Ignoring the good: A horsewoman’s take on the NY Times expose

The March 25, 2012 edition of the New York Times carried a multi-page story detailing horrendous lack of oversight at America’s racetracks, and indicted the horse racing industry for allowing greed to overtake common sense and common humanity, placing the lives of horses and riders at risk every day. 

Although it is impossible to disagree that there are problems in America’s racing industry, reaction to this article is divided, in part, as horsewoman Melinda Rice Moss writes below, because there is simply no mention of the men and women doing the right thing with their horses; according to the New York Times, it’s all bad news. And that, she maintains, is an annual rite of spring.

Thoroughbred mare and foal

Melinda Rice Moss with her OTTB broodmare/eventer and foal by Hook and Ladder

I am a ninth generation Saddle Fitter, but more importantly, my family owned racehorses and I grew up on the Maryland tracks.  I worked as an exercise rider, groom, you name it. I even had an exercise rider’s license at Bowie before I had a driver’s license.  Throughout my adult life I have stayed in the Thoroughbred racing business in one form or another.  In 2009 I moved to NY to be with my fiance, Dr. Bernardo Mongil, DVM, a 4th generation horseman; at Monhill Farm we stand stallions; breed, raise, race and train Thoroughbreds.  One look at our website and you will understand that we are the die-hards who always try to do right by all our horses, even retiring them sound and placing them in homes for little or no money after their race careers.

In a nutshell, here is my opinion on the NY Times Article:

Does there need to be better regulations and stiffer penalties in horse racing in the U.S.? Absolutely. Even the racetrack vets should be held more accountable, as they often see and treat many of the horses not just on race day,  but also for pre-race checks. I agree, with the influx of slots and casinos there has been an increase of a lesser class of horse running for higher purse money, whereas before the slots were introduced those same horses may have been retired.

Thoroughbred stallion

Griffinite, a young sire at Monhill Farm, was a rescue from the infamous Paragallo abuse case.

The money from the casinos that goes back to funding the racetracks needs to be better distributed with some sort of financial program(s) set aside for retirement of ex-racehorses (a legit, regulated one—which by the way is in the works, or so I hear), better drug testing and research, etc. If you keep up with the racing industry publications, these are the same topics that have been discussed for many years.

Thoroughbred racing used to be “Old” Money, a “Sport of Kings” where the elite participated and only the best of the best competed. Unfortunately, in the last fifty years racing has fallen behind the rest of the major American sports (NASCAR, football, baseball, etc). For many, many years Thoroughbred racing refused to accept sponsorships (a big mistake compared to what all other major sports have done), and so since the late 1980’s, the sport has gone through a major downturn, and had all but died out, until the installation of slots came along; hence the many new problems with illegal medications, trying to “pump” up the horses to make them more competitive, creating an even bigger problem as the article speaks of.

However, as in every sport there are the good, the bad, and the downright lowlifes. It seems that every year about this time—Spring, when all the big money races and the Triple Crown Trail come up—there is someone (often times PETA and some so-called “rescue” organizations, as well as the journalists trying to make waves) that come out with new “news & stats” trying to knock down the sport. It seems to me that in that five-page article there was more negativity about the sport than an attempt to create awareness of the big picture of racing.

As my mom used to say: “Bad news travels ten times faster than good news!” The media always latches on to the tragedies, and not just in horse racing. What about all the great every-day feel-good stories on the race track (or in the world in general)? We don’t often hear about those types of stories. Rarely does the media recognize the Breeders/Owners/Trainers and all the staff behind the scenes that care for the not-so-sound horses, or those that just need extra TLC; people (even grooms and riders) who spend their hard-earned money, even taking food off their own table, to care for a horse that needs extra care, in order to be rehabilitate it for a second career after the races or just for retirement. Not every race horse breaks down, gets destroyed by uncaring trainers or owners, and/or gets “dumped next to an old toilet in a junkyard” as the article so pointedly stated.

Thoroughbred filly by Griffinite

A Griffinite filly stretches out her legs at Monhill Farm.

Bernardo (who is also an equine vet) is a good example of an Owner/Breeder that truly tries to retire his horses sound for second careers, refuses to race a horse that is unsound, and always tries to do right by the horse. My friend Robin, whom you met via the Retired Racehorse Trainer Challenge, does the same. She also follows her horses (as Bernardo does) after their careers. There are just as many GOOD Breeders/Owners/Trainers for every bad one the media talks about. I honestly can name more “Good” people in the industry than “Bad”. It is we “die-hards” who truly love our horses and do right by them, which is why I am such an advocate for the racehorse. Most racehorses are treated better than the average backyard or lesson horse.

These types of articles and the people that try to knock racing down really aggravate me. What Thoroughbred racing needs now is a new generation of Owners/Breeders/Trainers that understand and support racing, and the horses, for what it is, and a commitment to help better regulate it.

What some readers may not know is that the exact same situations (horses that break down, are mistreated, dumped at slaughter houses, or unsound, or horses with severe training issues are passed on to uneducated or unsuspecting “new” owners) are very common among all the other equestrian sports—the Western Show/Reining Quarter Horses, the jumpers, the Eventers, the Dressage horses, it happens everywhere! Show horses snap a leg while cantering in a show ring, or step in a groundhog hole with or without a rider.   The reality of dealing with horses, is that accidents happen all the time.  The difference is that other equestrian sports don’t have anywhere near the same regulations or penalties, nor do they get the same media attention, as horse racing.

How does the old saying go? Believe half of what you read and all of what you see?

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12 Comments

Filed under Media Coverage, Outside Sites, racetrack life, Racing, Stereotypes

12 responses to “Ignoring the good: A horsewoman’s take on the NY Times expose

  1. Very nicely put, Melinda. I too know a lot of really good people on the track who love and care for their horses.

    Yes, there are problems that need to be resolved, but I will keep telling my stories about the good apples out there.

  2. JOANNE HUGHES

    Excellent. All my owners are wonderful people who give their horses everything they need including time. They support me and listen to our Vet. Thanks for writing in defense of all of us who are in the trenches from before dawn to way past dusk.

  3. Kim

    What you say is true, but the point of the article is to help the horses. The focus is on the bad because that is what needs to be fixed.

  4. Lynda Smith

    There are more “bad apples” in the industry than good.

  5. No doubt that there are many caring owners and trainers out there in the world of thoroughbred racing. Nothing is ever all bad or all good. However, I would venture a guess that the mortality rate for tbs while doing their “job” is substantially higher than that of other disciplines. I certainly can’t remember going to, or having heard about, any horse shows where five or seven horses had to be vanned off or put down right there due to catastrophic injury.

    The writer of the NY Times article definitely highlighted much of what is very bad about horse racing in general. I had never even thought about world of the quarter horse racing. Apparently, more risk for less reward, and far less oversight than at the thoroughbred tracks. Shameful.

    I believe that we need to evaluate what greed has done to degrade horse racing, what effect drugs – legal and non – have on the health of the horses and the safety of the jockeys, and what we consider “acceptable” in terms of death and injury rates verses profit margins.

    The way I’ve heard that phrase is “believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear”.

    • Well no, but then again, it would be an unusual thing for five or seven horses to be vanned off a track in one afternoon, and plenty of horses do go home lame from shows and no one ever hears a thing about it… why would they? Horse showing is not bet on, and therefore isn’t regulated by the government. It’s also quite rare to hear about horses breaking legs at shows or events, but that’s not because it doesn’t happen, it’s because it isn’t something that has a watchdog group reporting on it and sending out press releases, or that is run under a state commission, or captures the interest of people outside of horse showing.

      “I believe that we need to evaluate what greed has done to degrade horse racing, what effect drugs – legal and non – have on the health of the horses and the safety of the jockeys, and what we consider “acceptable” in terms of death and injury rates verses profit margins.”

      Completely agree.

  6. Must rant, and then I’ll try to be quiet. I am so sick of (just for example) reading a dewy eyed report of a colt with severe scoliosis, kept alive after his dam rejected him. People I thought knew horses were appalled at the mare’s rejection of her foal. I wasn’t surprised at all, since I understand nature. This sadly deformed critter will have to be euthed when his pain grows too great. I’d have euthed him when he was born. In the same breath these cretins will wish for the end of horse racing. Yes, let’s just throw thousands of years of knowledge over the side, forget all those horses now jobless, sent to slaughter or worse. Yes, worse. These people make me NUTS, on the anti-slaughter side.
    The pro-slaughter side, is a whole ‘nother story.
    Anyway, since my experiences haven’t weighed in on the happy side, I wanted to stay quiet.
    Oh, well.

    • I mean, yes. I can see the connection you’re making here. And I’m not a fan of the whole “We need $3,000 for prosthetic limbs and care for our little Miracle!” campaign, either. Talk about straying far from Mother Earth and our connection with the natural order of things.

  7. susan

    There are two sides to every story. However, the good people in racing do not get a “free pass” simply because they do the right by their horses. Until the good horsemen are ready to unite within their ranks and demand change, the lowlifes will prevail. What about drug free racing? I am still waiting for just one racing secretary to card just one race for those horsemen who wish to compete against other Salix free horses.
    In regards to casinos and low level racing, once again , the good horsemen turn their heads. One visit to the backstretch of Mountaineer Park in WV should be enough for anyone to shut them down. A stable area full of one and two horse trainers who cannoy properly care for their horses. A Director of Racing who continues to turn a blind eye to the numbers of TB’s still being pipelined to slaughter. Not to mention, night after night after night of non compeptitive horses struggling across the finish line. The bottom line, there are too many tracks racing too many days at the expense of these horses we say that we care for. I would like to see racing shut down many of these tracks, offer a better quality of racing at those tracks who actually do have retirement programs and a fan base, and have a unified drug (holistic and maintenace) program throughout the country.

  8. Sophia

    I too, like a lot of people, am a little fed-up with reporters and other organizations who want to tear down horse-racing as if it’s on the same level as cock-fighting and underground pitbull rings. Every sport has its issues, its greedy guts and its decent human beings who are usually shoveled into the background, but everything is like that. LIFE is like that. There’s corruption everywhere, and you would think people would understand this? Politics is so rife full of corruption, and yet people seem appalled when their favorite ‘politician’ or presidential candidate is caught for doing some not-so-surprisingly vulgar. But one freak accident on the track and, lock the doors and board the windows! Horse racing is evil.

    I think a lot of people forget that horse-racing is just as much of a national sport as say, baseball, even football. What would we be without that 5th Saturday of every May, sitting before the television screen watching a field of gleaming, proud Thoroughbreds prancing with an airy grace onto the perfectly manicured track? So many hundreds and hundreds of years of tradition, of glory (even if 21st century racing is far from ‘glorious’…), and that simple beauty of a horse in motion, flushed down the toilet? It’s like throwing acid on a Vermeer painting.

    I think a lot of people need to step back and realize corruption is everywhere, not just in horse-racing. Those same greedy types that haunt the backside and watch their horses like vultures are infiltrating big business, government, sports, you name it. They are there. If you’re going to talk about one kind of sin, talk about all of them. Sin is sin, greed is greed, corruption is corruption. Where one is there are a thousand more elsewhere.