Local law enforcement and horsemen's groups are investigating the presence of a Thoroughbred's body in a landfill near Mountaineer Racetrack and Resort in late September. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a statement this week and graphic photos of the body, which was that of a chestnut wearing rundown bandages.
PETA alleges the body is that of Bridget Moloney, an 8-year-old mare injured in a Sept. 25 starter/optional claiming race. Trainer Loren Craig Cox confirmed to Thoroughbred Daily News Bridget Moloney was euthanized at the track after that injury but told the outlet he had no idea how her body came to end up in a landfill.
On Thursday, the Mountaineer chapter of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association released the following statement about the photos:
“The Mountaineer Park HBPA and National HBPA are somberly concerned about appearances of the situation in West Virginia. We are committed to continuing the investigation with local horsemen and proper authorities to determine all the facts. Once facts are collected, then and only then can we ensure proper attention goes towards addressing what happened. We as professional horsemen are committed to the highest standards of horsemanship and have tremendous respect and deep affection for these magnificent animals.”
For its part, PETA filed a complaint with the Hancock Sheriff's Department this week alleging animal cruelty.
Mountaineer Park officials hung up on Thoroughbred Daily News reporter T.D. Thornton when he called to inquire about the accusations.
The lag time between the observation of the Thoroughbred's body at the landfill and the report to the track and sheriff's department will likely make the investigation more challenging.
Post-euthanasia options have become limited for horse owners of all types in recent years, as many rendering plants now refuse to take animals that have been exposed to chemical euthanasia solution. Plants have changed their policies after a series of dog food brands were forced to recall their products early last year due to the presence of pentobarbital in dog food.
Burial of a euthanized horse requires commercial equipment to move the animal and dig a significant hole and is often highly regulated due to concerns about ground water contamination. Cremation facilities do exist for horses, particularly at veterinary schools, though the cost can be prohibitive. According to a list provided by the Humane Society of the United States, no such facilities exist in West Virginia, and the nearest option is in Boonsboro, Md., a four-hour drive from Mountaineer Park. In lieu of other options, landfills in West Virginia are legally permitted to accept livestock, according to state code.
West Virginia's rules of racing do not require post-mortem examinations for horses who die in racing or training, although the rules state horses “may, in the discretion of a Racing Commission veterinarian, undergo an examination at a time and place acceptable to a Racing Commission veterinarian to determine the injury or sickness which resulted in euthanasia or death.”
According to its rules, the racing commission is responsible for paying for the costs of necropsies on euthanized horses, as well as lab analysis of blood or urine to test for foreign substances. The commission is also on the hook for the costs of transport of the animal to an appropriate laboratory to conduct the testing.
Other jurisdictions have made post-mortem exams a requirement at all tracks and say they gain valuable information from analysis not only of the circumstances of a horse's death, but its management and routine before death. In many states, commission representatives conduct “mortality reviews” in which they go over the results of a necropsy report and other data on an individual with the horse's trainer. These reviews are credited with improving trainer education as well as alerting officials to potential issues with the racing surface, medication, shoeing, and more.
The West Virginia Racing Commission released the following statement late Thursday afternoon:
The West Virginia Racing Commission is reviewing and investigating the circumstances surrounding the recent incident involving a race horse at Mountaineer Park. All horses, including the horse in question, undergo a pre-race examination by a State Veterinarian to ensure that they are in sound racing condition. The horse in question experienced a catastrophic injury during the race and was pulled up. The horse was attended at the time of injury by a State Veterinarian, given sedation and pain management. The horse was then vanned off and euthanized by a second State Veterinarian off track. From conversations with Mountaineer Park management, it is the understanding of the Racing Commission that Mountaineer Park has an arrangement for the disposal of horse remains and the specific manner in which the disposal is to occur does not appear to have been followed in this case. With that said, the Racing Commission does not have any specific regulation that directs our racetracks to dispose of horse remains in any specific manner. However, the Racing Commission desires that all equine athletes that compete on our racetracks whose racing lives have come to an end are treated in a dignified and humane manner. During the 2019 Legislative Session, the West Virginia Racing Commission was successful in getting legislation passed to give it funds to conduct necropsies on horses that die or that are euthanized on our racetracks. Going forward, as we are able to implement a plan to utilize those funds, deceased horses will be transported to qualified necropsy facilities for a necropsy. Thereafter, the facility will be responsible for the humane and respectful disposition of the remains.
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