Lessons From SeaWorld: Perceptions Can Be a Killer

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The documentary, Blackfish, has thrown a harsh light on SeaWorld and the captivity of orcas The documentary, Blackfish, has thrown a harsh light on SeaWorld and the captivity of orcas

Horseracing has company.

SeaWorld officials are under the microscope because of a film released in 2013 alleging cruelty to the orca whales that for decades have been entertaining tourists at the company’s theme parks in Florida, Texas and California.

Defenders of SeaWorld say the film was spliced together carefully to serve an agenda, that the filmmakers want to end wild animal parks as we have known them.

Sound familiar?


Since the documentary was released on DVD last fall and aired numerous times on CNN, attendance has declined at the company’s theme parks. A recent report said the number of SeaWorld visitors dropped by 13 percent for the first three months of 2014.

On Tuesday, the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee of the California Assembly will be asking some tough questions of SeaWorld officials, who will try to convince lawmakers not to approve legislation that would prohibit the use of orca whales for entertainment purposes and put an end to SeaWorld’s captive breeding program.

I never once questioned whether those majestic creatures were happy to be entertaining us when their trainers gave them cues to jump through rings or splash us with their giant tails. Blackfish, whether it was fair and agenda-driven or not, made me think twice, and nothing I’ve heard from the defenders of the program has convinced me some of the charges of former SeaWorld trainers aren’t true.

In the wake of the video by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the articles in the New York Times and elsewhere, imagine what questions are going through the heads of new fans of horse racing, or those individuals who are considering investing in the sport as an owner.

Has the industry done enough to respond to the allegations and complaints to local, state and federal authorities by PETA that sore horses are given drugs in order to run, that some jockeys use electrical shocking devices to make them go faster, and that one of the sport’s leading stables facilitates immigration and tax fraud?

In the wake of the PETA attacks, all of racing’s alphabet soup organizations, from the Association of Racing Commissioners International to the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, circled their wagons around an ongoing effort to create uniform medication rules to the horses that race for our entertainment and gambling purposes.

And what does that uniform rule say? It states that “only” 26 approved medications may be given to a horse in order to train it up to a race. No matter how legitimate those drugs may be to treat specific problems, imagine how that sounds to someone who just watched the PETA video.

How tone deaf can our leaders be?

I’m not an animal rights person. I eat meat, like to fish and hunt, and enjoyed taking my kids to the circus and SeaWorld when they were younger.  But if you haven’t noticed, society is changing around us. People are less tolerant to the real or perceived abuse of animals, and their voice is becoming louder. When I was growing up we didn’t have “free-range chicken” or “cageless eggs.” Zoos kept animals in cages and circuses had elephant parades through town.

I have no doubt the majority of Thoroughbred caretakers are good to their horses, but there are enough bad apples in the sport to give everyone a bad name. As an industry we are only as strong as our weakest link. Our weakest links are killing the game we love.

Those who think the status quo in horseracing is okay, that we can continue what we are doing now and survive this latest storm, please get out of the bubble. Talk to people who aren’t involved in our business 24/7 and listen to their concerns.

Then work on a solution that doesn’t involve circling the wagons and shooting at the messenger.

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  • PTP

    “A recent report said the number of SeaWorld visitors dropped by 13 percent for the first three months of 2014.”

    It could be the economy or not enough young people attracted to Seaworld..

    Anyway, nothing that an admission fee and a 10% state tax on easy to buy Seaworld tickets over the internet won’t fix.

    PTP

  • nu-fan

    Ray, you definitely hit the nail on the head with your article. The world and its societies are constantly changing and, once set, the values that a society establish are hard to change. Businesses that are run well acknowledge that and do not try to fight it (very expensive and low probability of success) but, instead, develop their business strategies to be in line with what the public wants, needs, and expects. As you, many of us remember the days of past when dogs slept outside and ate table scraps and low quality food. But, the pet industry has had absolutely tremendous growth even through a very prolonged and tough recession, and that industry kept growing regardless of the stories of animals being abandoned because of loss of wages/income. (Just look at the proliferation of dog foods, clothing, medical care, etc.) The horseracing industry does not have an accurate pulse of how our society thinks and I, too, would hate to see the sport of horseracing decline further. But, the bad apples are doing just that. When will there be a change in the thinking of those in this industry–who can instill the needed changes–wake up to this?!

    • Rhett Fincher

      Basic horsemanship principals would cause the biggest change. The KY trainers test consists of question on the rules of racing with one question roughly pertaining to horsemanship. The steward declined to even look at either of my required letters of recommendation saying that he’d never read a bad one.

      • Alexa Pilcher

        Gosh, you have NAILED it … Anyone can get a trainer’s license, just anyone, as long as they know where the poles are, and maybe not even that. Problem is, would the ‘examiners’ be qualified to deal with any deeper horsemanship requirement tests themselves !? Your comment is eye-opening !

      • nu-fan

        I don’t know what the test to be a trainer looks like. But, along with stringent testing there is the part that follows: enforcement. That is, from what I have seen, the part to be very much lacking.

      • Vudu

        What part of the prize money goes to “horsemanship?”

        PRINCIPAL
        People cheat because it pays well, or has a perceived advantage.
        It is a human trait. Money is the principle. . .

        Having no qualms about selling out pays well when no one is enforcing a rule that all are supposed to abide by, for a relatively even playing field.

      • ginger2000

        I have made that point before, and you are absolutely right!

  • Flag Is Up

    Great piece Ray!

    Just one thought: There are obviously some bad apples but the things that were on the PETA video go on behind the scenes much more than you realize. If you or anyone else here can categorize Mr. Asmussen as a bad guy then the number of Bad Guys in this industry is FAR greater than the number of Good Guys!

    The old saying of “treat an owner like a mushroom, keep they in the dark and feed them lots of $hit” is more prominent today than ever before.

  • Hamish

    I recently came upon a memorable quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. that truly enompases this debate; “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” If only bad acting trainers, vets, owners and others had a hard time falling asleep at night………. Remove them from the game and we won’t have to keep worrying about it.

    • G. Rarick

      It’s not that simple. The “bad apples” are simply playing by the rules of the system that allows and encourages them to rot. If the system changes, there would be no allowance or room for this kind of training. Factory, chemical training is the norm in America, and unless the rules change radically, it will continue to be the norm. Asmussen and co. aren’t any different than 80 percent of the trainers in America. A witch hunt for individuals is not what is called for here.

      • Vudu

        Good synopsis.

        The lesson learned by the trainer who now no longer works for an mid-east sheik after getting pinged in England a few months ago should have been a warning shot across the bow in the US.

        Do we have too many tracks and substandard horses?
        I am just amazed how differently horses appear to run in Australian racing.

      • ginger2000

        Exactly! This all comes from the top; From the Racing Commission itself, which then acts like changing it is impossible. THEY are the ones who made it legal in the first place.

      • Convene

        Sadly, this is true. However, regulations do not preclude acting according to a reasonable personal code of ethics. Doing so is called, “integrity.” How sad that there are so few people who have it.

    • Rhett Fincher

      MLK Jr. also said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The injustices inflicted on the horse unnecessarily in plain sight. Lip chains in the paddock are commonplace. True horsemanship utilizes psychology, communication and understanding instead of mechanics, fear and intimidation. Einstein said “Force always attracts men of low morality.” The over use of medication is a byproduct of the lack of horsemanship required to be a licensed race horse trainer. Medications deaden pain, tranquilizers force horses that aren’t mentally and emotionally fit. Chains and figure 8′s are coercive tools to force compliance. Force is not efficient or effective in any healthy relationship. Horsemanship is a relationship between human and horse. Communication and understanding are much more useful tools to influence the horse to accept us as their leader.
      I read a recent article saying 99% of racehorses get treated better than the care givers treat themselves. What horse, or person for that matter wants to spend 23 hours a day in a 10×10 stall? Sounds like jail.

      • drama

        You make some good points. If you haven’t already read it, you may wanna look up the article about natural horsemanship the Paulick Report wrote not too long ago. Some of those issues were discussed in the comments section. Very interesting!

      • ginger2000

        So true.

    • http://judgebork.wordpress.com Lou Baranello Former Steward

      Hamish, The primary people that need to be removed from the game are the regulators because they simply do not regulate. Proper regulation by stewards and racing commissioners years ago would have put a lid on most of the horrible activities that we see today. Unless there is an immediate increase in suspensions that transforms days into years nothing will change and I wouldn’t expect that from most of those who are executing the responsibilities of stewards and commissioners today.

      • Hamish

        Regulators fall under “and others” in above post.

    • ginger2000

      Of course he WAS assassinated. Do what’s right, but you can be afraid at the same time.

  • Charles Smith

    Shooting the messenger is the only thing that the die hard defenders of the Steve Asmussens of the racing world can do. It’s one thing when the messenger appears in the former of a poster on a blog or website. Under those circumstances, it’s easy to say the poster has a agenda, it’s easy to say the poster is a conspiracy theorist. When the messenger is a well respected journalist from the New York Times or another major media outlet, that’s another story. Derby time is coming, and the networks and newspapers will all be writing about Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi as well as Gray Stevens and D. Wayne Lukas. When the reputations of these gentlemen get flushed, don’t blame the messenger.

  • Connie

    I would like to see Mr. Graham Motion in on the discussion for uniform medication rules. Mr. Motion is a successful trainer with zero medication violations. It is obvious in his barn medication is only used when absolutely necessary and for therapeutic purposes only. Mr. Motion is a true horseman whose input would greatly benefit the sport, in my opinion.

    • Tinky

      I like, and am a big fan of Graham Motion, but don’t make the mistake of assuming that trainers who have few, if any medication violations use them only “when absolutely necessary and for therapeutic purposes only”. Motion, like virtually every single licensed trainer in the U.S., has, and continues to use Lasix on horses that have never had significant (if any) bleeding episodes.

      I make this point because the pressure to compete is intense, and even trainers like Motion and Clement, etc., will continue to succumb to some degree as long as that performance enhancer is both legal and used by the vast majority of their peers.

      • Concerned

        Trainers like Motion and Clement show that you can play within the rules and not butcher horses while still being successful. I agree they may feel pressure to use some therapeutic to keep a level playing field, but horsemen like that will also do just as well if meds like lasix were banned. You also don’t see them with hundreds of horses under their name and several satellite barns scattered across the country. Even with no med changes, we wouldn’t be in this mess if more people ran their barns and trained horses like them.

        • Tinky

          Couldn’t agree more.

        • ginger2000

          the point of the PETA investigation is not about illegal drugs. It is about the continued overuse of drugs meant to be used as therapy – along with REST It’s not about cheating. It’s about abuse.

      • Jay Stone

        Tinky, great point and key phrase is”Within the rules”.

      • Beach

        “Interesting”(term used loosely) how, when the vet in the PETA video was asked by the undercover person about the reason(s) for Lasix, he said nothing about bleeding–he said, “It makes them lighter”. Which is true because of all the fluid they dump–so what exactly is the real purpose here?

        Bleeding is one thing–but I agree with one of the other horsemen who said that bleeders, especially heavy bleeders, probably should not be racing.

        Consider, e.g., why Lasix is used for humans–often for something like Congestive Heart Failure. A person with that has a heart that pumps inefficiently–sometimes due to enlarged heart size(various reasons) or previously injured cardiac muscle, or both. Because of cardiac inefficiency, fluid tends to build up, and ends up in places you don’t want it, like your lower extremities(legs) or your lungs. So thus, Lasix serves a purpose in people like this, in that it helps get rid of the extra fluid, so you don’t have it where you don’t want it, and you reduce the cardiac workload of the compromised heart.

        So, someone tell me again the purpose of using this kind of medication in a HEALTHY animal?!! And if you’re going to use meds like that in a healthy animal, you are probably, just like the stupid thyroid thingy, going to render the animal UNHEALTHY because you’re giving him/her unnecessary medications. I cannot even describe how colossally dumb I think that is.

        And if NO ONE is using the stuff, then NO ONE’S performance is enhanced.

        I will grant that using it for bleeding is another issue, but not every horse bleeds.

        • Vudu

          Its a tell, if you can count one one hand, the number of runners on any given card in the US that run WITHOUT Lasix.

        • DJ Bryant

          Wow, Tinky. You’re becoming a real physiologist! You’ve done a lot of reading this year!

      • ginger2000

        Thank you! I was going to say something similar. Lack of medication violations is not proof that someone is not using legal medications – or over using them. It only “proves” they are careful. Not to say anything bad about Mr. Motion, just saying lack of violations is not proof of non-use of drugs.

    • Lost In The Fog

      If Graham Motion would like to be “in on the discussion for uniform medication rules” or anything else related to improving the sport he only needs to speak up. Nobody is holding him or any other prominent trainer, owner etc. back. Their continued silence does nothing but lend tacit support to maintaining the status quo.

      • fb0252

        post of day imvho!

      • circusticket

        If you’re going to criticize Motion for his silence, I’d suggest you do it with your real name. No double standards please.

        • G. Rarick

          And you are??

        • Vudu

          That’s a good point.
          People on a blog posting as though they have status.

          But is that really criticizing Motion?
          Its seems a fairly innocuous post compared to what one usually sees
          and its true, other trainers could speak up.

        • Lost In The Fog – Robert Lee

          OK. I’ve added my real name to the end of my screen name. I have nothing to hide here nor have I ever been trying to hide. I simply wanted to continue reminding fellow posters of one of my all-time favorite race horses – the late, great sprinter Lost In The Fog. My real name does not add to or subtract from the validity (or lack thereof) of my comments here at the Paulick Report or elsewhere.

          So now that I’ve added my real name do you have anything of substance to contribute to the conversation regarding Ray’s article?

          • nu-fan

            Every time I visit the Turf Club at GGF and see that wall, at its entry, with all of the photos and mementos of Lost In The Fog, I am overwhelmed by the greatness of this horse as well as the incredible sadness of his ending. One of the things on my “wish list” is that GGF erects a statue of this horse with Russell Baze on his back. It would pay tribute to this track’s two greatest athletes.

  • Tinky

    “People are less tolerant to the real or perceived abuse of animals”, yet they tolerate their own Government’s assassination of U.S. citizens without due process.

    Interesting times.

    • Larry Ensor

      In the movie industry there are few rules as to what can be shown and what should not be. The body count can be higher then the running time. But there is one rule that all producers live by and have for as long as movies have been made.

      You don’t kill off the dog!

      Old Yeller being the exception. Count of hands, how many cried?

      • nu-fan

        I can’t remember back that far to Old Yeller but have not watched the more current film about Marley because I heard, in a review, that the dog dies at the end. No way will/can I watch that!

    • louisbille

      It’s only ‘tolerated’ now Tinky because a liberal is in office. In today’s society tolerance only applies to those who share a liberal worldview. Freedom of religion for a Muslim to wear a burqa to school? Absolutely. Freedom of religion for anyone else to wear a T-shirt with a cross, or an NRA logo? No way Jack.

      • Tinky

        You are utterly deluded, I’m afraid. Both parties share responsibility for the disastrous and corrupt state of politics in the U.S.

  • fb0252

    I’d say the first step is “clarity”. Misperception is a bigger problem for our sport imo than perceptions. The PETA vid is a jumble of issues. And, of course, everyone with an agenda–anti-lasix, anti-slaughter, the shrink racing for their profit crowd, etc. takes off with and the bird brains at the JC are with them. I thought Alex Waldrop’s statement published today was superb! That’s what we need–people that know what they’re talking about to speak up.

  • kelly_94089

    I am glad to see push for reform, but saddened by the impact on the sport. The changing perceptions of society absolutely will create new requirements for us. We need fans, we need owners, and currently we need subsidies that could be earmarked for other uses. This has already hit home for me since I do project-based work. Every time someone considers hiring me they run a comprehensive internet search. Can I continue to be associated with racing? I hope so, but we will need to adapt as an industry.

  • betterthannothing

    “How tone deaf can our leaders be?”

    They are not. They are fat, spoiled, arrogant, bought and paid for by self-interests. “Leaders” were chosen for their ability to create no waves and stick to the code of silence. They never could take any significant action before (or after) a crisis. To be fair, “leaders” have no authority, a few like TOBA carry a small stick (stakes grading) and TJC carries a stick. Racing commissions have authority, all 38 of them but are either underfunded, incompetent and/or in bed with the miscreants. “Leaders” are paralyzed now, not because racing is hurting but because they will get hurt.

    • Hamish

      Some blame the current regulatory system, some blame the lack of funding to enforce the rules, some blame the compromised and conflicted regulators and state officials, some blame the people in charge of the horse that could be making better decisions, fact is, all are correct. Comprehensive, wholesale change and reform is the only viable solution to a vibrant industry, long term. No more bandaids that don’t hold or unkept promises made by the above-mentioned “tone deaf” purported to be leaders. We have all been to this movie and know the ending.

  • Needles

    What happened in the Asmussen barn is not illegal, but it is what happens in many barns in America. The industry calls it therapeutic and says it’s OK. So read into that what you will.

    • Concerned

      Having a bunch of blank and signed bleeder forms isn’t exactly legal….

      • Alexa Pilcher

        hmmm, … you learn something new every day ..

    • Vudu

      Enforcement – means not getting an award for a year or two.

      I don’t know if he’s guilty, I haven’t seen the evidence, but obviously the industry has turned him into a temporary pariah.

  • ExactaGirl

    Great article, Ray. You ask if the industry has done enough to respond to the allegations, and I don’t think they’ve done ANYTHING except talk about it! Somebody needs to step up and do something before racing is gone!

    • nu-fan

      And, the fans continue to disappear while the horseracing industry sits idly by wondering “why”?

  • IntoTheRain

    Mr. Ray Paulick, why is Glenn Thompson banned from commenting on your site?

    • RayPaulick

      We have a policy on comments. In our opinion he breached that policy.

      • IntoTheRain

        From what I understand it’s been quite some time. Don’t you think he has served his time? I believe he would have a lot of good input on the Paulick Report.

        • Jo Parker

          He doesn’t want any comments that contain truth! My comment was not allowed. Truth hurts his agenda!

          • Ray Paulick

            We have not allowed comments naming the person alleged to have worked in the Asmussen barn during the PETA investigation. Naming her family members is also something we will not tolerate.

          • Louisiana rebel

            I’m pretty sure most of the people in Louisiana are already familiar with her name, and all the bs about medication rules is absurd! From a horse owners point of view, you can’t turn a horse out or give it time off every time it has an ache or pain. just like professional athletes take medicine to help do there job or heck even a normal blue collar worker has aches and pains, you take medicine to get the job done in the least amount of pain.

          • Ray Paulick

            Louisiana has medication rules?

          • Louisiana rebel

            A few, look it up

          • DJ Bryant

            LOL!! agh my peeps, jump in the pirogue an paddle on into the 21st century, before you get swallered up by a big ol’ allumigator

          • Louisiana rebel

            No need to be scared of an alligator is there? Do you own a racehorse?

          • betterthannothing

            Assuming you do “own a racehorse”, how many legs does he have left with your pain “management”? Still permitted to inject cortisone into joints 24 hour to post down there? Isn’t LA great, especially for the horses!

          • Louisiana rebel

            You know what they say when you assume don’t you?

          • Louisiana rebel

            In my opinion they are using this medication reform as a cop out as to why the racing industry is dying. I believe maybe it has a little to do with it, but it’s not the main reason to me. Time has changed, everything in the world today seems like we are in overdrive and people have to work longer hours to make ends meet. I think people would enjoy betting and going to the live races more if they would drastically shorten in between races. That way races would be over sooner and people would have less time in between races with nothing to do. We are competing with other forms of gambling that give their patrons constant action. Again just my opinion

          • Amy Stevens

            I agree that increasingly the post time comes, then the horses circle around behind the gate for what feels like forever while I’m standing there by the rail waiting on the horses to load and race – irritating and a turnoff. Who makes these calls to hold up post time and are they just waiting for bets or waiting for TVG to come back from commercial or what?

          • Louisiana rebel

            I’m sure it has everything to do with betting, but saying that I’m sure it was fine years ago when we weren’t in such a fast paced world, but now it’s not. I take a lot of friends to the races, but most only go once because they find it boring between races, when they can go to the boats or slot machines and find constant action. Not one person I have taken has ever mentioned about the drugging of the horses. Not one. I truly believe the horse industry does need to make changes, but they are looking the wrong way. Most patrons go there with friends and family and when they leave there they don’t think about what the horse is doing after they have left there, they don’t care. It is entertainment to them, and just like going to the movies, if the movie is slow at first, you loose there interest really fast

          • Amy Stevens

            Agreed. We’re in Miami and after the PETA thing, not a single person asked us about it. Even the locals here don’t know where Calder is located, much less when they race. Some local people we met here thought they have harness racing at Calder.

          • drama

            I think the bigger problem is the time of day when most weekday races are run – from 12 to 5:30 or so when most people are at work! Of course people can’t go to the races live, or even bet with the live odds in a wagering account, when they are at work! The time in between races is not the problem- it’s a good chance to go get food or use the restroom. It’s the lack of night racing that causes smaller crowds.

          • Louisiana rebel

            Then explain why lone star park is getting worse every year? Sam Houston ? They both run at night

          • betterthannothing

            No casino money.

          • Louisiana rebel

            Right, no casino’s in Texas so the racetrack is only game in town and still is failing rapidly. Unlike Louisiana downs where they have casino money but they are competing with so many other venues in town. They have slots, but the other places have table games also.

          • drama

            Well my understanding of what’s going on in TX is that the state legislature screwed it up by passing some law that has to do with banning out of state ADW websites taking bets on TX tracks, or some such crazy thing. Like with most other things, whenever something is messed up there’s usually a politician somewhere to blame.

          • Louisiana rebel

            That sounds about right

          • ginger2000

            I would add that one 6 furlong race after another is boring. Longer races would get people more interested and be more exciting. Of course then trainers would have to train,

          • Louisiana rebel

            I think some of that has to go on us breeders for breeding speed with speed trying to get the fast times for the sales. Genetics will only allow them to go so far, example ( quarter horses)

          • Beach

            “From a horse owners point of view, you can’t turn a horse out or give it time off every time it has an ache or pain.”

            Consider for a minute just how callous that sounds. Professional athletes have brains capable of making informed decisions and NO ONE is making their decisions except them, unlike horses with no “choice”. And if human athletes choose silliness or accidentally play while injured yet masked with medication, they are not going to get euthanized if hurt worse.

          • Louisiana rebel

            You are thinking of them as humans, they are not. They are animals and around some parts of the world people do a lot more than race them while they are a little sore. If you eat meat, do you ever think about the life of the animal you are eating? Give me a break. For the most part most trainers feed, bath, and take care of them better than they would ever have it out in a pasture in the freezing rain, or blistering sun. Callous or not you have to put the subject in prospective, they are an animal not human. They are bred to race, that is their purpose, that’s what they love to do

          • Alexa Pilcher

            you are a trip…

          • Carol

            are you human? yes, but not “humane”

          • Louisiana rebel

            Once again are you a vegetarian ? Do you eat fish or any type of meat?

          • Beach

            The creature at the top of the food chain is supposed to be the most developed, and that development includes compassion. We’ll have to agree to disagree because they are more than “just animals” to me.

            And “everybody does it” is no excuse. Everybody could drop acid, too, but that wouldn’t make it right or safe.

            I eat very little meat, and hardly ever mammals.

            I have no problem with them racing, I just want them cared for CORRECTLY while they do it–not with unnecessary or stacked medications(or both), forcing them to run while sore or hurt, etc. And when they are finished with their racing career, they are not disposable trash. And I’d rather have a bleeding heart for them than ice in my veins.

          • Louisiana rebel

            What about the bleeding heart for the meat you do eat? What about there lives up to the end?

          • Beach

            On the RARE occasions that I do eat beef, which is the only mammal I eat, I spend an awful lot of money on the hand-raised, grass-fed, organic or hormone-free variety. So to the best of my knowledge, the cows are cared for as best they can be. But that’s truly beside the point, and your, IMHO, silly reasoning mixes apples and oranges. If I followed your mantra here, I could say that it’s ok to abuse my dog, too, because people abuse horses and cows. That’s ridiculous–”Everybody does it, and to other species, too”…come on. If everybody jumped off a bridge as well, that doesn’t mean I would do it or it’s ok to do.

          • Louisiana rebel

            Justify it however you want to. Exactly my point about mixing apples and oranges. You talk about race horses like they are human. They are an animal. Look no sense in me and you discussing this any longer, you have your beliefs and I have mine. Nothing wrong with that, it’s what makes the world go around.

          • ginger2000

            All animals have intelligence, emotions, and feelings. Just because they can’t speak a human language doesn’t mean they are objects. Anyone who has a dog who lives in the house and is a true companion, knows that dogs learn by watching people and they understand many phrases without being “trained” to do it as tricks. Grey parrots who can speak our language have proven how much they understand. Gorillas and chimps have been taught sign language and also have been able to communicate to us. Horses are no different, just without a way to “talk” to us other than body language and behavior.

          • Louisiana rebel

            I agree to that

          • Alexa Pilcher

            so you don’t think, nor do you seem to care, that your horse is trying to tell you something, … get that thing back out on the track come hell or high water. A professional athlete has the wherewithal to stop before they do themselves permanent harm. Conversely, we have the responsibility to make sure to protect these animals from their own fight or flight instincts… they can run through incredible pain before stopping, even through structural break down sometimes… I’ve been horrified by that spectacle more than once… Aches and pains are telling a story that you don’t want to hear !

          • Louisiana rebel

            I’m saying that if people would quit talking about all this medication bs then most of the negativity would be gone. Surely you are not foolish enough to think that people haven’t been medicating there horses since racing has began huh? And the sport was much more popular years ago. That is not what is killing the sport racing. Look do you see telephone booths much anymore? Nope because we have cell phones now, it’s time to change,but medication reform is not the cure all.

          • Alexa Pilcher

            it is symptomatic of the overall mindset that has led to all this uproar… the slack approach, for reasons of their own, that authoritative entities have had towards keeping the entire industry on the straight and narrow. Another example being jocks able to grace us with doing their days when it coincides with a pre-planned trip to Hawaii, … I would take full advantage of it too if I were them. There just doesn’t seem to be any consequences of any great magnitude to suffer for those stepping out of line, it’s the all encompassing big picture that needs an overhaul now, … and unfortunately now it’s taken outsiders to force the hand of the racing industry at just about every level, so there I will agree with you, the medication issue is but one of many… and, btw, I don’t want the negativity to go away until something is seen to be done. Time to show some character … all the insider protectionism is mightily unhelpful.

          • Louisiana rebel

            Well that’s stupid, if you like horse racing you should want the negativity to stop period

        • Olivia Joan

          Glenn Thompson also believes the Newtown, CT shootings were a hoax. It’s on his FB page. Unfortunately, that tinfoil hattery has done him in as a serious commentator on ANYTHING.

  • togahombre

    for now its too late, this years classics are gonna be a public relations battleground, racing is back on its heels and peta and the like can pick their timing and choose the battle, once this passes the sports authorities has to break some eggs instead of just throwing someone to the wolves like they did with dutrow

  • drama

    I’m still curious as to why people think this particular Peta video is going to kill horse racing. I have yet to see this as a lead story on TV news or be discussed by anybody other than those of us on these boards and industry people themselves. I guess that could all change depending on whose horse wins the Derby, but still. The NY Times is even more of a dying entity than horse racing.

    There is another Peta video on you tube about the deaths of young horses at the 2-yr old in training sales that has been around much longer and, to me, is much more disturbing than the current one, and even it has not managed to kill the sport.

  • dominoderby

    While I understand the comparison between Blackfish and the PETA video, I think horse racing should really be looking towards what has happened to dog racing lately. There is currently an effort in Florida to decouple racing from other forms of gambling that occur at the racetracks (poker rooms & slots). Wagering on dog racing was recently made illegal in Colorado (which did not have a racetrack) and, several years ago, in Massachusetts (which did and put hundreds of people out of business). These efforts have been led by a PETA-associated group called Grey2k, a lobbying organization which uses the majority of donations it receives to line the pockets of it’s two founders and spends less than 1% of donations on adoption efforts. Grey2k is famous for using misleading images and outright lies to garner public support for ending racing here and abroad. The public loves animals and is easily deceived by the loudest voices in the room and that voice has been that of animal rights activists, not industry professionals, in large part because dog racing, like horse racing, has no governing body, no unifying voice and thus no clear cut message.

    • Tiznowbaby

      I think racing does have a clear cut message: it will allow almost anything that makes money. That’s my perception, and I’ve been a fan for 40 years.

    • Matthew Martini

      I totally respect the post and viewpoint, but other than the parimutuel wagering aspect, I have a hard time finding anything in common with horse racing and dog racing. I think most people are against dog racing. They are different planets in terms of industry. Most people are not against SeaWorld or horse racing, although the perception of both are not terribly pretty among the public at this time. Isn’t dog racing is banned in most states, and aren’t something like 50% of the remaining tracks in Florida?

      As a side note, last year I almost adopted an ex-racer sired by Dodgem by Design, who sired something like 11,000 dogs. I ended up getting a rescue pit-bull instead, because she was a better fit for the family.

      It is clear that perception matters, and while we wait for bills like H.R. 2012 (Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013) to get out of the committee and get a vote, I hope that an organization such as Breeders’ Cup revisits their poor decisions in the last year regarding medication and takes an anti-medication stand. They can set the bar for championship racing, while the rest of the industry works itself out. Let’s see some progress NOW.

      • dominoderby

        I am unaware of any major study that says most people are against dog racing, but if that is your perception it is likely caused by the very forces I was speaking about. Dog racing is banned in exactly 0 states – pari-mutuel wagering is banned in a few states (not a majority). As for being on different planets, I agree. Dog racing has a rehoming rate of over 95%. Dog racing has an injury rate of 0.03% per start – that’s any injury from a broken toenail on up. Dog racing has a history of tossing bad actors out and banning them for life. Horse racing would do well to look at dog racing for lessons.

        • Matthew Martini

          Thank you for your reply. It is appreciated. Where do you get your data?

          My perception with regard to people being against dog racing is due to the incredible shrinking of the sport. I don’t know if a study needs to be done. It speaks for itself. Is it true that nearly 50% of the industry exists in one state (Florida)?

          Kind regards.

          • dominoderby

            The adoption rate comes from the National Greyhound Association which estimates that 90% of greyhounds are adopted out every year with another 5% going to breeding homes (many of which move into pet homes after their breeding careers are over, although I’m not aware of any stats on how many do that). The injury rate was based on a study done of racing at Tucson Park from June-December of 2013. It is similar to stats collected in Massachusetts prior to the closing of its tracks.
            As to the shrinking popularity of racing, that is true. Florida has always lead the nation in number of racetracks and that is still currently true. That said, even if decoupling is passed in Florida there are tracks that would continue running races.
            I think though it is a mistake to equate decreased popularity with being against a sport. I have been a horse racing fan for the majority of my life. I never considered dog racing in any capacity until I adopted a retired racer. Certainly I was not against it, just ambivalent. After becoming a fan of the sport I regularly took people with similar feelings (and some who had bad feelings about the sport due to what they had heard about it online) to the track to enjoy the races, visit the kennels, etc. I never had one person walk out of that experience having had a bad time or with a negative impression of the sport.

          • Matthew Martini

            I appreciate the information. Thank you!

          • Beach

            I too had a racing greyhound, and we LOVED her–sadly lost her at the premature age of 8, to cancer. I would like to adopt another one, but currently have 3 other dogs!!

            The rescue I adopted her from was “fed” by 3 tracks. Two of them took great care of their dogs, the third was a boil on the arse of the world, and eventually closed. Our dog came from this third track, and the rescuers specifically asked us to take her because they believed she had been abused. I thought so too–at times she was terrified of men, including my spouse, who is not a very big guy, and very gentle. It took a long time for her to gain trust, but she did and she died in HIS arms–one of life’s redemptions, if you ask me.

            I feel about the dog racing like I feel about the horses–I don’t want to see those animals go away as a breed, but they should be cared for while they race, and cared for CORRECTLY; and when they are done racing they are not disposable trash. I went to a dog track once, in FL, and when I did, at that particular one, it did not seem to me that they were abusing the dogs. And trust me–those dogs, like the thoroughbreds, are bred to RUN. But usually when retired after their career, they will adapt to whatever YOUR energy level is. Sometimes they’re not called “40 mph Couch Potatoes” for nothing. :)

          • nu-fan

            And, I’ve never met an aggressive greyhound. They were just absolutely sweet. But, alas, big dogs tend to have short lives and cancer is very prevalent in too many dogs. People just think of cancer as a human thing. Nope. Dogs are several times more likely to get cancer than humans. My condolences on the loss of your greyhound.

          • Beach

            Thank you…there was nothing we could do. It was probably osteosarcoma, which is prevalent in that breed, and by the time we figured it out it was in 2 legs, which meant it was all through her. We just kept her comfortable till we could no longer do so. Our vet is basically a dog physiatrist(ie, rehab doctor) and he said that that breed does TERRIBLY with amputation, and you could only do that anyway if you were SURE(which is hard) it was localized to one leg. She was a good dog, and we hope to have another someday. <3

          • nu-fan

            And, the sport of horseracing is also shrinking. People that I meet are somewhat amazed that I go to the races. It’s gotten a shady reputation for many reasons but most people comment about the drugs and the potential harm to the horses. If the horseracing industry hasn’t taken note of the situation in Florida and its greyhound racing, then, they are shamefully looking the other way. This situation may harbor some insights into the future (even if some time further out) of what may happen to horseracing. There are too many similarities….

        • Voice of Reason

          Dog racing is banned in massachusetts. 7 other states have banned betting on dogs. Get your facts straight.

        • ginger2000

          Dog racing is now illegal in 38 states. I would not call that 0 states.

    • fb0252

      Dog racers keep their animals in tiny cages 23 hours per day where the dogs are unable to stand up. fyi.

      • dominoderby

        Yup that’s what PETA says so it must be true.

    • nu-fan

      I don’t have enough knowledge to agree or disagree with many of your comments. But, something that has been mulling around in my head is that the well-intentions of those who rescue and adopt out the retired racehorses (and I appreciate these people very, very much) may be bringing forth to the general public the knowledge that too many of these horses are worthless to the racing community after their racing careers are done. A person didn’t need to follow greyhound racing to know that so many of these dogs also desperately needed homes after their racing careers were over. I have yet to meet a person who owns a greyhound that did not adopt a former racer–and, I’ve met plenty of them. Perhaps, knowledge is seeping into the general public without the assistance of PETA or other similar group. Perhaps, information is just out there much more because of our many telecommunication opportunities–and, this is now extending out to horseracing.

      • Beach

        The only greyhounds I have ever met besides racers are probably the ones who compete at Westminster. If the racing can be done right, it’s why I don’t want to see it go away–because I fear the breed would go away. I also wouldn’t want to see that be the case with thoroughbreds–which, when they happen to be sweet and smart, I wish I could have at least 10 of… :)

    • ginger2000

      Industry professionals have proven they do not care about the animals enough to protect them for abuse. It is only others that will force change, or kill a sport.

  • Gary Fenton

    Right on the money – as always. Thanks, Ray.

  • fb0252

    Q: we are learning value of model rules. Would it be helpful for AAEP (Vets) to propose a set of model rules concerning use of drugs on the backstretch? I continue to be surprised anyone has yet to speak up on the Thyroxine, or that some Vet that is prescribing thyroid meds for non-thyroid patients still holds a license.

    • Alexa Pilcher

      aah, but that would take away their bread and butter… and i agree, was there no one around to question whole barns being on thyroid meds ?

  • DeePet

    Well said, Mr. Paulick.

  • gg

    I had a vet take care of some of my horses using acupuncture. She usually works at Turf Paradise (Phoenix) during their season; but decided to take on outside clients because as she put it, she was tired of drugging horses unnecessarily. She was tired of arguing with trainers, telling them the drugs were unnecessary. This vet is a licensed vet and could administer drugs, but preferred acupuncture. I was a doubtful and it wasn’t until she treated my horses I was surprised to see it really worked. I was so impressed that when I had an inflamed sagreillient I had acupuncture done on me (not by the vet) and it worked!

  • Kris S

    The video from PETA, heavily edited and narrated to project their agenda, was taken as truth, even by those who are in the industry. This organization constantly uses these tactics to further their agenda. They want to end any venue that “uses” animals as entertainment. This is why no one should consider their released propaganda as truth. They destroy many lives – both human and animal. If you want to change what is going on in horse racing, then have a legitimate investigation by people who know the horse racing industry, and not by an extremist group like PETA. People’s lives have been destroyed by this video, with no legitimate investigation to prove its truth. This is what truly sickens me. In this case, YES, you can shoot the messenger, and find another trustworthy messenger who is fair and doesn’t use these tactics.

    • fb0252

      tell it too all little animals that, but for PETA and its efforts suffer 24/7 in labs, tiny cages, and all other forms of human stupidity and cruelty.

      • Kris S

        Tell it to all the animals PETA has slaughtered and euthanized, because they don’t feel is is right for them to be “domesticated”. Humane societies are humane, PETA is inhumane and cares neither for animals or humans.

        • fb0252

          ur solution for unwanted animals is….? changing topic is the usual attack.

          • drama

            PETA’s “solutions” usually involve bombing a research lab. A young man committed suicide maybe or maybe not because of this video. I can’t believe so many people have even given this video the level of credibility they have. Anybody with an ounce of skill in analyzing media could see it was a hit job. A poorly edited one at that.

          • fb0252

            changing the subject fails in responding to the Q.

          • drama

            I guess unwanted animals could just be allowed to do what they did before we domesticated them – run free in the wild. Survival of the fittest. Most animals can fend for themselves anyway.

  • Lina_TX

    Excellent and very perceptive write-up, Mr. Paulick! Hope it helps in gathering more momentum for long overdue changes.

  • Ben van den Brink

    As long as lasix and thyroid-l are thought of positive, and not what they are pure diuretics and therefore race enhacers, thinks will not alter a dime. I do think that very tough questions should be made about horseracing.

    • equine avenger

      Even one of the leading trainers(notice I didn’t say, leading horseman), in the country in wins and money earned, Steve Asmussen’s very own vet stated that Lasix was a performance enhancer!

  • Kris S

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. ”
    -Theodore Roosevelt

    • Beach

      Pretty, but no excuse for animal abuse.

  • Sue M. Chapman

    Brilliant piece, Ray. Poor title. And we’re off:
    The problem in Racing is lack of leadership with a Solution.
    Big words, big Capitalized abbreviations for big so called regulating bodies like NTRA, TRA, RCI, etc

  • Bryan

    The simplest thing would be to make all confidential veterinary reports that are filed with the state vet at each track public information. I believe everyone would be alarmed at the levels which therapeutic medications are used. A lot of these drugs are used after entry time but discontinued 24 to 48 hours before a race. If you are gambling your money on these horses, don’t you deserve the right to know whether or not a horse has been given the same series of treatments before each race? The addition or omission of certain treatments could have a huge affect on the outcome just a the addition or subtraction of blinkers might, perhaps more. And do not believe that everyone is always trying their best to win each time OR has the best interest of their horses in mind just because they take such fabulous care of their charges.

    • betterthannothing

      Yes, transparency is sorely needed. Horses must be protected by security, control and transparency along with their riders. The entire racing industry would benefit from transparency. Abusers and dopers would not. Publicly releasing current veterinary records would be very interesting, but not reliable enough. Horses should be protected with tight security, around the clock surveillance and tracking and all substances should be provided by official pharmacies and administered by official vets, then complete equine medical records should be publicly released.

  • gambling boat

    after training horses for about 100 years or so–I wonder how many drug violations mr alan jerkens accumulated. I don’t know of any. just asking

  • drama

    On the topic of the original article, the decline in attendance at Sea World & similar places probably has more to do with the bad economy, overpriced tickets at all amusement parks, and the fact that you can go on you tube & watch full length videos of every Sea World show, roller coasters, rides, etc from every park in the country for free from the comfort of your own home.

    It’s like when a new zoo or aquarium opens: it’s fun the first few times you go, then after you’ve seen the same fish over and over it’s like…meh, been there done that. But horse racing is never the same old animals doing the exact same thing with the same results. I’m not denying that horse racing needs reforms, but I still think, for now at least, the effects of this particular video are totally overblown.

    Believe me, there are still plenty of people who think the KY Derby, Preakness & Belmont are the only 3 horse races that exist. They don’t even hear what’s going on with horse racing on a good day, let alone a bad one. Most people roll their eyes when you mention PETA, and the NY Times is the same paper where a reporter once wrote fake stories & then Hollywood made a movie about it. Most people outside the industry bubble do not even know about this. The news is still obsessing over that missing plane.

  • Carol

    “I have no doubt the majority of Thoroughbred caretakers are good to
    their horses, but there are enough bad apples in the sport to give
    everyone a bad name.”

    Are you serious? .REALLY think about it. After all you’ve seen, heard and read during your MANY years in this business, can you honestly say that the MAJORITY of tbrd caretakers are “good” to their horses.

    What kind of “majority”? 51%, 80%? I realize you make your living off this industry and therefore cannot accept that your paycheck is produced from the pain and suffering of thousands of horses a year, but to try and justify it when you know better is a reflection of the problem at hand.

    And yes, perception can be everything, but so is REALITY.

    • drama

      Have you ever spent much time at your average little podunk pleasure riding barn? Ever visited a saddlebred farm where the horses can’t even get turned out because their tails are cut & wrapped up in a crazy triangular shaped bag & if they went outside & rolled around like a normal horse did they would injure themselves? Ever been to a walking horse show? Go watch the you tube video of the crazy Parelli lady tormenting a half blind horse. Considering how many crazy people there are in other horse sports, I’d rather work at a thoroughbred farm any day.

      • ginger2000

        My mother, as everyone’s mother did, used to say, if so and so jumped off the Empire State Building, does that mean you should? Someone else being wrong, does not justify racing being wrong. There are people out there who kill people, rob people, etc. Should we all be out there killing and robbing people?

        • Louisiana rebel

          How did we get on the subject of the empire state building?

        • drama

          Nothing justifies outright cruelty to horses. But I’ve seen that there are a lot of extreme perfectionists in the horse world who expect perfection all the time & that no horse should ever get injured or die. Like a lady at the barn where I work who keeps about 6 different blankets for her horse so he is blanketed 24/7 from Oct. through April. He’s got a dip in front of his withers and hind leg problems, but she thinks she’s being “nice” by overblanketing her poor horse so he won’t get “too cold.”

          All I’m saying is on a scale of 1 to 10 when it comes to being mean in the world of horse sports, with 1 being the least bad, horse racing is maybe a 3 whereas plenty of other people I would rate a 7 or 8.

          But I’m not a big fan of the whole auction scene, so my preference would be either find a decent trainer to work for at the track, or work at a farm where they raise & race some of their own horses & don’t run them through the auctions. And I wouldn’t be caught dead working on a saddlebred or walking horse farm!

    • Louisiana rebel

      You might work for PETA don’t you carol?

      • Carol

        Nope, but I’m sure glad someone does!

        • Louisiana rebel

          Do you like horse racing?

          • Carol

            I used to until I was forced to see the truth of what these animals are put through. I walked away from it after working for many of the largest breeding/sales companies. I was flat out told by one of the most influential people in the industry (won’t name names because Ray won’t post this if I do). After rescuing a horse at the sale who was purchased by a “killer buyer” I was told “If you love horses that much, you shouldn’t be in this industry. This business isn’t nice to horses”

            Truer words were never spoken and it was the best advice I ever received. Unfortunately, it took me almost 10 years to wake up and realize he was right. The business as it stands is brutal to these animals. And please don’t compare them to cattle. Last time I checked the cattle ranches weren’t naming their stock and having WIN PHOTOS taken with them!

          • Louisiana rebel

            Then why are you on this website if you dont like horse racing, I’m sure there are plenty other sites you could go to that you would enjoy? I’m sure you could go on the PETA website and gripe all you want to

          • Vudu

            Why are you chasing her on the accusation?
            Does she really have to agree with you – to post here?
            That’s not very rebellious of you.

          • ginger2000

            For the same reason, I’m sure, that a lot of people are. To know what’s going on, and to add a voice to those already asking for change. Should only cheats be on this site?

          • Louisiana rebel

            What do you think should be done and how do you think that will positively change the industry?

          • Carol

            morbid curiosity I guess. I actually stumbled upon the Asmussen story on the NYT’s and thought ….”humm, wonder what the chatter is on the PR. Of course, it ‘s all the same crap from the usual suspects, including Mr. Paulick. While appreciate Ray’s more “open” form of journalism than the pathetic Blood Horse, he is still part of the problem Although he is willing to “expose” some of the ugliness, he still weakly stands behind the industry and has the nerve to say “the MAJORITY of Tbrds are well treated” Anyone in this industry who truly cares about the horse knows that is not the truth. I would challenge anyone who believes so to take any 10 thoroughbreds and follow their lives from start to finish. I will guarantee you that the vast majority do not have HAPPY ENDINGS

            I challenge the Paulick Report to pick 10 weanlings from last November’s Keeneland sale and follow their path in life. That includes the one’s that were shipped overseas.

            How about it Ray?

          • ginger2000

            Yes. Good point. My money is on Ray not doing it.

          • drama

            Just out of curiosity, what were some of these horrors you saw happen to horses when working for the breeding & sales companies? And what exactly are the real stats on the % of race horses in the US (not Japan) who end up going to slaughter? You do realize that not every OTTB who does get rescued will have a happy ending either right? Many might end up at a farm where they will get smacked around by some spoiled equestrian girl who never had good instruction about how to handle a horse, or get laminitis & have to be put down. Lots of animals, humans, children, old people, etc don’t get their happy ending in life. Or even a happy life at all.

          • ginger2000

            I agree not all rescue horses get a good end either. Everyone does not keep their horses for life. But to say that horses will get slapped around by some spoiled equestrian girl is something else. Racehorses get smacked around quite a bit. I have seen horses get whacked with the rubber covered chains from the stall door. I have seen grooms “playfully” slap horses in the face. Which horses really hate. And few girls will be hitting their horses with whips as hard as jockeys do. The girls will not be putting chains over their gums and yanking on them either.

  • Judith

    Some medications are no more than those taken by humans for headache, etc. Certain horses love what they are doing. You find out in the training process, if not before, if the horse likes to race. Most well bred thoroughbreds love competition.

  • anita carter

    I lost respect for Chad Brown when a horse was brought over from England to race in U.S.. First thing he did was give horse lasix—WHY??? Horse had run and won in England/Ireland/etc with success. Horse didn’t need it then–doesn’t now.

  • Summer

    Those people who admitted to shocking horses in that Peta-made video need to be banned from racing. Those animal abusers are the ones who are killing the sport! Everyone needs to rise up against them or the sport will die.

  • amgm1431

    So true. After 40 years in the game, a couple of dozen horses raced, I can’t want to get out. Maybe victories by Art Sherman can keep my interest. Maybe…..

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