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Why Young People Avoid Horse Racing: Fan’s View
Covering horse racing news means getting caught up in the thrill of watching the finish line as well as listening to the passionate people in the equine industry. During the past few years, conversations have revolved around the push to save the declining horse racing industry and bringing younger people to the track.
Unfortunately, private conversations and social media reveal that trying to get younger people to the track has major pitfalls. The problem standing in the way is sympathy for the horses and alliances to organizations like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
After living and working next to Churchill Downs over the last 15 years, gleaning conversations that reference horse racing has been an easy task. These personal experiences show that opponents of horse racing in Louisville, Kent., are almost always people under the age of 40. Although their description of an ideal horse racing industry may sound outlandish, other ideas make a lot of sense to younger ears.
Altogether, most horse racing opponents under the age of 40 list five main reasons that they will never go to the track—unless something changes.
1. Horse racing is dangerous for horses
A taxi driver that works during the Kentucky Derby told me, "I will never approve of horse racing as long as they mistreat the horses." Specifically, he was referring to witnessing the tragic death of Eight Belles at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. After breaking the front ankles during the race, Eight Belles was euthanized immediately after placing as the runner up.
In his opinion, placing the horse in a situation where it could get injured was not good enough. As an animal rights activist, he would like to see horse racing include more safety measures for the horses—or be banned altogether. Although he is not sure how this would be done, a prominent voice in the industry is something he wants to see.
On the other hand, since the 2008 incident, horse racing officials say they are working to create a surface that decreases injuries like the ones Eight Belles suffered. In particular, the poly track (as opposed to the dirt track) is seen as the invention that will solve bone breaks that happen during races.
2. Horse racing needs to end horse drugging
The constant battle between the horse racing regulators and the horse owners over performance enhancing drugs bothers young people today. As one Louisville, Kent., local said, "To me, it's the fact that there are so many horse owners out there that do whatever they want and wait for someone else to come along and find out." For this reason, she no longer supports Churchill Downs and refuses to attend with friends.
Since the tragedy of Eight Belles, politicians are seeking to regulate owners that drug horses with fierce bans. With this in mind, when you review Twitter monitoring resources like Twinitor.com for "ban horse racing," you see a long list of young people outraged at the slow pace of this regulation.
Tweets include, "Simply put, this reversal re: lasix ban, is extremely disappointing …", "$$$ vs horses betrayed yet again AGSC Will Not Enact Race-Day Medication Ban" and "Oh dear. Another high profile US reversal following Santa Anita ripping up AW track. Step in the wrong direction again."
3. Racing horses are turned into food
After posting a funny video about a hip hop dressage performance on Facebook, a concerned former stable hand contacted me. Through her recent work at multiple horse stables throughout the state of Kentucky, she says that performance horses are being mistreated. When asked to detail her statement, she said that she systematically witnessed horses being sent off to be sold for meat.
Obama approved this law in late 2011 in order to divert the horse slaughter industry from Mexico and Canada. According to the American Veterinary Medicine Association (AVMA), an estimated 100,000 horses were sold for slaughter in the US in 2007. The AVMA was quick to point out that, "Opponents of the federal ban say its supporters should instead focus their energies on addressing what to do with (the horses)."
Horse racing workers I have spoken to in the past have repeated that they would like to see all racing horses retired to farms or given to children's programs—anything except winding up on a dinner plate or in a package of dog food. This is often cited along with the sad story of Ferdinand.
Within the horse racing industry, situations like the slaughter of Ferdinand for food lead evoke statements like following from TVG.com; "I want to get angry about what happened to him," said Toshiharu Kaibazawa, a stallion groom at Arrow Stud in Japan where Ferdinand had been standing. "It's just heartless, too heartless."
4. An end to horse whipping needed
In regards to Eight Belles' Kentucky Derby injury, PETA spokeswoman Kathy Guillermo is quoted as saying, "What we really want to know, did he (the jockey) feel anything along the way? If he didn't then we can probably blame the fact that they're allowed to whip the horses mercilessly."
Supporting Guillermo's statement, there was a study published in 2011 that says whipping a horse does not help it to win. Before this study was published, the UK was already pro-active and regulated whip usage to 8 times per race. About the issue, UK Twitter users are saying, "Horse racing's a joke. Jock(eys) threaten to strike, so rules about whipping are "relaxed".Apparently if u throw a hissy fit, animal abuse is ok."
On forums about the horse whipping limit in Britain, users write that they think it should be banned altogether. Fortunately, it looks like this might be an area that will become self-regulated. On a forum for horse-related workers, the studies that show whipping does not improve the horse's ability to win are causing these workers to voice their support.
One horse trainer speaks from experience and says, "I agree, the present use of the whip in horse racing should be banned. The answer to a horse running out of gas during a race is better physical conditioning."
5. Horse Industry must be self-regulating
Currently, PETA, politicians, and ex-horse racing fans are telling the industry what they need to do to clean up their act. The thoughts of most anti-horse racing advocates in the Louisville, Kent., community are paraphrased by one woman who says, "It is time for horse racing industry worldwide to stand up for the animals that make them millionaires."
Ideas for a sustainable horse racing future
These days, young people are interested in the environment and sustainable practices. This drive has led to formation of groups like the Wigg Party in San Francisco. If the Wigg Party is part of the audience, how can horse racing change to appeal to this group? From social media to common conversations in Louisville, Kent., bars, it is clear that—if the horse racing industry wants to make it with the under 40 crowd—they are going to need to re-vamp their core ethics.
However, there is hope. Thankfully, these horse racing opponents give plenty of suggestions on positive future changes that racetracks can make. Some of these mirror opinions like those of blogger Heather Smith Thomas.
For example, what if every school in America had their own race horse and organic garden? Or; what if retired horses were allowed to run wild through national parks in the Mid West? Interlaced in their opinions were references about how kids today need to remember what horses were like. Others wondered if retired horses were more ecologically sustainable than tractors.
In the end, if the horse racing industry is truly focused on embracing younger people, honoring wild ideas edged with genuine sincerity may be needed. In my opinion, if this is what young people think about the horse racing industry, the safety initiatives already taking place in politics and with organizations like the Jockey Club could use a serious public relations overhaul.
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Maryam Louise is a longtime resident of the Bluegrass State and has lived in the shadows of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky over the past two decades. In addition to being a fan of horse racing, she has also had a chance to get to know jockeys, horse groomers, and betting clerks as an ESL instructor. Currently, she writes for KentuckyDerby.org and relies on her friends in the multiple facets of the equine industry for writing inspiration.
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