Mark Berner

Mark Berner first worked with horses on a small farm in upstate New York in 1973, where he mucked stalls and cared for racehorses with infirmities that were turned out there until ready to resume training.

He joined American Teletimer as a clocker in 1976 and operated their electronic timing equipment at many east coast racetracks until 1978, when he was permanently stationed at NYRA's three tracks, Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park & Saratoga Race Course.

Berner did freelance handicapping for the New York Daily News in 1982 & 1983 before joining Newsday in 1984 as a handicapper and later a sports reporter. Berner teamed up with Pricci to win the United Press International's 1985 UPI New York Newspaper Awards for Best Sports Story. In addition, Berner wrote and handicapped for several trade publications including, Daily Racing Form, Sports Eye, Racing Action, The Thoroughbred Times, Horse Player Magazine and New York Sportsnet.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Horse Slaughter is Killing the Racing Industry

Today, HorseRaceInsider's Mark Berner begins a three-part series on horse slaughter. How is it defined? Is it an American issue or is it a worldwide problem? What is the Thoroughbred industry doing about it? Is there really a solution out there?

Before breaking his left foreleg in the stretch run of Belmont Stakes. Charismatic was on the lead. But the 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner had his Triple Crown bid end with a third-place finish.

Jockey Chris Antley was quick to dismount and supported his injured mount so that he would not sustain further injury. Antley was the first to save Charismatic, creating the kind of iconic image that that mind’s eye can’t unsee.

Michael Blowen, who operates the Eclipse Award-Old Friends Thoroughbred retirement farm in Georgetown, Kentucky, was the second horse lover to save the dual classic winner, negotiating Charismatic’s safe return from stud duty in Japan. Two months later, sadly, he was gone.

Blowen also brought back another dual classic winner, War Emblem, who also became a Japanese stallion when his racing days ended.

It is fortunate that Blowen had established a good working relationship with the Japanese. That’s because 90 percent of horses that race and breed there are slaughtered at the end of their careers.

Another Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, in 1996, and Exceller, the only horse ever to beat two Triple Crown champions in the same race, the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, were not as fortunate as Charismatic and War Emblem: Ferdinand and Exceller were slaughtered in Japan.

Kentucky Derby winners should not become part of the food chain..

There was a time when a walk through the clubhouse at Saratoga Race Course would bring one within arm’s length three-quarters of the nation’s wealth; dynasties with names such as Whitney, or Vanderbilt, or Mellon, Carnegie, Phipps; families that helped build America.

These founding fathers and mothers of “the sport of kings” could afford to breed, race, and retire their own stock, something a majority of today’s millionaires can’t despite their privileged lifestyle.

A sport that once was the pastime of the billionaire class has devolved over time into a sport in which an overwhelming number of its athletes are slaughtered to become a portion of some animal’s dinner.

Even in countries that allow consumption of horse meat, human consumption of racehorses from the US is forbidden because they spend their lives on drugs.

Now, it’s the horsemeat trade that has become a billion-dollar industry, built on the backs of race horses who have outlived their racetrack utility.

Racing’s old boy network immediately balked at the cost--not inconsequential--and at times mocked those who pioneered retirement and rescue.

Richard Riedel, executive director of the Kentucky Racing Health and Welfare Fund, represented the old guard when on March 16 he said that sexually abused women in racing should take up yoga and knitting. Really?

If these people do not understand women’s rights and recognize that as a basic human right, how realistic is it to expect them to respect equine rights? A segment within the industry believes euthanasia is a reasonable solution.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners set standards for the reasonable use of euthanasia. Unfortunately, some of the techniques are unacceptable because they often fail to kill while causing horrific suffering. Below:

AAEP guidelines:

• A horse should not have to endure continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable.
• A horse should not have to endure a medical or surgical condition that has a hopeless chance of survival.
• A horse should not have to remain alive if it has an unmanageable medical condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers.
• A horse should not have to receive continuous analgesic medication for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.
• A horse should not have to endure a lifetime of continuous individual box stall confinement for prevention or relief of unmanageable pain or suffering.

AAEP Techniques for Euthanasia:

The following techniques for performing euthanasia of horses by properly trained personnel are deemed acceptable:
• 1. Intravenous administration of an overdose of barbiturates
• 2. Gunshot to the brain
• 3. Penetrating captive bolt to the brain Shearer JK, Nicoletti P. Humane euthanasia of sick, injured and/or debilitated livestock. University of Florida IFAS Extension)
• 4. Intravenous administration of a solution of concentrated potassium chloride (KCl) with the horse in a surgical plane of general anesthesia.
• 5. Alternative methods may be necessary in special circumstances.
• Special Considerations for the Insured Horse and Cases Involving Multiple Practitioners:
• Each insurance policy for a horse is a contract between the horse owner and the insurance company and will dictate the specific terms and conditions concerning the payment of a mortality claim.

[Addendum] Careful consideration should be given to possible “conflicts of interest” as referenced in the Ethical and Professional Guidelines in the AAEP Resource Guide and Membership Directory. The attending, consulting and referring veterinarians should follow the Ethical and Professional Guidelines under section IV, “Attending, Consulting and Referring,” as described in the AAEP Resource Guide & Membership Directory].

If a breeder elects to bring a horse into the world, it is their responsibility to make sure that horse is cared for until its natural death. It is not simply the cost of doing business; it is about doing what’s humane and morally correct.

Today, more people are involved with retirement, retraining, and rescue than ever before. But even among the well intentioned, there is disagreement on methods and procedure.

The internet is replete with “kill pen” posts and tweets by people that are able to raise rescue funds via clever use of social media and crowdfunding. It may meet with disapproval from those rooted in traditional rescue, but it’s good because it sheds light on an issue that must emerge from the shadows.

Following this new awareness on Social platforms, coupled with the support of the Louisiana Horsemens Benevolent Protective Association, legislators in that state are seriously considering changes to laws about aftercare. But answers do not come easily.

There are approximately 20,000 thoroughbreds bred each year but no one knows how many find useful careers when their racing days are over--if they even make it that far. Just how many of them become economic casualties?

Who can blame a society that has allowed horse racing to fall from grace because of the industry’s inability or unwillingness to deal openly with the issue of horse slaughter? Who can blame them for thinking that such inaction is unacceptable and unconscionable?

Wholesale horse slaughter ended in the USA but it continues in Mexico and Canada. It was fortuitous that language in the 2014 and 2016 Omnibus Spending Bills de-funded horse meat inspectors, making it impossible for U.S. slaughterhouses to remain open.

However, it will require Federal legislation to ban the cruel and inhumane transport and slaughter of US-bred horses shipped each year to Mexico, Canada and other countries.

United States Department of Agriculture data shows approximately half the Thoroughbreds bred in the US each year are slaughtered by our neighbors to the north and south. The USDA ended the inclusion of breed specific data in 2009 after an ESPN/PETA expose on the issue.

Since the Thoroughbred industry has not significantly corrected this situation, the same percentages—20% of all horses sent to slaughter from the US are Thoroughbreds—are safely assumed to be correct present day.

USDA data as of MAR 22, 2018:

Total horses shipped week of 3/17 - 1,380
Total horse shipped week of 3/10 - 1,797
Total horses shipped year to date - 15,961
Total horses shipped previous year to date - 14,804

In Canada, and more recently China, mares are kept captive in stalls and farmed for their urine, a key component in cancer medicines. To maximize profit the mares are bred to provide foals, which are solely sold to Japan for human consumption.

Care for a plate of foal sushi?

In Japan, people eat basashi; raw horsemeat cut in thin slices. Foal meat sushi is a delicacy. Live six-month old foals, displayed in pens designed to show freshness, are slaughtered on site for consumption in restaurants. Diners prefer Draft Horse foal meat but Thoroughbreds remain on the menu.

Next week, HRI takes a deeper dive into the issue, examining the depth of the problem and what the industry is doing to rein it in: What is the current state of rescue, retirement and retraining? Is it working?

Written by Mark Berner

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