Friday, May 30, 2008

Controversy or Soap Box?

With the death of Teddy O'Connor Eventing Pony Theodore O'Connor Dies the amazing jumping pony, I can't help but flashback to the death of Eight Belles as well. Two such totally different experiences, Eight Belles died doing what she loved and Teddy O'Connor died because he was being a horse. It just goes to show how fragile horses really are.

We tend to believe that because they are big and powerful that they are indestructible as well. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Horses are built top heavy balancing all of that weight onto thin legs. It's amazing that their legs even support such a frame in the first place let alone allow them to move in a manner that can seem effortless.

When something happens to horses like Eight Belles we automatically blame it on humans. Eight Belles' Death Sparks Controversy
But Eight Belles was as fragile a horse a Teddy O'Connor.

The thing that made both of these horses great was their heart. While we can be in awe of the heart of a horse, we must also remember that great heart can cause them jeopardy. Horses who push on past normal for other horses may have the look of eagles but that very attribute means they will test their bodies to the ultimate limit. A horse that pushes past the limits of its body dies most of the time. It's as simple as that.

The great mass of the horse's body pounding along can have catastrophic consequences. A horse like my Scandalous changing direction too abruptly ends up dying from the damage done internally by the sheer force of the action. Eight Belles, Barbaro ane many others had their legs give out from the pounding they took carrying their top heavy frame to such extremes. The fall that Teddy O'Connor took running back to the barn caused a severe laceration to his hind leg, severing the tendons and ligaments. How did that happen.........the sheer force caused by his body weight behind the fall.

We may try to protect the horse to some extent from such tragedies but we never will be able to prevent them all. It's inherent in the make-up of the horse that such things can and will happen.

We don't do the horse any service by blaming humans for something they have no control of in the first place. But we open ourselves up to outside scrutiny from people who react totally off emotion with little if any understanding of the issue or the horse. The possibility of regulation based on such scrutiny could be devastating to the horse industry and to the horses we're trying to protect in the first place. What do you think?


  1. Oh that is just so sad. He was an amazing little horse.

    On my soapbox-when you start regulating what people can and cannot do with livestock(sorry guys-I love my horses too but they are classified as livestock) you might as well consider the USA as we know it DEAD. I firmly believe in laws to enforce the humane treatment of animals-making sure they have food and water and shelter and being able to prosecute animal cruelty. But there is a huge difference in what one person thinks is acceptable vs what someone else does and it is very seldom that the person making the laws is someone who knows anything about it.
    For instance-I rodeo. I love rodeos. I know stock contractors and I know cowboys. Believe me the stock contractors that I know take better care of their animals than a lot of team ropers I know. But rodeo is under fire because supposedly the rough stock(horses and bulls) are horribly abused. People say that they are shocked to make them buck or they are beaten.
    I have NEVER seen this done. Yes horses get banged up, especially the younger horses. They are basically wild and the first few rodeos can be traumatic but they figure it out and settle down to business or they don't make it as a bucking horse.
    I can imagine people who want to outlaw horse racing could eventually turn on barrel racing. Because horses get hurt in that event too. What happens if people get so radical that they decide that you can no longer even ride a horse?
    I know it sounds radical-but there are people that radical out there and they have no problem voicing their opinion. I think we have to just as vocal. We have to try to share some piece of information about what we do with every person we meet otherwise the only things a lot of people hear is the bad things. We are the voice of responsible horsemanship. While we have the responsibility to out bad practices, we also have the responsibility to share our experiences with people who are not as lucky are we are to have horses.
    Off my soapbox.

    My heart goes out to the O'Connor's. This has to be a very sad time for them. The same way my heart went out to the owner/trainer/jockey/handler's of Eight Belles. None of them ever wanted anything bad to happen to that wonderful filly either.

  2. Have people been trying to connect Teddy's death to the current debate about racing and eventing? I haven't seen it, and I can't imagine it would carry any water. Totally different situations in my opinion.

    Generally, though, I think racing and eventing need to be acting right now, not protesting that life is sunshine and roses.

    If they do a study on the current state and safety of their sport, what's the worse that can happen? They come up with areas that do need improvement and self regulate. Best case, they can demonstrate that this really has been just an awful year, and then they have concrete information to hand back to the people who are concerned about the apparent lack of safeguards in the sport. They have proof that additional regulations aren't necessary at that point.

    The only real disaster that I can imagine is that the industries refuse to acknowledge the public concern.

  3. I was looking forward to seeing what everyone else had to say about this but it seems I'm early. =P

    I must admit I don't follow individual horses in competitions/racing, I can't seem to get my foot in that door! It's terrible to hear about Teddy, but the reality is these things happen to horses every day of the week, all over the world. In the wild, and in domestication. Just because a horse is good at something, say racing or eventing doesn't mean it won't happen to them, it simply can't be prevented.

    In saying this, I don't agree with the Thoroughbred way of breeding. I'm not trying to single them out, just talking about this particular case. As well as unsoundness, infertility is becoming a big problem too. Like with operations such as Caslicks being performed so these mares can still breed, you have to keep in mind in a natural situation this mare wouldn't reproduce. But when she does and passes on this poor conformation more Caslicks need to be done to ensure breeding can continue in that line. So horses are becoming more and more dependant on humans for the teeniest and most natural things.

    *end of vent* Someone else's turn. =P

  4. MiKael - I agree with what you say about horses being miraculous, delicate creatures. I also think that there's a sense of destiny about living - we're put here on this earth for the time we're meant to be here. So, I believe it's best to live life without regrets. And since animals can't speak for themselves, often, in order to not be a person who regrets what happened, we need to speak up. Why is it so important for horses to go faster and faster? It's interesting that in the horse racing world, they talk about the horses "breaking down" - like they were mechanized or something. If a polytrack makes the horses safer even though they can't run as fast, why do people put the premium on speed over safety? The answer has five letters - M-O-N-E-Y.

  5. I'm of mixed mind about regs.

    On one hand, riding yearlings (as they do in the racing industry) cannot be good for the horses.

    On the other hand, stuff happens. People are injured all the time doing foolish things and we are supposed to be the species that thinks ahead.

    As with many other complicated issues I think "it depends". It depends on how the regs are written. It depends on how the regs are enforced, and make no mistake, creating and enforcing are two waaayyyy different things. I think it depends on how much money is going to be tossed into the pot for reg enforcement.

    it depends, would be my answer.

  6. So terribly sad. He was certainly a great pony. Not surprised that he had Arabian blood in him. :)

  7. Thank You MiKael, for posting this. Accidents happen. Horses are amazing creatures, and things DO happen to them, more than we would like.

    Thanks for your insights on this matter. Wish more folks would take a step back and THINK instead of just following along wiht the crowd like Sheeple....

  8. This is one of the issues that I am constantly having a tug of war with myself over. I think that all of these circumstances are unique each in their own way and sometimes wish they would wait until the horses were into their third or even fourth year before they start working them so hard. They pretty much mature and stop growing by that time, but then how many instances of human deaths do we have during sporting activities, many more, so where do you draw the line. I personally would not want to breed or subject my horse to intense training until they were fouror at the very least three. JMHO.

    This is the same scenario as the slaughter houses being closed in USA. While the people like PETA have got what they wanted, they have condemned the horses that go that route to a far worse fate than what they would if they were going to Texas or Illinois.

    Both very delicate issues, and we wont get into the latter LOL.

    While I was in LOndon England, I used to sdpend my weekends at a riding stable nearby where they had 50 acres of kings land that they could ride on right in the middle of the hustle and bustle. I wasnt there on the particular day that one of the horses got a bit ansy and kicked out at a horse it thought was too close, not a usual behaviour for this horse, and his hoof caught the corner of the brick building and broke his leg. Total freak accident. They happen and like these two horses in the high profile races, events recently, out of our control.

  9. halt near x, no people haven't been saying that Teddy's death was anything but an accident. I am the one saying that we must remember that horses are fragile and that fragility can affect outcomes.

    gecko, yes there are lots of ways that people interfer and don't make decisions on what's best for the horse.

    victoria, unfortunately that "breaking down" is a term that the vets use. I must admit it makes me cringe every time I hear it. It's so cold and impersonal like you say but taught in the vet schools.

    holly, I thought the thoroughbreds didn't start riding them until they were two. That's too early for me, but yearlings would be even worse. I don't even start mine at three and I'm more prone to five or even six despite being criticized for it.

    dressagemom, I wasn't surprised at his Arabian blood either. I was definitely a fan of this great pony.

    mrs mom, that's me....out there stirring things up! lol

    lori, closing the slaughter houses is definitely an issue that was resolved strictly on an emotional level. The result has caused problems those promoting the change didn't anticipate, that's for sure.

    Linda, I certainly agree with that.

  10. I partially agree with your post. I do think that they start TB's way to early before they have a chance to fully develope and that doing so causes alot of those break downs. And bad breeding choices also contributes to it as well.

    With any horse really, start them too early and push them too far and they will break down. Any breed of horse will.

    Making more regulations won't completely stop break downs from happening. It sure won't stop the accident prone horse. Sure make better footing for the race tracks, start them later, but there will still be breakdowns. Genetics rules. To race/jump/etc. a horse and to breed a horse or not will always be ruled by $$$.

    There is no reason they can't breed good sound quality horses that can take the 'abuse' put on thier bodies. In TB's they shouldn't only breed for speed and because a horse won 'X' amount of $$. They don't always breed for conformation and to horses that have no history of breaking down. Generally, it's the faster the better, we can fix those hooves with glue and pads, we can repair breaks, and bows... Not the way to do it in my opinion.

    But you are right, wrap them in bubble wrap and they'll still hurt themselves. They're big, they're powerful, and they don't always know their own limits. I swear they sit there and think of the weirdest predicaments to get themselves into.

    I have one horse here that I got in Nov. He's hurt himself 4 times since then. I'm about ready to pull my hair out lol.

  11. browneyed cowgirls, I don't know how your comment got lost but it did. I'm glad I found it again. You've made a great point.

    I, too, am aware that there are radical people out there who would have it that we no longer keep horses at all. They believe they belong in the wild.

    If we don't start with some balance here within our own industry to see that horses are being properly treated, what could happen if those outside the industry make regulations for us could be devastating.

  12. lady of chaos, I hope I wasn't implying that I think ALL problems with horses on the track are just because the horses are fragile because that's not what I mean.

    I just think there needs to be some balance in looking at the issues. Sometimes things happen because the horse is fragile and sometimes they happen because people are exploiting the horse. AND there is a whole continuum inbetween. There are no cut and dried answers here and we need to keep that in mind when looking for solutions.

  13. Unfortunately there is no easy solution. It is a shame about Teddy and my heart goes out to the O'Connors and all who knew and loved him.
    You are right accidents happen and most times it is no ones fault. People will always look to point the finger at someone to justify what happened to one horse or another. As far as regulating what horse owners can and cannot do with their horses, well I know I don't want the government involved in regulating anything I do with mine. The way they have been handling things lately, I'm afraid I wouldn't have much faith in anything they legislate. It's only my opinion but in this day and age people seem to have no respect for human life, so how can you expect them to care what happens to animals. If there was a way to educate more people about what is wrong and right and how to treat our animals, that might be a first step in more humane treatment and less abuse occurring in the animal world.

  14. I must say I was gutted that Teddy had this accident, one of those really freaky things that just happen when you have horses eh.

    The big problem I have with Eight Belles is she is linebred to a family well known for having weak ankles. Racehorses are being bred completely for speed and no effort or thought is going into breeding for soundness.

  15. That is sad, haven't heard about his death yet. Thanks for informing us. He was a amazing horse, prayers to the family.
    I agree with Brown Eyed Cowgirls. She hit the nail on the head, we rodeo as well and know alot of stock contractors that take better care of there livestock than most take care of there kids. I have never seen any kind of beating or abuse at the events either. The answer is not regulating everything to where you are not allowed do to anything with your horses. I think there needs to be rules set in each event to make it as safe as possible. But these are massive animals that you can not protect all the time,(as much as we all try to) they would find ways to hurt themselves in a padded room! Thanks for sharing you voice of responsible horsemanship.

  16. Lots of good thoughts and opinions here. I have to agree with Beckz who brought up the breeding issue creating weak ankles in race horses. I was just talking to my farrier about the pros and cons of going "barefoot" and he mentioned that same breeding issue. He said that Thoroughbreds have the smallest feet with the narrowest hoof wall because they were bred for lightness and speed. Centuries ago, they had heavier feet with adequate hoof walls. This farrier has been in the business for 30 years and takes care of the feet of many different breeds, from high-end roping and barrel horses to the family pony.

    Just like many social issues, there isn't just one answer to the problem, and there are other factors that lead to what some call a "breakdown." Breeding is just one of the factors to consider. And regardless of what causes a great horse to go down, that is a sad day for all of us who love horses.