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ARCHIVE - Dying To Win: Israel To Expand Horseracing

THIS ALERT IS CLOSED. It is archived to use as a letter-writing example or for background research.
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Horse Racing — the Horror Behind the Glamour

1. In the UK, an average of 375 horses were raced to death in each of the four recent racing seasons studied. Thirty percent of the 375 died while racing. The rest were either injured during training and killed, or their owners made an economic calculation that it would not be profitable to race them, so they killed them.

2. Following are some of the injuries horses sustained from racing which caused them to be killed: Broken legs from the shoulder to the coronet; tendon and ligament injuries; deep tissue damage after being run into by another horse; broken necks, backs, and pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; exhaustion; heart attacks; and internal injuries such as burst blood vessels in the lungs.

3. Horses are often raced before they are two years old, while their bones are still soft and growing, which puts them at higher risk for injury. Horse and Stable Management, co-authored by the former manager of the British National Equestrian Center, Jeremy Houghton Brown, states that a "horse should not be subjected to weight-carrying or strenuous work until the third year." The convention in the horse racing industry is to give all horses the same birthday of January 1, which obscures their true age and allows them to be raced before their bones have hardened.

4. Horses are inbred, generation after generation, to create lighter, faster horses. The result of this artificial, intense breeding is a faster horse with very long, thin legs, but a horse with far less bone strength, so their bones fracture much more easily. These horses with a smaller frame are also less robust, in general, and more vulnerable to disease and musculo-skeletal injury. Dr Thomas Tobin, of the Department of Veterinary Science at the University of Kentucky, showed that horses' bones become weaker during the course of a race, sometimes by over 40%. Horse experts say the result of racing on bones already weakened by breeding for speed, not strength, can be appalling.

Another victim of the racing industry notes one such expert, Dr. Tim O'Brien: "The legs of race horses are already in a vulnerable state due to breeders having systematically traded bone for speed. Those bones contain a spongy, honeycomb section inside, which acts as a shock absorber. The structure is necessary because when galloping at speed, the force on the lead foreleg as it hits the ground is over one and a half times the total bodyweight of the horse."

In September 1999, in the United States, 23-year-old jockey J.C. Gonzalez and his four-year-old mount, Wolfhunt, died within minutes of each other. As they rounded the final turn of a one-mile race, Wolfhunt suddenly fell, throwing jockey Gonzalez to the track. A racehorse trainer 50 feet away described what happened next: "The horse tried to stand, and first the right leg snapped, right between the knee and the ankle. Then he tried to put weight on the left leg, and it went above the knee. I could barely take my eyes off this horse trying to stand with these bloody stumps."

5. Horses are drugged so they will race even while injured, and are given other drugs just before the race to cover up the first drugs given. Some drugs, like a powerful steroid MPA (medroxyprogesterone acetate), mask pain and suppress symptoms of injury, allowing a horse to race at the cost of long-term damage. MPA is commonly injected into the inflamed joints of young racehorses who suffer lameness due to their punishing training regime. There is evidence that such steroids weaken the bones and predispose them to fractures. These drugs are banned in Britain, but little testing is done and the ban does not extend to animals— young or old— while they are training.

Also banned during racing, but used anyway, is phenylbutazone (or "bute"), a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) widely used in Britain to treat bone, tendon, joint and muscular injuries. It also masks the pain that is a natural and protective reaction to injury.

Then there is sodium bicarbonate, given two to three hours before a race via a stomach tube, to delay muscle tiring. Known as a milkshake, it works by increasing blood CO2 levels, which causes lactic acid to be expulsed from the horse's muscles. Lactic acid build up during exertion creates the sensation of fatigue. This artificial expulsion of lactic acid "fools" the horse's physiology into thinking it is not really fatigued, thus allowing the exertions to continue. An added attraction of sodium bicarbonate is that, by altering urine pH, it can prevent certain drugs from being excreted, thereby making them undetectable in urine tests. In this way, milkshakes serve as potential masking agents.

6. Racehorses have chronic gastric ulcers. A Virginia, U.S. study reported in the 1996 Equine Veterinary Journal found gastric ulcers in 93% of horses in race training; in horses who had actually raced, the incidence was a staggering 100%. A Hong Kong study reported in the same journal found that the ulcers were chronically progressive during training, but regressed if the horse was retired. The ulceration may be related in part to the high-cereal, high-energy diet racehorses are given, which is more acidic than their natural grass diet, to which they rarely have access.

7. Of horses age 3 and over, 82% suffer from bleeding in the lungs (pulmonary hemorrhage) because they have to breathe so heavily that blood comes out of their nostrils. One horse just died from that at the April 8th (2005) Grand National 3-day meet. A Japanese study in the November 1999 Journal of Comparative Pathology of racehorses performing low-intensity exercise at speeds up to 8.5 meters per second found that more than three-quarters of the horses suffered hemorrhaging in their lungs. Under race conditions, horses may often be pushed to run at speeds over fifty-six kilometers per hour.

8. Many racehorses die from stress-induced heart attacks.

9. Stress, unnatural breeding, unnatural feeding, not being allowed to socialize with others of their species, and inactivity— being made to stand in a stall in a stable up to 23 hours a day— makes them vulnerable to serious illnesses.

10. Racing goes against their basic nature. Horses are herd animals. They graze a little at a time, while they are moving from place to place. Horses used in races are fed a high protein cereal diet and kept immobile in stalls most of the day. They are not made to cope with such immobility and highly concentrated feed. As a result, they become increasingly psychologically and physically damaged.

11. Horses are routinely whipped during races, causing psychological damage as well as physical pain.

12. Horses are bred to die. In England, out of 16,000 foals produced each year, only 5-6,000 make it to the race course (one-third). The percent that makes it to the race goes down every year. In the 1920s, fewer horses were bred and 80% made it to the races, so every year, a higher and higher percentage of horses are born to die. Those that don't make it go to slaughterhouses or are sold again and again into progressively abusive conditions. Children convince their parents they want a horse, quickly grow tired of them, leave them locked in the stable or sell them again. The horses become neurotic from instability and inactivity and then become unstable temperamentally, after which they, also, are killed. People suggested money be put up for their retirement, but only 200,000 British pounds were put up 5 years ago and it would cost 6-7 million pounds to provide for the retirement of all those who no longer race.

In the U.S., one third of horses bound for the slaughterhouse were bred for racing. No longer competitive or unable to make the grade, they are driven or dragged inside, where they are shot in the head with a captive bolt pistol. If the gun is not working properly, horses can be conscious while their throats are being slit. Today, an average of over 100,000 American horses are slaughtered annually at U.S. and Canadian plants.

13. Except in the case of champions who are used for breeding, at the end of their racing career racehorses are killed and ground up to make pet food, sold to slaughterhouses in Europe, where people eat horse meat, or sold from one person to another, in a downward spiral of abuse.
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Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu, Minister of Finance
1 Kaplan St.; Jerusalem 91131, Israel
fax: 972-2-6496421; email:

Ms. Limor Livnat, Minister of Education, Culture, and Sport
34 Shivtei Israel St.; Jerusalem 91911, Israel
fax: 972-2-6753726; email:

Mr. Israel Katz, Minister of Agriculture
POB 30; Beit Dagan 50250, Israel
fax: 972-2-6496170; email:

Dear Ministers Livnat, Katz, and Netanyahu,

I applaud Israel's groundbreaking prohibitions on foie gras production and wild animal circus acts. With Tel-Aviv's recently passed ban on all animal circuses, Israel enters the 21st century with one of the world's more enlightened and benevolent animal welfare systems.

Israeli law appears committed to animal protection. That is why I have taken the time to contact you about a disturbing proposal to boost horseracing in Israel.

I understand officials plan to legalize gambling to reap earnings from gaming taxes. The proposal includes wagering on horseracing, with approval to erect two state-of-the-art tracks for the initial use of an estimated 2,000 horses. This will inflate Israel's small, non-betting racehorse industry and perhaps generate revenue. But the cost is high, in terms of animal cruelty.

I respectfully ask the government to reevaluate a proposal that will firmly establish the exploitive and inhumane horseracing trade. Horses, particularly vulnerable due to the present lack of legal protections in Israel, will inevitably endure mistreatment.

As demonstrated in the U.S. and U.K., overbreeding sends many "unsuitable" horses to an early grave. Among those who make it to the tracks, over 300 annually succumb to racing injuries in the U.K. alone.

A racehorse's life begins with stringent training before the young animal's bones have solidified, resulting in early fractures. As horses mature, they are routinely drugged in order to compete while injured. They experience hemorrhaging lungs, chronic stomach ulcers, and fractured limbs. One report reveals 82% of racehorses bleed in the lungs and 93% sustain gastric ulcers.

Outside the racing arena, horses are constrained in stalls as long as 23 hours per day. Prolonged confinement robs them of the herd contact and physical mobility vital to their well-being. After a life of servitude, spent horses are slaughtered or sold through auction rings into a wretched retirement. Some wind up on the killing floors as meat for human consumption and others suffer years of abuse and neglect. Even champions, often preserved for breeding, are eventually discarded. Ferdinand, an American Kentucky Derby winner, died in a Japanese slaughterhouse several years ago.

Horses coexist with people in a spirit of partnership and peace. They deserve our respect and protection. Legalized betting will entrench horseracing in your society. Please do not introduce gambling at the racetracks.

Thank you,

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