is the true value of nature versus nurture? Here is a hypothetical situation: Horse does wonderfully at the track for his entire racing career, wins millions. Stands at stud for a handsome stud fee. Who has the money to pay for the pricey progeny? People with money and (hopefully) knowledge. Where do they send the horse? The best trainer they can find. Best barn, best jockeys, best of everything. If the expensive progeny then goes on to have a successful racing career, is it because of their impeccable breeding or their excellent training and handling? Who’s to say? Regardless, the top sires in the world will continue to cover as many as 200 mares a season with the expectation that the progeny will be just as successful. Then there are all the other sires who’s grandsire’s half brother’s cousin’s sire ran second in the Kentucky Derby in 1968. People can read all sorts of promising information from the most non-sparkling of pedigrees.
Here is an interesting article by two evolutionary biologists from the University of Edinburgh published in 2007: BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Racehorse winning secret revealed Synopsis: They studied the stud fees, winnings and earnings of more than 4,000 racehorses dating back to 1922 and analyzed the success of their progeny. They found that offspring of expensive racehorses tended to win more over their lifetime however they found that “by far the biggest factor was the horse's environment - the way they were trained, the choice of races entered and which jockeys were employed” They concluded that only 10% of a horses lifetime winnings can be attributed to their bloodlines.
Now don’t get me wrong here, the racing industry is good for one thing – giving me a never ending supply of OTTB’s, my favorite type of horse in the world. If only I could take on all of them!
So, are we breeding too many racehorses? If so what is the solution? Breeding standards for sires? To be controlled by who? The Jockey Club? Or is the racing industry is just fine the way it is?
You have to look at the bigger picture though. In Australia, for instance, the racing industry is the second biggest employer in the country. Take that away, or reduce it, and thousands of people are going to suffer.
Obviously, it isn't as heated a debate here in Australia - not nearly as many horses end up in pet food.
I think the racing industrys biggest downfall is the fact that it is a business so for many that means the horses are disposable and they need to be raced early in order to find out if they're worth even putting the money into. I think that if horses were raced later, as well as bred for confirmation, not just speed, there would be less breakdowns which would be a big help. As far as breeding less race horses, I'm not sure how to make that happen as the chances of having a winner are so low that you're bound to have far more poor racers than good.
So basically I think it is flawed, but not evil, cruel, etc. The race horses I've worked with personally have been some of the best treated horses I've seen -- They have to be in order to stand any chance of winning
This is so interesting and something I struggle with myself. Thank you for bringing it up and making me think more about it. And sorry in advance for my ramblings...
My dad, or more accurately, I, owned about 35+ TB race horses when I was a kid. My dad was the owner but he put the horses in mine and my sisters names when he realized after the first winning race that kids were not allowed in the winners enclosure (in England, at the time) but owners could not be refused. So my sis and I 'owned' about 35 race horses that I can remember, I am sure that there were more, but my dad now seems to not remember either, while I am sure he still does know.
So I grew up at the track with a fanatical dad and spent all of my weekends there. In my teenage years I grew to hate it, but still loved a different aspect of horses, as I saw horses die right there at the track, in fact one of ours did. It is ironic that I would still do cross country, (eventing) where horses also die in our idea of a sport. Which is why it is interesting to me as I cannot quite make a balance in my head.
My dad does not own horses any more, I suspect because he lost too much over the years, but he does still gamble and he is adamant that it is about the breeding. But yet, my mutt of a pony that I had as a kid won everything I asked of her in jumping, but in my dads mind this made sense as she 'had heart'.
Since I have been an adult and buying my own OTTB, the one I currently have shows the most potential, he was bred about above average, but he sucked on the track and only won $35k. Which is not much.
So I suppose what I am thinking as I am typing is that it is not a known thing to breed a horse with heart, all they can do is go with the best options available to them, which is breeding from form.
As far as horse slaughter goes from the race industry, it is a business, so why spend 3 months or more trying to give a way a lame horse for free when they could get $50 for that horse. To them horses are like cattle to us. And if you could get $2k for a horse you will hold out for a few months and eat the board costs, but if it is not selling there is a math equation that takes place.
So to me, I don't know what is ethical, if we ban slaughter and only allow dying naturally or euthanasia, then there will be horses who starve as people are not willing to spend the $$$, so what do we do, it is a bigger issue than a blanket statement. I don't like slaughter but I am beginning to think it is better than a horse going hungry for 6 months and then dying from neglect.
I have a love/hate relationship with the industry.
Sarahvr, great initial post and analysis, but I have one quibble:
to cover as many as 200
That coverage rate is not possible in American TBs because of the JC requirement that they be bread live cover AND the pressure to get all the mares in foal by March 1. 50 - 60 is more realistic, and that assumes that the stallion stands at a very well run establishment. 40 - 50 is pretty much the norm for a good stallion at a good stud. If the mare is still open in April, most owners will opt to leave her open for the rest of the year and try again in January, rather than have a late foal.
However, my quibble doesn't affect your conclusion that 1.) we breed way too many TBs considering the demand, and a shockingly low percentage make it to the track. Yes, there is a "disposable" mentality; and a even more damaging mentality of "Oh, she couldn't break her maiden at the track? Well, she's got _____ in her pedigree, she can always be a broodmare." I can't tell you how many times I heard that or something similiar. Every time there's a cheap horse that makes good at the track (FunnyCide, for example) the amount of trash bred by folks hoping to hit the equine lottery goes up.
Spastic Dove, I like your post as well.
The simplest, cleanest way to improve the TB industry in my opinion would be to gradually move to eliminate 2 year old racing. Push the first race for 2 year olds back one month per year until the first race for 2 years olds is in September. This is for two reasons: most of the legitmate criticism of TB racing comes from young horses doing too much too soon and breaking down as a result. Not allowing a horse to race until it's 30 - 36 months old will also put some downward pressure on the trash breeding. By extending the time it takes to reap a return on a breeding or foal, you'll push a percentage of breeders out of the business. Yes, it will be a financial hardship on some and the industry will contract (I think it needs to), but the folks who will be pushed out by the slower return will mostly be the trash breeders or folks doing it on a shoestring.
The second change I would like to make involves education. There are still a surprising, scary number of TB horsepeople who continue to use techniques like pin firing or blistering for no reason other than superstition and ignorance. For every intelligent, thoughtful, careful trainer out there; there's at least two yahoos.
Chiilaa - It is also a huge industry and employer of people here in the States and I don't advocate taking jobs from anyone. However the current situation in the jobs market here (and in Australia) has been caused by far greater economic forces than the expansion/contraction of a single industry and will not be solved by 'maintaining' current jobs - new jobs must be created but that is a thread for another topic and probably some other forum
Spastic Dove - Please don't misunderstand, I am not trying to paint the racing industry as cruel or evil, just that it may be a little flawed in its logic.
AlexS - Thanks for an insightful post
Maura - Thanks for the correction, I must admit I was looking at Aussie sires when I did my fact finding as they are the ones I really know best. Great post by the way, interesting idea too.
I don't think it'd be as bad if they bred for sturdier horses, instead of lighter ones, that would have more of a chance of being usable if they didn't make it to the track or were retired from it. I forgot where I heard this at but I think it's true and it's one of the reasons I'm sort of nervous about ever owning a thoroughbred as "they are 1000 pound animals with toothpick legs running 40 mph down a dirt track" (or something like that). Most of the horses awaiting homes in rescues have some kind of soundness issue because they are bred light and they were raced early.
Zenyatta didn't start racing until she was three and look what she accomplished.
^^Aha, you bring up another point that I want to address, related to what Maura suggested also - starting them later and being more selective with the horses that make the cut. Case in point: The Hong Kong racing industry. Basically many are started as 3 year olds but they are run longer (i.e. It is not unusual to see a horse still racing when it is 8-10yo) thereby getting more use out of each horse. I believe it is now law that the owners of the racehorse are responsible for rehoming them also. Of course a more isolated industry such as Hong Kong needs to be far more careful with the number of horses produced/used but it is and interesting model for other racing industries.