Friday, March 28, 2014
Steve Asmussen, PETA and Harness Racing
On the surface, the firestorm surrounding Steve Asmussen, the PETA undercover investigation and the cruelty to animals charges has nothing to do with harness racing.
Asmussen trains thoroughbreds, and it's easy to argue that that sport is far less humane than harness racing. Their horses die in droves on the racetrack. A standardbred dying on the racetrack is a rare sight.
But harness racing cannot afford to ignore the story, or the controversy. This is about far more than just Asmussen and thoroughbreds. It is about how the American public feels about the abuse of animals.
People don't like it and they will not accept it.
Not just any sport, but any business that involves animals had better make sure that the welfare of the animal is a major priority. If it's not, the will of people can destroy that industry.
The will of the people at work: [Rooster] fighting was once a popular activity in this country. Today, those fights are illegal and the very idea of them horrifies most sensible people. Dog racing has been outlawed in Massachusetts and elsewhere.
SeaWorld is dealing with a severe backlash and protests that resulted with the movie documentary "Blackfish." The movie delves into the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity.
In a lot of circles, the circus is no longer looked upon as an innocent family-friendly activity but as a business that exploits animals. Many people refuse to attend,
Harness racing, by and large, has not had to deal with any welfare issues. That's a benefit of being a sport that operates far away from the spotlight and is more or less ignored by the media and the American public. There are things you can get away with when no one bothers paying attention to you. That doesn't mean it is okay or smart business.
Can harness racing look at itself in the mirror and really say that it is doing the very best it can when it comes to the welfare of the animal? Sorry, but the answer is no.
Standardbreds arrive at slaughter auctions at places like New Holland and Sugar Creek in truckloads week after week and very little is said or done about it.
Drivers kick their horses in the moment of battle in the stretch and about the only thing that ever happens to them is a $100 fine.
There are trainers who think nothing of using illegal and dangerous drugs to improve the performance of their horses and outside of Jeff Gural no one seems to want to do anything about it.
How do you explain to the man on the street that it's common practice for drivers to slash their horses with a whip?
Do horses really need all the legal drugs that are out there that they can be given? Is this pharmacological cornucopia really the best thing for the animal?