Tomorrow is a big day in the world of horse racing: The Belmont Stakes, the final leg in the Triple Crown, will run and California Chrome has a chance to be the first horse in decades to win all three races. However, despite the fervor over a horse with potential to be only the twelfth Triple Crown victor in history, a dark cloud overshadows the event. The widespread and dangerous practice of horse doping continues to sully the sport of horse racing.
The New York Times recently published the latest article in its series about the pervasive doping of horses at U.S. racetracks. Drugs are regularly used to give horses a performance-enhancing edge in racing—enabling them to run through pain and creating the risk of serious harm to both horse and jockey.
Illegal drugs such as cobra venom, Viagra, cancer medications, and dermorphin (a substance extracted from tree frogs that acts as a pain killer 40 times more powerful than morphine) are used to push racehorses past their physical limits, but drugs that are currently legal are problematic, too. Drugs that are banned in every racing jurisdiction other than North America are legal at American racetracks—it is hardly surprising that twice as many racehorses die in the U.S. as in other countries with horse racing (numbers calculated by the Jockey Club). A 2012 New York Times exposé revealed that an average of 24 thoroughbred racehorses die at U.S. tracks every week. That number doesn’t even include Quarter Horse racing or Standardbred racing fatalities.
It’s time to clean up the U.S. horse racing industry by passing the federal Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act(HISA), H.R. 2012/S. 973. Introduced by Representatives Joe Pitts (R-PA) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) in the House and Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) in the Senate, this bill will ban performance-enhancing drugs in U.S. horse racing and designate the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as the governing body to create and oversee the implementation of uniform medication rules to protect horse welfare. The Jockey Club recently acknowledged the importance of this bill and agreed that the USADA “has the experience, the knowledge and the credibility to bring much-needed integrity to our sport.”
Guest blog by Nancy Perry, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Government Relations. ___
I am happy to report that the month of May in the Year of the Horse is ending on a very positive note for America’s horses! Following on the heels of last week’s victory in the Senate, today the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved the Moran Amendment by a bipartisan vote of 28-22.
Introduced by Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA), the Moran Amendment is now part of the House’s Agriculture Appropriations bill, which is our nation’s agriculture budget for Fiscal Year 2015. The amendment bans the use of federal funds to send USDA inspectors into horse slaughterhouses—without inspections, it would be illegal to sell the meat.
Special thanks go to Representative Moran for his brilliant leadership, skillfully guiding the amendment to success in the choppy waters of the appropriations process. He spoke eloquently in favor of eliminating tax spending on horse slaughterhouses and inspired strong speeches in favor of his amendment from Representatives Farr (D-CA), Dent (R-PA), Calvert (R-CA) and Quigley (D-IL). We are grateful for this vocal and compelling work that led to success today.
“Horse slaughter has no place in American society and this amendment affirms that Congress does not condone this inhumane practice,” said Rep. Moran. “These iconic creatures are a proud symbol of the American West that should be treasured for their beauty and treated humanely, not killed for export. The American public has made clear they oppose horse slaughter and today’s vote reflects the will of the people.”
Sitting, watching the vote unfold, there were powerful reminders of just how critical our grassroots advocacy truly is. Members repeatedly referred to hearing from people in their districts and what the American people wanted. These victories are not possible without strong support from individual advocates as well as organizations, large and small, who partnered with us in these tireless efforts. Everyone who has worked to spare horses from the nightmare of slaughter, organized to block the industry from setting up shop in their state, or taken to the courts and legislative offices to raise their voice against this cruelty played an important part in this victory today. My hat is off to you today, and I ask you to stay with us for the next steps we must take.
There are no longer any slaughterhouses in the United States that kill horses for human consumption—however, if the Moran Amendment and its Senate companion, the Landrieu-Graham Amendment, are not in the final legislation, our tax dollars could once again be used to enable the killing of horses for their meat and these predatory, inhumane businesses will return. Our job now is to make sure that the amendment remains in the final version of the bill that gets passed by the full House of Representatives. We also will press even harder to see the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act move ahead.
If you want to help the ASPCA protect our horses and communities from slaughter, please join the ASPCA Advocacy Brigade and we’ll email you when we need your voice!
Wonderful news for horses: Earlier today, May 22, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved an anti-horse slaughter amendment to the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill by a vote of 18-12. The Landrieu-Graham Amendment, introduced by Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), would continue to keep would-be horse slaughterers at bay by prohibiting the use of federal tax dollars to inspect their facilities. The current ban is set to expire in September and must be renewed by Congress in order to continue to protect our nation’s horses.
“There is no place for the brutal and uncivilized practice of horse slaughter in the United States,” said Senator Landrieu. “Our nation’s values are reflected in what we choose to fund in our annual budget. Today’s bipartisan vote to defund domestic horse slaughter shows this is not a Democratic or a Republican issue—it is an issue that 80 percent of the American people agree on. Brutal slaughter is never the answer, and I will continue to push for a ban to be signed into law.”
The majority of horses killed for human consumption are young, healthy animals who could otherwise go on to lead productive lives with loving owners. What’s more, meat from American horses is unsafe for human consumption; horses are not raised as food animals, and they’re often given medications and other substances that are toxic to people.
“There is no such thing as a commercial horse slaughter plant that doesn’t inflict cruelty on horses,” says Nancy Perry, Senior Vice President of ASPCA Government Relations. “Using taxpayer dollars to fund this abhorrent industry is irresponsible and wasteful. We are thankful to Senators Landrieu and Graham for their strong leadership in advocating to protect our nation’s revered equines.”
We thank the Senate Appropriations Committee for passing this amendment, and Senators Mary Landrieu and Lindsey Graham for their hard work and leadership on this issue.
Nearly 150 years ago, ASPCA founder Henry Bergh stopped a cart driver from beating his horse, resulting in the first successful arrest for horse mistreatment on April 26, 1866. Protecting horses has been a core part of our mission ever since, but we also rely on a strong public voice—people playing direct roles in their communities and through government to save these majestic, loving animals from cruelty and neglect.
This commitment is the driving force behind Help a Horse Day, our nationwide contest on April 26 awarding five $10,000 grants to equine rescues and sanctuaries that succeed in saving lives and raising awareness about at-risk horses. More than 80 groups in 32 states are participating—probably some near you. Their ideas include parading rescued horses down a local main street, having a community “horse wash,” running a horse-themed carnival, and hosting a rally on the steps of a state capitol.
Behind these celebrations is a sad truth: Thousands of equines become homeless each year through no fault of their own, and many end up at livestock auctions where they’re purchased for slaughter overseas. Last year, more than 144,000 American horses were sent to cruel deaths by foreign industries that produce unsafe food for consumers.
This is why ending horse slaughter has been one of our strongest recent campaigns. While the practice is effectively banned in the United States, there’s still more we can do to permanently ensure no horses are slaughtered here, or sent overseas for slaughter. You can help by actively supporting the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, bipartisan legislation that would end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, once and for all.
Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of the slaughter of U.S. horses for human consumption, and it’s no wonder. These are typically young and healthy animals that could go on to live productive lives. Instead, they’re often transported without food, water, or rest in dangerously overcrowded trailers. Some are seriously injured or killed in transit. The slaughter process is also inherently cruel, as horses are difficult to stun properly and may be repeatedly injured or stabbed during the procedure.
Horse soring—nothing short of the deliberate infliction of pain—is another reprehensible practice that requires our immediate attention and action. Soring is when trainers use purposefully painful methods, including filing hooves down to the nerve and inserting sharp objects into the hooves, to force horses to exaggerate their gait with high strides. You may have seen this at exhibitions and contests, but that high step is actually the horse’s flinching attempt to avoid pain. Some contests actually reward this tragic training with medals and ribbons.
Finally, there’s the equine event we’re all familiar with: horse racing. However you feel about the sport, there’s no denying that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is unacceptable. The Jockey Club, the organization that maintains the breed registry for all thoroughbred horses in North America, released a study which determined that racehorses in the United States die at a rate twice that of any other country. Horse welfare advocates know that lax drug rules are partly responsible, and have called for a ban on drug use for horses on race day, including a permanent ban for repeat offenders. Unlike human athletes, horses have no say in what’s injected into them for the purpose of glory and human profit.
Unscrupulous trainers take full advantage of America’s weak legal protections for horses, routinely and repeatedly violating medication rules. While the European Union, the Middle East and Japan all ban the use of drugs for horses on race days, the United States has no uniform rules on the practice.
Again, there’s good legislation waiting in the wings; all it needs is strong public support. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing and improve the safety and integrity of the sport. The bill would also create “one and done” and “three strikes, you’re out” penalties for strong enforcement. Learn how you can help protect racehorses by supporting this legislation.
Our commitment to horses is steadfast, and takes more forms than words alone. Last year, the ASPCA awarded $1.4 million in grants to support equine rescues and sanctuaries in 43 states and the District of Columbia. The grants were primarily awarded as part of the ASPCA Equine Fund, which provides life-saving resources including financial help, in-person and online training, and sharing of best practices to non-profit equine welfare organizations in America.
At the ASPCA, helping horses isn’t just something we preach—it’s something we practice in our work every single day. Intelligent, sensitive, and true American icons, horses have been at the heart of our mission since the very beginning, and in honor of our second annual National Help a Horse Day on April 26, we wanted to share the amazing story of Benny.
We first heard about Benny from our friends Joyce and Nona at Last Stop Horse Rescue in Prentiss, Maine. Last Stop is the recipient of an ASPCA grant: every three weeks, our grant funds the delivery of 20 bales of hay to Last Stop to feed the rescued horses.
We recently checked in with Last Stop, and that’s when they told us Benny’s story. Starved, emaciated and close to death, Benny arrived at Last Stop in August 2013. The four-year-old gelding showed clear signs of abuse and neglect, and was so weak that he could not stand on his own legs. The day of his arrival, he weighed just 562 pounds.
The staff at Last Stop spent several days trying to keep Benny standing, but ultimately, the best option was to place him in a sling hanging from a beam in the barn. At the recommendation of Dr. Ron Miles Benny was introduced to food slowly and in small amounts.
Slowly but surely, Benny gained strength. Over the 12 days that he was in the sling, Joyce says “we saw improvement each day with signs of brighter eyes, moving his feet more, and being able to consume more of the food that was being offered to him.” The team at Last Stop fed him every hour around the clock, setting an alarm to ensure that he got meals throughout the night as well.
After nearly two weeks in a sling, Benny stood for the first time on August 15. It was a joyous day for all involved.
It has now been over six months since Benny arrived at Last Stop. He currently weighs 930 pounds, and uses his newfound strength to gallop around the pasture with his fellow horses. Despite years of abuse and neglect, Joyce says, “Benny is our miracle boy. Food and love was all he needed.”
Stories like Benny’s are what inspired us to create National Help a Horse Day. All too often, these amazing animals are mistreated, neglected, or even sent to slaughter. The ASPCA is determined to spread education and activism on behalf of equines everywhere, and Benny is proof that every horse is worth helping. Looking back at Benny’s recovery, Joyce says, “This is what you have done for these horses with the grant from the ASPCA. Thank you!”
To see Benny in action, please watch Last Stop Horse Rescue’s video of his recovery. Be sure to visit our Help a Horse page for information about events in your community. The ASPCA is awarding $10,000 grants to the top five equine organizations whose events inspire the most community engagement and support.