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Congress Keeps Smokin' That Ken-tucky Bluegrass

The 2008 Farm Bill that was recently passed by Congress overriding Bush's veto is a fascinating and complex. There are a few murmurs I see around the Web that address what this bill has done for "Kentucky's signature industry" other than stating facts. As we may be witnessing the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years next weekend, I thought it was time to type up.

The passage of the bill's Equine Equity Act does little for thoroughbreds, the key asset of an industry that thrives on performance of its animals at all stages and in all functions of their lives. The rush to profitability for the racing careers of these animals may be a journey that, according to Jim Squires in this NY Times piece, owners can't resist. But this is an industry is in need of reform...just like all the others that rely on and use animals. I'd like to see his ideas go further and I'm not alone.

If we start with race horses, generally some of the most cared for animals on earth, perhaps we can continue to make progress for all animals further down the national cultural perception chains. For example, bear, tiger and shark parts and organs are "desirable" for medicine and cuisine in China, horses are revered in Mongolia, cows are sacred in India yet a big industry here in the US for being eaten/bred/milked, dogs are eaten in the Phillipines and China vs. adored in the US and Europe. Each country has its "adored" animals/pets as well as those it values less or views as more important for exploitation and gain or survival).

Time's David Von Drehle does a great job at alluding to the U.S. racing industry's cultural roots of capitalism as a means for exploiting living things, including people, in the name of the allmighty buck. The U.S. Humane Society is also casting a watchful and thoughtful eye on the industry- Keith Dane puts it eloquently:

Some Thoroughbred owners and other segments of the equine economy routinely churn out more horses than the current market can support—a stable, responsible secondary market does not exist.

These animals—having given their all to the industry—are too often sent to a gruesome and early death at the horse slaughterhouse, or foisted off on a naïve horse enthusiast too new to horses to understand the sophisticated training needs of a horse off the track.

For every horse that gets intentionally brought into this world by human design, its breeders and owners should be fiscally responsible for supporting a continuum to ensure they can be retired to good lives.

Horses younger than 4 years of age- from actual birth date (not Jan. 1) shouldn't be allowed to run. Yep. An extra two years before they can start earning their keep. What economic benefits might the industry have to gain in terms of the extended time for training, care, health services and more I can't even think of? What about their temperment development? Would those additional two years of dollars spent on each horse get mitigated by the financial loss to breeders and owners (more time with the mare before weaning/deprived of potential purse winnings for an extra 2 years)?
Perhaps the real question is: would a sport that's long been eclipsed over the decades by boxing, baseball, basketball, martial arts, Monday Night football, and soccer still be viable for anyone to indulge in? Racing is a rich man's sport, though even therein lies debate. Profit or not, it's about the use of animals as a means to an financial end. That gain is not guaranteed works against horses who don't do well who are past their young and tender age to race.
If we can manage to start to change the culture with racehorses, perhaps that will aid the trickle down effect to other animals. And that's to consciously ignore how we still treat humans in many parts of the world. But the tide is in need of a rising waterline of progress here as in many other countries, situations, cultures and philosophies.

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