Monday, May 05, 2008

This Belle tolling softly

If you will indulge me for a minute, I’d like to write about something that has nothing to do with beautiful women. Though, it has everything to do with a beautiful female. On Saturday I watched the Kentucky Derby, as I’ve done almost every year since I was a kid. My joy at a race well run turned abruptly to horror at a life tragically ended. All along I was, of course, rooting for Eight Belles. The only filly in the field of 20, she was considered a long-shot to buck the Derby’s 134-year history and become only the fourth female to wear the blanket of roses. She came so close, second in fact. And then she was gone. From galloping to collapsing on the track with two broken front ankles, Eight Belles was euthanized right there on the dirt that nearly made her a champion. I turned off my TV, I couldn’t watch any more.

I’ve always loved horses. I proudly displayed horse figurines as a child and had more than a few of my drawing of the greats like Secretariat and Man O’ War hang on the family fridge for years. But this is wrong. No animal should die for our entertainment. Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins put it far better than I ever could:
“There is no turning away from this fact: Eight Belles killed herself finishing second. She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles for the pleasure of the crowd, the sheiks, oilmen, entrepreneurs, old money from the thousand-acre farms, the handicappers, men in bad sport coats with crumpled sheets full of betting hieroglyphics, the julep-swillers and the ladies in hats the size of boats, and the rest of the people who make up thoroughbred racing. There was no mistaking this fact, too, as she made her stretch run, and the apologists will use it to defend the sport in the coming days: She ran to please herself.”

How do I feel about horse racing after this? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to watch the Derby again without dread. And I’m not sure if I’d feel good about myself regardless. But this terribly sad turn of events has also shed some light on the human condition. First, why do we breed animals to the point that, as Jenkins wrote, they don’t have “bodies to accommodate their hearts”? Must all of the universe’s creatures be our organ-grinder monkeys?

And second, what is wrong with people who insist on using this horrible event as a metaphor for the Clinton-Obama race? Yes, Hillary was backing the filly. No, it’s not OK to gloat that her horse came in second, AND DIED, to a horse called “Big Brown.” (Actual Wonkette headline: “Hillary’s Horse Dies Embarrassingly,” and don’t even get me started on the comments.) Is this that “new kind of politics” everyone has been bragging about? Sigh. Wouldn’t it be nice if humans could be just a little more like the animals we think we control? Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our bodies could accommodate our hearts?

23 comments:

Steph Mineart said...

That's really awful. Is there no way to help a horse with broken legs survive? We are cruel people.

As for the Hillary comparison -- I'm predicting an Indiana win, so people are a bit premature counting her out.

Lula de Montes said...

Remember Barbaro?

Beatrice said...

I was horse obsessed as a girl - Breyer horses? Check. Marguerite Henry books? Check. Pony rides? Check. And of course, I loved to read about horse racing, and watch the races on tv.

But now that I'm older, I think horse racing is awful. For one, I think track design contributes to the injuries. And, in spite of the injuries, there's a lot of resistance to changing the tracks to safer surfaces.

Steph, its really hard for a horse to recover from a broken leg (much less two broken legs). Barbaro got state of the art care, and still wasn't able to pull through.

This was a nice entry, and a much better way to remember Belle than those awful photos of her lying on the track.

CoffeeDog said...

I watched some promo for the Derby, saw the horses running and I automatically get worried for the horses. It seems like such a cruel sport. I'm glad I didn't watch the Derby this year, knowing what happened.

cappuccinogirl said...

As a horse woman of many years, I've got to say that this really should be yet another nail in the coffin of running young horses. The average horse doesn't finish growing until it is six years old (some a little earlier, some later). Due to primarily monetary reasons, it has become more and more acceptable to start horses at a younger and younger age, expecting them to perform harder work than they used to. Todays situation is comparable to asking a seven year old child to be an olympic level gymnast.

While all equestrian sports have their tragedies, horse racing continually ranks up there with the high offenders, due to starting them at 16 months and beginning their racing career when they are under 3 years old. They're called 'colts' and 'fillies' for a reason: that's what baby horses are reffered to. Add to that the problem of inbreeding in the thoroughbred world and you've got a serious mess on your hands.

It's not to say that the trainers and jockeys don't care. Of course they do. Their horses are everything to them, but they're also their bread and butter. It's really hard to make money with horses, and few are truly sucessful. Sadly, the need to earn a living, combined with a growing acceptance of starting horses at far too young an age and then pushing them too fast is taking its toll. Belle is merely one of thousands.

gypsywee said...

I'm not sure if there is a similar site for the US...but check out http://www.horsedeathwatch.com/. Really fucking sad.

gypsywee said...

found US site http://scrollsequus.blogspot.com/
ugh.

delurk said...

Just too sad - again.

Pyewacket said...

I am a lover of all creatures great and small and what happened during the Derby hurt my heart.

I want to thank cappuccinogirl for posting all the info because while I had wondered why there has been a steady increase in injuries, I had no idea.

As a young one, I often went to the races during the summer and there just were not the accidents like we hear about now. My hope is that Belle's death will jolt the industry into change.

lynt said...

I, too, grew up horse obsessed -- riding, showing, reading, dreaming. This is the first thing I've been able to read about that beautiful feeling. Thank you for a poignant reflection on a brutal reality.

lynt said...

that's beautiful filly, not feeling. oops. overcome with what i'd just read...

karen said...

simply heart breaking, thanks for posting this

medyani said...

Exactly.

Gina said...

Girl, I'm with you on this. I couldn't believe that they do this to horses (I'm new to the derby). It seems so....out of line in this day and age.

jennifer from pittsburgh said...

I was going to blog about this, but your post is just spot on. Caty and I watched the race and then the second it was over we had to take the puppy outside. We didn't learn about the tragedy until my mother called, crying, to tell us. Until the necropsy comes back, plus a blood screen (for steroids) I'm holding back condemnation on the trainers, et al.
That said, I had no idea that there was an Obama 'Big Brown' thing going with Hillary and Eight Belles. Just when I think that man and his supporters can't sicken me anymore than they already have, we reach a new low.
Best wishes for Big Brown, the horse, not so much for the man, I mean, if that's how he wants to be known.

Anonymous said...

The sad thing is that the response to events like this tend to be "how can we reduce the chances of injuries" rather than "should we be doing this".

There's no good reason for horse (or dog or any other animal) racing to exist. The animals don't volunteer for it and it creates all kinds of potential for abuse and injury. We have no right to do this to animals. It should stop.

I hope that people will slowly start to see this.

Slym said...

Didn't watch the race but heard about it on the news after, it's truly sad.

neverless said...

This is the last place I expected commentary on Belles. Good for you. Really really good for you.

I have issues with them racing horses so young, and the lack of care that tends to go into the breeding of them. How many of this years' horses could be traced back to Northern Dancer? A whole HELL of a lot.

However, as someone who rides/trains, I will say that racing is in their blood (horses that race, that is). Just like a cow cutter will cut cows in a field alone, a race horse will always feel the pull to run, to have his/her head in front of the pack. I rodes quarter horses in fair races. All older than five. They're significantly less hot blooded than thoroughbreds and still, the fire was there.

I disagree with jumping sports. That's a whole other rant though.

These horses love to run, but it is irresponsible of the trainers/owners to cater to that urge without keeping their horse's safety in mind.

As for who was at fault during the derby? Hard to say if anyone was, only the jockey would know (maybe the owner, if she was in fact drugged). One thing's certain though: she really was a magnificent example of a filly. She played with the boys and let them eat her dirt.

Anonymous said...

I love this kind of post and writing. It's a lot deeper and meaningful to me than other entries.

Anonymous said...

But what is the difference between this horse being killed after we are done racing her and farm animals being slaughtered so we can eat them?

spastik annie said...

That's racing, part of the game. Also the filly descends from a horse with leg problems....
It's a shame but there will be other superstars and there will be other hard luck stories.

spastik annie said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEwdlz5YRm0

This mare broke hearts. Freak horse.

liz said...

neverless: Horses can run on their own. They don't need people breaking, training, and whipping them on in order to run. Let them run around fields when and where they want, on their own terms.

spastik_annie: Injuries are part of the game, which is why the game should stop.

anon: Yeah, no reason this horse should be loved more than the tens of billions of animals slaughtered each year for "food". :( That's why I'm a vegan. :)