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I Won’t Watch “Luck.” I’ve Seen Enough Dead Horses Already.

February 9, 2012

Vickery Eckhoff

The legendary filly, Ruffian

I used to love horse racing. I grew up with horses, did Pony Club, mucked out stalls with a pair of rubber gloves and bucket and dreamed about horses, horse shows, horse anything. I even went to college in Saratoga.

Then, the summer before my freshman year, the unthinkable happened: Ruffian broke both sesamoid bones in her foreleg racing Kentucky Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure, at Belmont Park.

I remember the race, the day, the sight of Jacinto Vasquez trying to pull her up as she galloped on her pulverized leg and later, the news she’d come out of surgery only to smash her cast while thrashing in her stall.  The news she was gone was unfathomable. An estimated 20 million people watched the race. I can’t imagine that anyone wasn’t affected.

Ruffian was the second horse I’d love, but the first I’d lose. She had every gift in life, but length of years, as the late Ted Kennedy would say in his eulogy for JFK Jr. Ruffian, the hope of horses and of one college-bound, horse-obsessed girl, was no more.

College in Saratoga was grand. I lived off campus my last two years in a Victorian townhouse at 176 Regent Street and dated a bartender at the famed racing hangout, Siro’s. We went to the track a lot. It was exciting and then, I saw another horse break down. Not a big horse, not a famous one. An anonymous one.

It lay on the track as the crowd watched a van drive up, erect a screen, and then, minutes later, drive away.

I went home and never returned. Yes, I return to Saratoga. I have had family there for many years. I may enjoy the excitement around the Travers, but I will not go. My heart is with the horses, and my money stays in my pocket. It’s the one form of protest I have as a horse lover and humanitarian, and I cherish it.

This past year, when I learned about the connections between horse slaughter and horse racing, I resolved to share it as widely as I could. It surprised me that so many people didn’t know. Yes, they knew about Barbaro, a few knew about Eight Belles and Go For Wand and Lauren’s Charm and a few others. But strangely, they just shrugged it off. “What do you want me to do about it?” their expressions would say. “It goes with the sport.”

I’ve made a bit of a career, recently, in being critical of it. This pisses off a lot of people. The ones who feel defensive about supporting racing like to tell me I don’t understand it or that progress is being made in racehorse retirement or whatever. I tell them about my years in Saratoga, but that’s not what they care about. What they care about is not examining themselves.

I have done that with regard to racing and while I will always love the horses, here’s what I’m requiring of myself these days: I don’t  give my money, my time and my support to anyone or anything that exploits them. That includes watching HBO’s “Luck.”

There is a point at which people get so used to seeing horses break their legs and get euthanized that they start finding it acceptable. Me? I started watching slaughter videos. I can watch them because I’m not subsidizing it. But horse racing? It’s a different kind of watching.

Ruffian’s breakdown and death led to a public outcry for more humane treatment of racehorses. That was 37 years ago.

That is what my post today on Forbes.com, Horse Deaths Won’t Stop Production of “Luck” is about. Two horses died during the production of two episodes of HBO’s series on the underbelly of horse racing.

Here’s the deal: You go to the track, you subsidize horses breaking their legs. You watch HBO, you subsidize horses breaking their legs. That you can sit at home and watch it is no excuse. If you watch it, you subsidize it.

Ruffian, I still think of you. Someday, this will be over.

For more on this topic, visit my personal blog, follow me on Twitter and on Forbes.com, including these posts:

Racing Industry Silent on Slaughtered Thoroughbreds

Saving Princess Madeline—A Racehorse’s Tale

Horse Slaughterhouse Investigation Sounds Food Safety and Cruelty Alarms

How Many Congressmen Does It Take To Screw A Horse?

Who’s Who in Capitol Hill’s Horse Meat Power Posse (photo gallery)

Can War Horse Beat Clooney For Golden Globe?

Paula Bacon, Texas Mayor, Kicks Some Tail

Is Your K-Y Jelly Cruelty Free? Do You Care?

18 Comments

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  1. Jessica Litwin #
    February 9, 2012

    I just saw your articles in Forbes about horse slaughter. I’m pretty shocked that there has been so little media attention on the horses killed filming Luck and did a Google search to see if it had been picked up. There were very few links. If this was an HBO show about dog fights, and two puppies were killed, I am certain there would have been more public outrage.

    I live in Troy, NY and am familiar with Saratoga and the race scene. I love watching the horses run and had been told that owners tried hard to find good homes for retired animals and that there were many charities that helped find them homes. Mistruths that were cleared up by reading more about the horse slaughter industry. I’d heard arguments recently about the need for horse slaughter in the US – that it would actually end up being a more humane end for horses that would be shipped to Mexico in double decker trucks (illegal, but still happening) or left to stand in mud and manure to die of starvation or infection. Maybe I had started to fall for the lies from the horse meat industry.

    Thank you for help clearing up some of the mistruths (as well as a story in this month’s Horse Illustrated). I look forward to continuing to read your posts.

    • February 9, 2012

      Thanks, Jessica. I’m glad I was able to clear up some fallacies; there are still so many left, so more stories to come.

      I also welcome you (and any other readers) to become a follower on Forbes.com. As I’m telling everyone, I need to show Forbes.com the value of the community I’m building. They will start selling more ad space on the basis of there being a stable community of people who care about horses and other humane issues. So if you can sign up there and leave comments on the site, it helps keep it on the page, and that’s a good thing.

  2. February 10, 2012

    If we don’t speak out in masse against Commercial Horse Slaughter, all Americans are going to be supporting hurting horses at their end of life in the most inhumane ways possible.

    The race industry should sponsor chemical horse euthanization for the rest of the country and eliminate this issue all together, if our world was a little more perfect and men were a little less greedy.

    Horses are much more to us than livestock. They built every Nation in the world off their backs and some still treat them like protein sources.

    • February 10, 2012

      Agreed—and thank you—and your four-legged friends—for serving as a reminder of how wrong it is. I look forward to hearing more of your story, Karin.

  3. Lanie #
    February 10, 2012

    I will never ever sell or giveaway my horse no matter what because I can’t bear the thought that he might end up on a truck or treated unkindly. I caught one episode of Luck and the horse that fell, broke his leg and was euthanized broke my heart. Such little regard for a horse that ran it’s heart out to make someone money. So sad :(

  4. Phoebe Campbell #
    February 10, 2012

    I applaud what you are doing, and am thrilled it is getting a voice on Forbes.

    Just as humane organizations promote “adoption first” for dogs and cats, it would be wonderful if the equine industry could do the same for thoroughbreds.

    Speaking of which, you should consider a story on Neville Bardos, Boyd Martin’s Australian OTTB who was rescued off a feedlot for $800, survived a terrible barn fire last summer, and is now likely Olympic bound. As well as on the work of CANTER in finding forever homes for former race horses.

    • February 10, 2012

      Thanks for your comment and suggesting Neville Bardos as a story idea. You’re right, he is very worthy of coverage!

  5. Jessica Litwin #
    February 10, 2012

    I just registered with Forbes. Providing low cost vet-administered euthanasia was the argument made in Horse Illustrated. It’s shocking that some horse owners actually give up their loyal pet/friend/compainion to a slaughter house (after a terrifying and dangerous journey) because they can get a small check and not have to worry about paying euthanasia costs. I wish I was in a position to take in rescues. I started crying when I watched the Dr. Temple Grandin video with images of slaughter – I held it together until the beautiful, kind draft horse took 11 shots (I’m tearing up thinking about it).

    I’m still baffled as to why this story about Luck hasn’t been picked up by more media outlets.

    Can you suggest any charities or lobbying organizations that we could support?

  6. February 10, 2012

    Thanks, Jessica. Yes, quite remarkable what horses get subjected to for a small amount of cash. I am learning more about the motivation every day, which is simple economics justifying tremendous cruelty. The gentle Belgian’s treatment was especially sad, as you mention.

    As far as charities go, let me consult a few people about that and get back to you. There are many worthy ones. I’ll come up with a list.

  7. February 25, 2012

    Dear Vickery;
    I just read your article on the fate of the horses on the set of “Luck”. Well done. I have been on a campaign against American Humane and their allowance of intolerable cruelties toward equines and other hoofstock for close to two years now, and have gotten close to nowhere in getting the public to realize what’s actually going on both on screen and off. Bottom line is, American Humane has worded their “Guidelines” in such a way that the unethical and barbaric treatment of horses and other equines is perfectly legal. I have documented proof from equine medical and behavioral specialists that confirm my main argument that the “No Animals Were Harmed” award is a falsehood. When it comes to equines and other hoofstock, that is. I also have record of a conversation I had with an A.H. rep who, and I quote, said — among other very disheartening things — “No one bothers to read the Guidelines, anyway.” The list goes on. And on, and on.
    I would love to discuss this with you further. I think I’m safe to assume that you’d be just as sick as I am when it comes to this matter.
    Thank you,
    ~Stacy Tanner
    Natural Horsemanship Trainer/Instructor

    • February 25, 2012

      Thanks for your comment, Stacy, and I hope you’ll also consider leaving it on Forbes.com in the commenting section for the article. Would be very enlightening to see it there. You have to register to leave comments on the site, but it’s pretty easy. Also, after you’ve done so, please “follow me” by clicking on the “follow” link under my photo. I’m building a community there and adding more members is important to show Forbes.com editors that this subject resonates with a dedicated audience of readers.

      I’d also be interested to hear more about your experience. I’m working on a big story now, but will contact you privately so you can share your info, if you’d like.

      • February 26, 2012

        Thanks, Vickery. I shall do what you suggested, on Forbes.com. And yes, I would very much like to speak with you about the situation over at American Humane. Please feel free to email me anytime.
        Best wishes,
        ~Stacy

  8. Maggie Frazier #
    February 25, 2012

    Dear Vickery,
    Thank you for “being there” for the horses. Cannot for the life of me understand how anyone could think horse slaughter is a good thing.
    I believe your blog and the Forbes articles have enlightened many people who arent aware of what actually happens to these so-called “unwanted horses”.
    I “owned” 2 horses over the years. One bay mare when I was 15. And again when I was 48 I managed to buy an Appaloosa who was with me for 16 years He was wonderful – when he didnt feel good, would come up & push his head against my chest & we would just “be”! He saved my bacon so to speak, several times when my common sense had vanished.
    We rode outside on trails – no fancy disciplines. It was great and I miss him every day. Hes buried at the farm where he lived. I planted a pear tree on his grave – he LOVED pears! I’m sure that the pro-slaughter folks wouldnt understand my feelings, but then I sure dont understand theirs!
    Anyhow – thanks – all of us who care about horses appreciate what you do.
    Maggie

    • February 25, 2012

      Hi Maggie: What a beautiful tribute to your Appaloosa and thanks for reading and commenting. I have another article in the works that will be published this week on Forbes.com. If you’re not a follower of mine over there, please sign up for an account (you need to do this to leave a comment) and hit the “Follow Vickery” button on any article page (below my photo). Forbes really values growing and thriving communities and by being part of mine, you will prove its worth to the editors, which will help the horses even more!

  9. Louie Cocroft #
    March 15, 2012

    I used to think that racing was exciting and I loved to see them run….until I saw a filly go crashing into the chain link fence that surrounded the race track (fairgrounds often use race tracks for car races). They had to put her down, right there. Her name was Lucky Lady. That was many years ago and it was the last Horse race I ever watched.

  10. Linda Daley #
    March 17, 2012

    Thank you so much for writing about this horrific issue. It’s difficult and heartbreaking to read about what Is going on with the fate of these sentient beings, but the truth must be told. Thank you again for your courage and persistance in continuing to write and educate the public about what is really going on!

  11. BlessUsAll #
    May 12, 2012

    You write: “I went home and never returned. Yes, I return to Saratoga. I have had family there for many years. I may enjoy the excitement around the Travers, but I will not go. My heart is with the horses, and my money stays in my pocket. It’s the one form of protest I have as a horse lover and humanitarian, and I cherish it.”

    When I chose a private college in Massachusetts, one of my friends from my hometown selected Skidmore in Saratoga Springs. I finally visited the town a few years ago, after my sister and her family moved there. I was new to the horse scene, having learned about horse slaughter and horse rescue late in life. Though I went to the National Thoroughbred Racing Museum in town and loved it, and toured the track and the stables, I now “boycott” all cruel horse sports exactly like you do, and for the same reasons.

    BTW, I’m thrilled that Stacy (above) wrote to you about the American Humane Association and that you want to pursue that discussion privately. My understanding is that it is funded at least in part by the film industry. What does THAT tell you?

    Keep up your commitment to exposing legal “crimes” against animals, Vickery. Bless you for not being two-faced: that is, saying you love horses but rationalizing the existence of the horse racing industry. It has had plenty of chances to radically reform. But, no matter how much a few tracks try to eliminate the worst abuses, this “blood sport” will never be truly humane, because it props itself up on the backs and bones of baby horses and, like a vulture, consumes them.

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