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Further Proof Horses Are Not Food

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You can eat it if you want. I wouldn’t.

Here’s a lovely new study by the Equine Welfare Alliance, which followed eighteen slaughter-bound racehorses from the day they were administered bute (remember, it’s reported to the racing officials on race day, and filed) to the day they went to the kill. Oh the delicious, toxic meat. Bute, we should know by now, is a carcinogen, which manifests itself in bone marrow. It is toxic to the point that there are no safe levels permitted in food at all.

We might all be ill-advised to eat cattle, pigs, and chickens. But we’re flipping insane to eat racehorses.

In Alex Brown’s article, “Keeping Bute Out of the Food Chain,” he cites the Daily Racing Form’s statistic that in 2009, “99% of horses that ran in California pre-raced on Bute (7391 out of 7443).”

And these are the legally slaughtered horses.

Meanwhile, in South Florida, the legislators are writing bills creating felony charges for illegal slaughter – you know, when people find a horse they like, tie it to a tree, and butcher it while it is still alive. Evidently, they believe that this practice is limited to polo ponies, so Representative Luis Garcia (D. – Miami-Dade) assured a Miami blogger that they’ve amended the bill criminalizing illegal slaughter to include the transport of polo ponies. Which is interesting, considering the poster child for illegal horse butchering is a paint named Geronimo.

In reading the bill (which cites, in part, that a reason for criminalizing illegal horse slaughter is to “protect Florida’s natural beauty,” since unsightly horse carcasses have been found on previously pastoral roadsides), it appears that previously, it was only illegal to slaughter registered horses. The language reads that it will now “expand the classification of protection for registered breeds of horses to include any animal of the genus Equus (horse.)” Now grade horses are safe, too!

All joking aside, I find it striking that the horse slaughter debate continues to skirt the issue of food safety. You can spare me the arguments that the horse is not livestock, that civilization itself was built on the backs of horses and it is inappropriate to eat such a noble beast. As it happens, I believe all those arguments, too. But there are just as many people who will never be convinced of the social and philosophical reasons why horses are not food.

The real point to be made is that horses are simply not fit to be eaten. In a country which is repeatedly gripped by various medical panics – contaminated vegetables, bacteria-ridden meat, irradiated milk – no one is saying much about the most compelling reason of all not to slaughter horses: they simply aren’t safe to eat.


Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

April 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Zenyatta: Hippotherapy in the Shedrow

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Being the greatest race mare in history isn’t enough for Zenyatta. She also acts as a therapeutic partner for a child with autism, as The Blood-Horse reports.

Courtesy Santa Anita press

Step back for a second and consider whether or not you’d just fearlessly walk up to a 17 hand, fighting-fit Thoroughbred racehorse.

And then imagine the 5 year-old boy who does so.

Jack, who has autism and lives, as his father says, “in a distant world,” loves Zenyatta. A lot of us love Zenyatta – but it’s unlikely that she’d allow anyone else the closeness that she affords Jack – not knowing how to pet her, trainer John Shirreffs explains, Jack pokes his finger into her side and screams to express his happiness.

Jack’s father says that just mentioning Zenyatta makes the distant child “glow with happiness and jump up and down.”

Nationally, the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association (NARHA) has more than 6,300 equines on its rosters, from minis to mules and every sort of breed in between, and in 2009 NARHA organizations assisted more than 40,000 participants. Interestingly, autism was the number one special need served by NARHA centers. Rapidly growing in diagnosis and still a mystery in its many forms, children with autism seem especially attuned to horses – and horses to them.

Zenyatta’s acceptance of this little boy in her life is just one more example of that old saying: horses know.

Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 26, 2010 at 12:56 am

Review: The Sweet Running Filly

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Where was this book when I was a kid?

All I ever wanted was a good racing story, that might explain to me the very adult world of horse racing, always with its door closed to children. We were relegated to velvet hunt caps, tasteful make-up, and “natural” obstacles. I wanted rainbow silks, dirt in my face, and a clear path to the wire.

The books I had were the classics, and I memorized them even as I bemoaned either their age (Black Gold and Come on, Seabiscuit! were amazing history lessons, but I wanted to know what racing life was like now!) I was always a skeptical child, and knew the Jockey Club would never have permitted the Black to race, and certainly not to enter the Stud Book. (One might say the same thing of The Pie.) I wanted reality, I wanted some glimpse of the real thing, that storied world I wasn’t allowed to enter, not more history, not more fantasy, and certainly not more boys. Surely Velvet Brown wasn’t the only girl that dreamed of galloping a fast horse?

At last, The Sweet Running Filly is the book I was looking for.

First published in 1971, and set in southern Ohio, everything about this book rings true, right down to the very skillful country voice that the narration and dialogue is written in. Oh sure, there are stereotypical characters – the scar-faced trainer that specializes in cheap claimers, the African American groom that knows all the native flora and fauna and uses them in his secret remedies to keep the horses going, the wealthy farm owner, etc. But if Dick Francis wrote to a formula, I think we can excuse the authors theirs’. When the characters work, do you really care if you recognize them?

From the opener, at Fasig-Tipton Saratoga, where one very beautiful yearling spooks her way into the sales ring and rockets out again, a sales-topper of The Green Monkey proportions, to the Ohio antiques shop where Julie Jefferson holds up the counter for her father (a man of excellent wit, and their exchanges alone make the book worth your time) to the summer spent starting yearlings and learning to work horses, The Sweet Running Filly captivates – and manages to stay within the realm of reality, a gift for anyone tired of racing fantasy. Even the mystery, during which the main character reinvents herself as Julie Jefferson, Girl Detective, is fast-paced, entertaining, and not so convoluted that we couldn’t have expected her to have figured it out!

And despite the rollicking, quick story, despite the excellent voice and the witty dialogue, what really captures me are the truisms in this book that any horse-crazy girl will see herself in:

“The common belief was that you loved horses because you loved riding. But Julie’s emotions worked the other way. She loved riding because she loved horses. Sitting astride a horse was just one expression of the closeness of two spirits, no more and no less satisfying that playing together in a grassy pasture, nuzzling in a warm, dark stall, hand-walking after a bath to dry out, or grooming on a pair of crossties snapped across a stable aisle.”

The “Bonnie Books” continue with a half-dozen more titles, including the currently available A Horse Called Bonnie. A percentage of sales of these books will be going to Thoroughbred charities, working to improve the lives of retired racehorses. Find out more on Facebook – “The Bonnie Books.” Here it is at Barnes & Noble.com – for only nine dollars.

And – just because you might have missed this one in childhood – don’t miss it now.

The Sweet Running Filly

Barbara Van Tuyl & Pat Johnson


From Aqueduct to Albany

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There is news today that perhaps the horsemen have been heard, as the Thoroughbred Times reports that legislation has been introduced in New York to facilitate a transparent new process for approving a racino operator at Aqueduct.

It wasn't the cover. But it was something.

This is just days after the so-called Big A-6 managed to cancel the first race at Aqueduct, boycotting with their six entries, and brought together the racing community at neighboring Belmont for a rally calling upon Albany to stop stalling and give the horsemen what they had been promised: a racino, the chance at renewed purses and breeders’ incentives, the knowledge that the business was not bankrupt and the Thoroughbreds could go on running.

The latest twist in the long plot of the Video Lottery Terminals (VLT) that have been coming to an Aqueduct near you for nine years… and just why do the words Video Lottery Terminals seem so magical to members of the racing industry?

Because they’ve worked before.

As Jay Hovdey points out in his blog at the Daily Racing Form (may require free reg.), the racino is not the silver bullet, and in some locations, the hugely successful casinos are trying to shoulder out the horses or dogs that brought them there in the first place. But they are a start. And with the example of New York’s Standardbred industry –  racetracks like Yonkers offering gaming to those looking for quicker pay-outs than what they’d receive from studying the past performances, the track conditions, and the Beyer figures, not to mention the many successful Thoroughbred tracks in the country, from Delaware to Mountaineer Park – the way to saving New York Thoroughbred racing seems clear enough.

And by and large, governments are turning to VLTs and racinos to save themselves from the huge budget shortfalls of the Great Recession. Just today, the New Hampshire Senate passed a bill allowing video lottery in six locations – including three racetracks – with the goal of earning enough to restore cut social services.

The possibility of not just saving the horsemen and the communities around them, but actually making back the money necessary to close New York’s budget gap, rescue NYRA’s signature tracks and races (the Belmont Stakes among them), and creating hundreds of additional jobs in New York City, ought to be too much for the legislators in Albany to turn down. If they can just stand to do something without giving all the deals to their friends, as in the case of the Aqueduct Entertainment Group.

Sen. Marty Golden, (R-Brooklyn) has proposed an open plan to allow an accounting firm to review bids and make a recommendation, and requires the state to review the recommendation publicly within ten days, making a final decision within fifteen days of the public hearing.

Yes, that’s allowing 25 days, assuming the legislation gets through, and bids are made in a timely manner. Fairly speedy, for government. Especially a government that has spent nine years doing – what, exactly? Nine years, nine foal crops, nine summers at Saratoga, a generation of children from kindergarten to high school – nine years of uncertainty for thousands of people in and around the racing business.

New York Racing’s Rally for Jobs – And Community

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The rally at Belmont Park on Sunday afternoon wasn’t about horses. It wasn’t about gambling. It wasn’t about fair labor, or working conditions, or any of the usual suspects that incite workers’ rallies.

It was about the continued survival of a community.

Tens of thousands jobs are on the line, and as New  Jersey’s forward-thinking purse initiatives move to make the same sports thefts that have taken New York sports franchises in the past, Albany continues to refuse to make good upon a nine-year-old promise to assign an operator for the much-maligned, sadly hypothetical racino at Aqueduct.

The crowd gathered on the brick apron of Belmont Park, near the finish line of the third leg of the Triple Crown, was as diverse a group as any random population on a crowded city street. It was the eclectic mix that sums up racing life – all classes, clothing, countries. . . hotwalkers, grooms, riders, trainers, breeders. Urban and rural groups together, asking the government for the same thing – and shouldn’t have that made the decision easy? So why has the Aqueduct racino dragged on for nearly a decade, with no end in sight?

There were children in strollers, playing in the grass, bouncing balloons. There were well-dressed owners and trainers with their families. There were state legislators, community leaders, and racing association directors. Many of these people would only have come together because of the incredible diversity of the Thoroughbred industry. They represent in their diversity the many communities that they support.

As the Long Island Railroad trains rattled by beyond the backstretch and the airplanes slowly slid over on their approach to JFK, Matthew Veitch, county supervisor from Saratoga, reminded the crowd that the VLT issues were not strictly an urban, racing plant problem, “not an upstate, downstate problem,” but a whole state issue. Even as letting New York racing fade costs the state millions of dollars, he pointed out, it causes racing to lose both the purses and prestige that have made New York the horseman’s choice for a century and a half.

It also means that upstate, New York’s richest agribusiness is flailing. Joe McMahon (McMahon of Saratoga), spoke of mares bred declining by more than half. Yes, this means few New York-breds competing in three years. It also means that only half of the jobs in the breeding industry and the communities surrounding them will be available in the coming years. Diminished breeding means out of work grooms, blacksmiths, veterinarians, feed dealers, trainers, watchmen. Out-of-work people mean grocers, dry cleaners, restauranteurs, doctors, plumbers get less business. Children eat less, even go hungry. They fail at school. They drop out before they graduate. Generations slip under. When industries are allowed to fail, communities fail.

How many communities will fail if the Thoroughbred industry, from the upstate farms and the brief summers of hospitality at Saratoga, to New York City’s cast of thousands who support the city tracks, to the tens of thousands who depend on these workers’ patronage – how many communities will simply collapse?

All for want of a simple solution that was already promised to the horsemen and workers of New York? A relatively simple system, the development of a racino at a free-standing structure, complete with public transportation, in the nation’s most densely populated urban corridor – they managed it in Louisiana. It is shocking that they can’t manage something so basic in New York.

Rick Violette, president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemens’ Association, expressed the fear and frustration of the communities at risk best with his one simple solution: to put the governor and the parties responsible for selecting a VLT in a locked room and to not let them out until a deal has been agreed upon.

The theme of the day was community. The chant of the day was “Real people, real jobs.” The mood of the day was frustration, with an undercurrent of worry, even fear. Real lives, entire communities at stake. And nothing for it but to stand together in one place, and shout, and hope that someone in charge is listening. It isn’t a bad practice; revolutions have been started and been won this way for centuries. The only question is, how many will shout, how loudly, and will it be soon enough to save New York’s racing community and heritage?

Hard Hats I Have Known – Part 2

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The next helmet in this sad story of hard-working styrofoam was a Troxel Legacy. It was hunter green and I bought it on my parent’s tab without permission. “But Mom, I broke my hat and I can’t ride without a new one!” Borrowing a school helmet was out of the question. If any of you have children with open tabs at tack shops, I suggest you close them immediately. After reading my blog, anyway. I once knew a thirteen year old girl who bought a $1500 Ashland equitation saddle on her mother’s tab. At Beval. Don’t get a line of credit from Beval.

Anyway, that hat was a victim of hooves. Aren’t they all? Hooves or hard ground, the only question is in which order. I actually rode in it for entirely too long and when I finally did crack it – it’s amazing how they crack inside, like eggs, like skulls – I only wish I’d had on a motorcycle helmet, so that something would have protected my jaw. Yes, horses have two hooves, and sometimes they both hit you. It only hurts occasionally. And I still don’t like Quarter Horses, and I especially don’t like Quarter Horse mares, and I will under no circumstances canter one. You can’t make me. I know it will buck. I just know.

I think I am missing one or two, but here is one coming to me that may have met an early end in the shedrow at Classic Mile training center in Ocala one chilly morning in November. The day after the Breeders’ Cup, I think. A very nasty customer in the form of a dark bay or brown colt and you know what, I didn’t want to ride the sucker. So it wasn’t a shocker when he dumped me in the packed clay and left town. The trainer wasn’t thrilled. I was pretty embarrassed. That was an International, too, I do believe.

My current hard hat - highly recommended!

The most recent dear departed was an International ATH, and I loved its microsuede and its carbon fiber strip. I sold dozens of these helmets at my tack shop, especially the “Switch” with the removable color strips. What is it with little girls and pink? Just dying to live up to stereotypes, aren’t we girls? Anyway, Bonnie,  my lovely chestnut mare, spooked at a caterpillar or a spector or a Dementor or something in the  middle of a dressage arena on a cloudless sunny day. Bonnie is a world-class spooker. I went heels over head backwards. The dent in this helmet is impressive. I think it may have had something to do with the random rock in the orange clay of the dressage arena. Yes, kids, a rock. You never know!

I now ride in a Charles Owen J3 skullcap, and I love it.  I swear it has never touched the ground. I hang it up carefully between uses, or set it on the kitchen table. (I keep a lot of tack on the kitchen table. Seems like a good enough place.) I don’t know how long Chas will last. At this point, though, if I got on a horse without a hat, I’d panic. My falls have been random, unexpected, and largely unrelated to jumping, which is where so many people assume you’ll get hurt. In fact, I’ve never even had a fall cross-country, the one place where I’m required to not only wear a hard hat and vest but also a medical armband listening my blood type. I’ll be sure to update you, should a new hard hat be required. As I’m sure one will be, eventually.

Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 16, 2010 at 10:10 pm

Hard Hats I Have Known – Part 1

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I remember every hard hat I have ever killed.

As the dressage community, led by Heather Blitz, continues to cope with the realization that sometimes even being beautiful in a top hat and tails has to be sacrificed for safety’s sake, and that life-changing injuries can occur from spills even when you’re working on the flat, I have to recall the hard hats that have been sacrificed to keep my head intact.

The first one was luxurious, a velvet International show helmet, with brown leather harness. I was ten, and the riding instructor at my Fancy Hunter Barn was anxious to see me outfitted properly. (So was my mother.) The helmet was heavy and thick and hot on those summer afternoons in Florida, just one generation prior to the new thin-shell hats that were coming out on the market. You mean helmets didn’t have to weigh eight pounds and drag your head down? Who knew?

That helmet died several deaths. It probably should have been replaced several times over, but we didn’t realize at the time that helmets were one-time-use only! They seemed a bit expensive to be disposable. The first dispatch came when I was learning flying lead changes. My riding instructor taught flying lead changes as follows:

1) Canter horse on right lead.

2) Turn right across center of arena.

3) Wait until you get to the fence and turn left hard.

I’m sure there was more to it than that, as he is now training high school dressage on the west coast, so he surely has some working knowledge of flying lead changes, right? But that was all I computed, anyway, and so I swung Figment left, and the handy hunter turned on his haunches, and I went scraping along the fenceline. The gouge that was left in the velvet, straight down to the base of the hat, was legendary. The number of stitches that I would have required, had that gouge been in my head: dozens.

The velvet hat at last met its match against a solid wooden roll-top. First horse, my Quarter Horse Smuckers (as in, “with a name like…”) took exception to the big green monster. Not even the lovely “guide poles” placed on either side of the fence dissuaded him – it was a truly dirty move. 2010 me wishes I would have had on a Tipperairy vest as well, since the guide poles did quite a number on my back after I bounced head-first off the roll-top and onto them.

The second was an International Pro-Lite, the first generation of air-flow style hats. They had a remarkable design flaw that no one remarked upon until later – the holes were so large that if you fell into a pile of brush or tree limbs, you could be impaled through one of the air vents. Fortunately my hat’s death came in an indoor arena, when OTTB Number 1 did a very agile spin/leap/capriole/twist move. He was athletic. I was less so. I hit the ground, sadly, underneath him. One hoof on my elbow, one hoof on my hard hat. Again, legendary. There was literally a horseshoe mark on the helmet. And if you flipped it over and looked inside, the styrofoam was split in two. I was a superstar. My elbow, I got over in a couple of weeks. The hat, however, saved my life.

In case you’re keeping score, in this little narrative I’m now up to age 14 or 15 and I’m already lucky to be alive. And only one of those falls came over a fence. Not to mention all the unsung spills that I can’t remember (which may say something in and of itself!) I’ll have to think extra hard about the next few helmets. . . but there is a good reason why I had to get a new one from the Large Man in Red this past holiday season.

Written by Natalie Keller Reinert

March 9, 2010 at 8:17 pm