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It’s incredibly sad that doctors had to put down Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. It’s equally sad that his death is being described as something his doctors “had to do.”
Don’t get me wrong here: I understand the decision to euthanize an animal. We’ve all had pets; we’ve all been through this. And given Barbaro’s dire condition, I do believe it only made sense to put him down.
But don’t say you “had to” do it. Because that is a lie.
This was a race horse. And more importantly, this was a horse who suffered an ultimately fatal injury during a race.
Barbaro didn’t “have to” run in that race, and his owners didn’t “have to” run him in it. They chose to.
Which means Barbaro’s death was a choice long before he had to be euthanized.
Horse racing is a stupid sport. And I say this as someone who doesn’t mind watching it. There are people in this world who will tell you it’s cruel and barbaric. I don’t believe it’s either of those things. For horse racing to be cruel or barbaric, you would have to believe horse owners and trainers actively hate and wish to hurt their animals. I don’t believe this is factual. So instead of cruel or barbaric, the sport is just stupid and dumb.
A broken leg isn’t a minor injury for a horse. You can’t just give him a cast and let him hop around for four weeks, letting friends sign his leg with a Sharpie marker. When a horse breaks his leg, his life is immediately in danger. No one knows this better than the people who own, train, and ride horses for a living. And yet they continue to enter these horses in life-threatening races anyway.
Horses aren’t stock cars. Stock cars get banged up and catch fire, but when they’re destroyed, we can replace them. You can’t replace a dead horse’s life.
Horses aren’t athletes, either—no matter how athletic they may naturally be. When a guy gets hurt playing football, baseball, basketball, or hockey, you can reasonably deduce that he chose to get hurt, inasmuch as he chose to play a risky game. No horse has ever chosen to run in a race. This includes the ones who seem to enjoy racing, and the ones who seem born to run.
I realize these are “just horses” I’m talking about here. I expect to get that response from a number of people after reading this article. But the fact that they’re “just horses” is exactly the point I am trying to make.
Human beings are pretty high up on the food chain. In fact, as far as I know, we’re the only members who actually call it a food chain. That’s how high up we are.
We know horse racing can end a horse’s life, and yet we continue to race these horses anyway. The horses have no say in the matter. And what are they racing for? Money for us, some vicarious concept of “glory” for them? It’s ridiculous.
If this is how we treat those on the food chain who can’t argue with us, how well does it bode for how we treat our own?
Something about it just doesn’t seem right to me. Which is probably why I find myself wincing every time they say doctors “had to” put Barbaro down.