Luck is all about perception

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Luck – by chance or whimsey and not by one’s skills or knowledge
the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual.

The recent series “Lucky” has been pulled after their 3rd horse died within the past 2 years.

One of the reports stated “According to autopsy results, the first horse was a 5-year-old male who suffered from a “catastrophic humeral fracture” of its right front leg and was on multiple pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications. The second, an 8-year-old male, had an open fracture of its right radius and a history of arthritis.

The most recent case involved a horse that had just been inspected by Dr. Gary Beck of the California Horse Racing Board and was being walked back to the stable at Santa Anita Racetrack, in Arcadia, Calif., where much of the filming takes place.

“The horse was on her way back to the stall when she reared, flipped over backwards, and struck her head on the ground,” Beck said in a statement yesterday.”

The horses used were “retired”  racehorses.

PETA had this to say : the show used older race horses during filming and asked them to do more than a young thoroughbred would have to.

The horses don’t know it’s not a real race,” said Kathy Guillermo, PETA’s vice president of laboratory investigations. “Racing is an exhausting activity and most young horses have at least a week’s rest between races to recover. These horses were sometimes asked to race twice in a day.”

So many thoughts come to mind.

1st , horses are generally not considered old at 5 nor 8 for that matter. However, in the racing business horses are started at around 18 months  ( one can hope their knees are closed! ). So many of the horses in the racing industry are “done”  by an early age. To compete in the races with the largest purses — which are for 2 and 3 year old colts — horses must be trained and raced too young, before their bones’ growth plates have matured. Early training and racing causes a lot of leg injuries, including fractures, pulled ligaments, and strained tendons. These injuries are common in horse racing.

So let’s talk about horse racing.

Around 5000 horses leave the racing industry each year – about the same number that are entering – most before they are even mature. Why? Because the races with the largest purses are generally races for 2 and 3 year old horses. During training and/or racing, injuries are common. Injured horses are often euthanized or sold from one owner to another into increasingly worse conditions. Contemplate this : if approximately 5000 horses enter the racing industry in the US every year, how many foals are born that do not make the grade? Where do these excessive horses end up:? A Horse is injured every 22 races according to one report. Where do these horses go?

An article in The New York Times highlighted the failure of the largest Thoroughbred racehorse retirement program in the United States, generously endowed by some of the wealthiest breeders and most elite stables in the industry and managed by the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation. This well-funded project is responsible for over a thousand horses, a large proportion of them suffering neglect – many had to be euthanized. Reported by The New York Times, 2011

In January of 2009 at Santa Anita when the main track’s surface ( Poly track ) froze during an unexpected cold snap. Over the course of a two week period, there were 7 horses that DIED in racing accidents because they ran on the frozen track and broke their legs. Why wasn’t one enough? Although  I would have thought one horse dying was too many. Common Sense anyone?

On the average if you go to the track everyday for two weeks you will see a breakdown. Some tracks average 25 per season. An estimated 800 racehorses die every year from injuries.

A study reported in the Equine Veterinary Journal noted that after 2 year old horses trained for 9 months, a doubling of one type of heart murmur and a tripling of another is often found. During a race, a horses’ heartbeat can rise from a relaxed 25 beats per minute to an excessive 250 beats, leading to exhaustion, collapse, and even a fatal heart attack.

93% of horses in race training were found to have gastric ulcers. In horses that had actually raced, the percentage was 100.

A study in the Equine Veterinary Journal found hemorrhaging in the lungs in 95% of horses checked during two post-race examinations. An article in the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice Journal states that hemorrhaging in the lungs is “a condition affecting virtually all horses during intense exercise worldwide…. there is no treatment that is considered a panacea, and the currently allowed treatments have not proven to be effective.” Another study in the Equine Veterinary Journal noted that as long as a horse continues to undergo training and racing, the lungs cannot heal.

2nd if these horses were in condition, racing twice a day occasionally would be tough enough.. but then one reads where the 8 year old had arthritis… a history of arthritis to be exact.So why were they using him at all? How humane is that? And how many “takes” did it really take per race?

The 5 year old with “a catastrophic humeral fracture was on ” multiple pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications. Seriously? Most horses with fractures are put down immediately simply for the reason that breaks are not only difficult to heal because a horse generally has to be in a sling to keep the weight off the injured limb, as well as the time involved. Plus it is expensive – more expensive than most race owners want to pay. In the last few years of racing history only Barbaro comes to mind as an example of a horse who broke his leg and was saved ( but he was a Kentucky Derby winner ) only to have to endure over 2 dozen operations and other procedures over the next 8 months. Barabaro had pins in his leg and spent time in a sling. Barabaro suffered a series of ailments — including laminitis in the left rear hoof, an abscess in the right rear hoof, as well as new laminitis in both front feet before he was euthanized.

Magic Man and Eight Belles were both euthanized immediately. And yes, I think that was more humane, regardless of the differences in injuries ( Eight Belles broke both of her front ankles).

3rd “The horse was on her way back to the stall when she reared, flipped over backwards, and struck her head on the ground.”

I have to ask ” Why was the horse allowed to rear high enough to flip over ? Why didn’t her  “HANDLER/TRAINER have control?” This screams incompetence to me. While I do understand that many trainers believe that a horse will often learn from flipping over and landing hard, the fact that this horse was being used for films would suggest that it had at the very least “ground ” manners . Or perhaps they do not fully test their horses’ knowledge? Or temperament? Or their handlers? Or is the report incomplete ? I have worked with horses, including rearing horses – it’s all about paying attention and the timing ( and let’s mention the training!)

According to one source , WinningColorz, the horses used in the filming of Luck were trained by a couple of wranglers, (reportedly one was Matt Chew, who is a licensed CA racehorse trainer) who is considered a “good” trainer. Did he indeed have the horses in hand himself? Another source stated that the Stunt horses themselves were not raced as fast as “race horses”  and under controlled conditions. What training made these horses be classified as “Stunt horses” ? How long were they trained for? Perhaps the show and the horses were just… Unlucky?

The first two episodes of Lucky carried the“The American Humane Association Monitored the animal action.” label. After the two deaths, “No Animals Were Harmed”® certification was given back to the show, after HBO worked with the association to develop additional safeguards… which included more veterinarians and radiology.

The certification seemed misleading – unless they want to add “this episode” to the title.

In as recent as 2005 , a donkey was slaughtered in Manderlay for dramatic purposes – and two horses were killed in Flicka in 2006 ( according to one movie source , one death was caused by a horse getting kicked in the head by another horse during the wild round up scene. ) According to another source ,the association’s Web site; one horse fractured his tibia during a well-rehearsed ( seriously? I’ve never seen a herd run the same way every time – )  running scene in Simi Valley, Calif., and the other horse got loose from his “handler” and tripped on a 13 ‘ lead rope and broke its neck after a fall.

However,no horses were killed or injured during the making of Seabiscuit , Secretariat, or War Horse .

While I understand that incidences happen, horses get injured occasionally racing across their own pasture, taking a jump, etc. I find it ironic that the injured numbers at a TB  track are higher than injuries found in a wild horse band. Although the mustangs have their own plight – and that’s another post.

Perhaps it just isn’t lucky to be a horse.

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