Our athletes have a major disadvantage over the tight end of the Dallas Cowboys in that they are lacking opposable thumbs. (Does that sound odd? I actually believe that the only reason why humans, and not other animals, get to make the decisions on this planet is that they lack that thumb. Can’t drive cars; work a computer; dial 911. If horses had thumbs—you’d better believe that the sport would shape up a lot differently, on every level.)
If the horses had an easier time of getting their thoughts through to the humans in their lives, they’d most likely request—loudly and strongly—that we cease and desist with the overbreeding of their kind.
Compared with other breeds, Thoroughbred breeding is downright genteel. Everyone knows that. In the case of, say, American Quarter Horses—breeders run amok with the AI. It’s disgusting that a single American Quarter Horse stallion can be responsible for 5,000 foals every year. And that overbreeding leads, of course, to New Holland and the killing fields because those horses are considered to be very, very disposable. Don’t like that shoe? Toss it out. Horse eating too much? Ship her to Texas via New Holland.
But we in American Thoroughbred racing and breeding are guilty of overbreeding on our own level and it must cease and desist, ASAP. I remember hearing Suzie O’Cain (Stallion Manager, Highcliff Farm), stating flatly that the way to stop slaughter is to stop creating Thoroughbreds willy-nilly. And she’s right: I know a breeder who makes horses like a drunken sailor.
Some breeders (including owners) go ga-ga, absolutely blind with glee, when they think about the potential for earnings. And, sadly enough, the earnings that mean the most in racing these days is not on the track but in the breeding shed.
All starry-eyed and running to the bank, the majority of American Thoroughbred breeding has become nothing more than a low-class sex factory. Stallions are known to cover up to four mares a day, in their owners’ wild-eyed quest for Mo’ Money. Some stallions cover 150 mares a year.
Not only does this overbreeding lead to early deaths of the stallions (think about it—Horsie Viagra or no, it’s actually a lot of stress on a stallion to do…that…four times a day)—it’s watering down the herd, literally. The same stallions are being used over and over, regardless of the quality of the nick. The breed (at least in the US) is becoming an incestuous little community, where everyone is everyone else’s sister’s half-brother’s mother’s uncle.
What will this do to the breed in another generation or so? What is it doing to the horses who are produced in this greedy fashion?
I don’t have all the answers, but I’m here to tell you today that one man is standing out as My New Hero: Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. God bless Sheikh Hamdan. He recently announced that two of his Shadwell stallions, Horse of the Year, Invasor and Classic winner, Jazil, will each cover only 85 mares per year, period.
His Highness’ reasons for this decision are those that I just stated: That the breed is becoming watered down, and weaker horses are being produced. He’s looking out for the health and welfare of the horses, themselves. Imagine that, an owner and breeder who loves his horses and creates a policy to prove it.
I love Sheikh Hamdan for taking this bold stand and wish I could shake the Sheikh’s hand, to thank him. He may be only one voice of reason and morality at this time—but he is one. And that ethical stand will hopefully become contagious as others catch on to the genuine goodness of his decision.
Now don’t get all in my face. I know a ton of Thoroughbred owners, breeders and others in the industry who love their horses, a great deal. And they’re not all in the position of a Sheikh, who can make the fiscal decision to not overbreed.
But if others in this industry would just take a step back and BREATHE for a minute…and THINK about the future of the horses, the breed, the sport and the industry…perhaps, just perhaps, we’d come up with some universal policies about breeding. Policies based on morals, ethics and concern for the health of our equine charges.
As long as Thoroughbreds lack thumbs we will continue to make the decisions for their lives. And those decisions must be based on love, respect and concern for the horses.
So you can’t afford to not overbreed? Don’t really love and respect your horses enough to make your business decisions based on compassion? Get another job. Frankly, I’d rather think that the horse I buy at Fasig-Tipton in Saratoga next year has an IQ higher than a rock and legs strong enough to carry her around the oval without shattering into sand. If we keep overbreeding Thoroughbreds, we will hear the peal of the death knell for the sport—and that bell will be rung by our very own hands.