Defending An Industry That Won’t Defend Itself

by | 08.05.2015 | 2:25am

I'm tired. There is this feeling of worthlessness that enters my body every time I sign on to the Internet, every time that I click open on the comments section of one of my blogs, every time I go home to Meadville, Pa., and I'm barraged by questions about the industry that I love so much. Today it was slaughter houses, last week it was a high-name event trainer assuming that my retired racehorse was neglected on the track, a month ago it was that damn PETA video resurfacing, and six months ago it was the lies and false accusations about the nurse mare industry.

But what do all of these have in common? They come from horse people: people that should know better, or know otherwise, but don't.

It is the same story: I hear or read a falsity about this industry, I become enraged, and I begin to type or speak. Whether it be via a comment, a Facebook status, a blog, or a tirade of a conversation. But with each conversation, either face-to-face or over the Internet, I begin to feel like my words are worthless. That it is my word against theirs, and that there is NOTHING to back me up.

I realize that I have such little clout. I am not the Mosses, Larry Bramlage, or Bob Baffert. I don't manage a massive breeding operation or a shedrow at a successful track. I hung up my pitchfork and returned to school to obtain my doctorate, and with that, I hung up my street cred. The name “Carleigh Fedorka” does not ring bells, unless it is said in Lexington, Ky., and usually adjoined to the words “wants a new project horse” or “is available to work the sales.” That name tacked onto the comments section gets dismissed and overlooked by the people scrolling the comments; instead, they see the other thousand comments telling lies, falsities, and exaggerations about this industry that I cherish so much.

And after the defense that I lay down is overlooked – a defense that I have studied for, worked for, and perfected after years of living with lawyers – I am left feeling enraged. But I have recently realized that my anger has shifted. It is not pointed toward the people who elocute these falsities, because, honestly, who could blame them? They read something on the Internet, something as ridiculous as the idea that we pull every mare off of her foal to be bred back and the foals are placed with nurse mares, leaving THOUSANDS of unwanted “nurse-mare foals.” They see cute pictures of skinny paint foals, they see hundreds of comments demeaning the Thoroughbred industry, and they suddenly believe those words as gospel. And when people question this lunacy, the masses have that website, and those sad eyes, to back up their statement.

And what do I have? I have my words. My thoughts. My opinions. And my lack of street cred.

No, my anger has shifted towards the industry that I love. Because beyond me there is an industry of hundreds of thousands of people who so boisterously say that they want change. That say they understand that this industry needs to grow and develop if we want it to survive. Who spend millions of dollars every year to advertise the races, to promote the game, and who are so dense they don't realize that this industry that we love is being killed by things as simple as social media.

There are 200,000 people who “like” the Last Chance Corral. That is 200,000 people who will never go to the races or the sales because they believe that this “sick and twisted” industry pulls 30,000 nursemare foals off of their dams just so their dams can nurse a “more valuable” foal. There are thousands of people who demand “bail money” for the Thoroughbreds who inhabit the auction houses of America. Claiming that these racehorses are overpopulating the slaughterhouses, making the mass public think they are the only breed at the New Holland sale in Pennsylvania. These same people have infiltrated social media with comments where they are CERTAIN that American Pharoah himself is heading to slaughter. This is not to mention the three million people who “like” PETA, which needs no explanation. And these people share these lies, and these lies get shared again and again and again, and soon go viral.

And what do we do – the “old boys club” of this gallant industry that I stand with? Well, the industry is so focused on Lasix and Polytrack and the format of Book 1 at the Keeneland September Yearling Sales that they dismiss these nuisances that are so “insignificant” to them. They assume that by ignoring these comments they will simply go away. Instead of going away, however, they are TURNING AWAY millions of people who could, and would, eventually become fans. Horse people who might actually learn to love what we do. Who might eventually invest in a broodmare or two, or want to come to the Breeders' Cup. People who would learn to love this industry just as I have, who might buy a couple hundred acres, and then pass on this love to their children, and grandchildren. The effect could grow exponentially in either direction – and right now, it's growing away from us.

There is so much great about this industry, so much that goes unadvertised to the masses. So here is what I ask to be thrown into the loop of these meetings of the greats. Do we need a governing body to control things like race day medications and rehoming of racehorses that are finished with their first careers? Yes. We need someone to finally stand up and administer regulations that keep our sport clean and fair, and, most importantly, take care of the horses and staff within it.

But to add to that, keep one office open in that building that I'm sure will be erected in Lexington, Ky. And on the door of that office, hang a sign raeading: “Public Relations.” Because on top of the physical changes that need to be made to this industry, we need a mental change. A mindset that realizes how global news has become, and how bad press can travel so quickly. We need a strong governing body, but one that has a strong governing VOICE. And that voice needs to come from someone who not only gets it, but also who has a bit of clout. With an emblem behind them that people can trust and respect.

That is what I wish for this industry, because this name has neither of those, and this pedestal is starting to crack.

Pennsylvania native Carleigh Fedorka is a Ph.D. student at the University of Kentucky's Gluck Equine Research Center who has worked in all aspects of the Thoroughbred industry. The article originally appeared on her blog, A Yankee in Paris.

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