Tuesday, July 15, 2008

After the Finish Line . . .

Today’s post will be short since I’m away from home, using a hotel Internet that’s extraordinarily slow.

In light of the recent topic here, regarding responsible horse ownership and the fate of horses that are no longer wanted, I’d like to draw your attention to After the Finish Line, a website dedicated to caring for racehorses once they’ve left the track. Please visit www.afterthefinishline.org/index.htm.

The tragic deaths of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and this year’s second place finisher, filly Eight Belles, brought the plight of racehorses and, ultimately, the whole slaughter issue to the forefront. Thankfully, changes are being made.

At Suffolk Downs in Boston, sending racehorses to slaughter will no longer be tolerated. Track management will deny stalls to any trainer who sells a horse for slaughter. It’s great to see that the industry is taking action. Certainly, there’s much to be done, but it’s a start.

What’s needed even more, I believe, is for backyard horse owners to be educated, to stop mindless breeding of their stock, to make sure their horses are well-trained and socialized, and to take responsibility for their fates.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How We Deal With Issues In Our Books, Or Not . . .

The posts on the Equestrian Ink blog over the last week or two have been thought provoking, to say the least. I’ve been thinking about the slaughter issue for quite some time, especially since the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503/S. 311) was introduced and is making the occasional headline. And this profound topic was going to be a part of my next mystery, although that has changed, but that’s a whole other story.

But research for that book took me to places I didn’t want to go, mainly to a video that I found on the web of a horse being killed in a Mexican slaughterhouse. I have a pretty good imagination, and this was so much worse.

Then, thanks to Laura Crum’s tip, I spent last night reading the Fugly Horse of the Day where I found examples of incredible human stupidity, laziness, and disregard for what is right and moral, as well as some admittedly funny stuff, too.

One reason so many horses end up on a slippery slope that may very well lead to slaughter is that so many humans breed inferior animals with poor conformation and unsuitable temperaments. They don’t properly care for and train the horses they do own, and they don’t take responsibility for them when they can no longer do their job, preferring to have them take their chances at auction where they are at extreme risk.

I owned my first horse until his death at age thirty-one, when I had to put him down because of old injuries and arthritis that anti-inflammatory medicine could no longer touch. He let me know when it was time to let go.

I am sad to say that, after him, I sold three other horses. They were all gorgeous, well trained, and athletic, and perfectly suited for their new owners, but I’ve lost touch with them over the years. And that was a mistake. If I ever purchase another horse, it will be for life.

Anyway, I have very strong feelings about human responsibility in the human-horse equation, and some of my opinions find their way into my mysteries. I don’t preach. After all, I write to entertain, but my character has his own opinions, and it’s only natural that he would consider them as the story plays out.

In DEAD MAN’S TOUCH, Steve gets his first look at the world of horse racing after working exclusively in the hunter/jumper arena. Here’s a short excerpt:

I flipped through my program and matched names to faces. None of the trainers looked younger than forty. Most were much older. One was a woman, and all of them were white. The grooms were easy enough to spot, wearing numbered pennies over tee shirts and jeans. They were a mixed group. Black, white, Hispanic. Old, young. Male, female.

The horses themselves were not what I was accustomed to. Nothing like the fat, glossy horses, essentially expensive pets, that resided at Foxdale. These animals were lean and hard. As I watched the bettors along the rail study the Form, I realized that the horses were viewed simply as a commodity. If they couldn’t earn their keep, they were out.

A signal must have been given, because the trainers legged the jockeys up onto the horses’ backs, then the grooms took them out onto the track.

The grooms peeled off their pennies and dropped them into a plastic bin as they slipped through the barricade. They walked back on the path I’d taken while the trainers went into the grandstand through a side entrance. A guard stood at a podium just inside the doorway, checking passes or ID’s of some sort. I retraced my steps. As I drew level with the barricade, I turned and looked back at the grandstand. A wall of sheer glass reflected a single line of cumulus clouds drifting across the horizon.

I walked back and leaned against the fence next to four of the grooms, three guys and one girl with halters and lead ropes draped over their shoulders.

A distant bell rang. The horses broke from the starting gate and surged forward in a rainbow of color.