We in Connecticut love our horses: our geographically small size notwithstanding, we have the third highest horse density in the country, with over 50,000 horses. Many good people in our state have rescued horses from the unimaginably cruel horse slaughter pipeline, many of whom are racetrack “discards.”
Many horses used in racing suffer, victims of greedy trainers who care little about horses’ safety and welfare. The two major widespread welfare problems within the racing industry are doping and inadequate racetrack safety. Doping includes both performance-enhancing drugs and painkillers that allow injured horses to train or race. Racetrack safety is compromised when track maintenance is poor, or due to training and racing on surfaces when conditions pose a risk. (There are three types of surfaces: dirt, turf, and synthetic. Risk factors exist that may or may not apply to each type of surface, e.g., one may see more injuries on turf in the early morning training hours.) The Jockey Club, a 125-year-old organization whose mission is to improve Thoroughbred breeding and racing, keeps an Equine Injury Database. Per their numbers, an average of 8.5 horses died during races every week in 2019, and this does not include deaths during training.
On September 29, 2020, the U.S. House passed H.R.1754, The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. True to form when it comes to matters of animal welfare, all five U.S. House members were cosponsors – Representatives John Larson, Joe Courtney, Rosa DeLauro, Jim Himes, and Jahana Hayes. The Senate version of this bill, S.4547, is now being considered. If this becomes law, it would establish the
Photo: Two rescued horses that call Connecticut home. Photo credit: Annie Hornish.
Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, an independent watchdog organization that would oversee racetrack safety programs, create regulations, and enact anti-doping programs. Enforcement for the drug control program would be overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the entity that manages drug testing for U.S. Olympic athletes.
Doping scandals that involve trainers and veterinarians are far too common, and deaths on racetracks have made recent headlines. These tragedies have enraged the public as well as many within the industry itself: prominent advocates of H.R.1754/S.4547 include Churchill Downs, Inc., The Jockey Club, the Breeders Cup, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and many trainers.
We are indeed fortunate to have our entire Connecticut federal delegation committed to fighting for horses. At the state level, we have also seen horse protections passed. Most recently, a law was passed that made clear that horses are not inherently vicious (P.A.14-54). The law, which had strong support from horse owners and animal welfare groups, was in response to a controversial Connecticut Supreme Court decision that, as a practical matter, proclaimed horses as dangerous. The case involved Scuppy, a Milford horse kept at a nursery and garden shop. Scuppy bit a two-year-old child who was being held in his father’s arms from behind a fence. Discussion surrounding the law’s formation pointed out the important fact that although domestic horses are generally gentle giants, common sense must be exercised when being around them.
Annie Hornish is Connecticut State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a supporting member of Sierra Club.