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Pity the horses on the Monkey-go-round

Observations from the Edge
Robert T. Nanninga
Coast News
August 5, 2004


"Horse sense is the thing a horse has which keeps it from betting on people." — W C Fields

I despise the Del Mar racing season. Yes, mine is an emotional response. It is also an ethical and intellectually grounded response. Horse racing is wrong and can never be right.


Living in the San Dieguito region, one must come to terms with the six weeks during the summer when animal exploitation take center stage in the land of sprawl and crawl. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit I have only attended the races once. And that was during a drunken lark in the early 80's. Talk about a buzz kill. Since then my response has always been hostile acceptance with the occasional rant.

This is one of those occasions.

Recently a long time acquaintance made the strategic mistake of complaining about missing opening day at the races. Boo hoo, right? Offering him my condolences on his missed opportunity of mixing animal exploitation with gambling, I was hinting that horse-racing was not polite dinner conversation. Did he get the hint? Of course not, instead he smiled sweetly, and in a soft voice, as if speaking to a child, assured me horses actually enjoyed racing, and benefited from their pampered lives.

It never fails to amaze me how completely delusional people can be in their anthropocentrism. The dude was serious. Of course my respect for this individual diminished considerably. "What?" Said I, immediately smelling blood in the water. "Horses like to run, it's natural," said he. My mind was racing. Fight or flight? Flight or fight? I choose both.

"Don't even start." I half shouted across the restaurant, "Next you'll say the horses enjoy being pumped full of performance enhancing drugs and the small monkey clinging to their back." That was it, end of dialogue, as it is impossible to reason with the ethically impaired. Claiming horses enjoy being tools of the gaming industry is like saying elephants enjoy the circus, and lab rats enjoy science. Yes, exploitive industry might be all they know, but given the choice these animals would not opt for an existence based only on the whim of humans.

If the horses truly enjoyed racing they would not require jockeys. Would they?

Evolving into existence 5 million years ago, Equus is the only surviving genus of the Family Equidae. To date only seven species of Family Equidae remain. The domestic horse, Equus caballus, including animals racing at Del Mar, is one of those species. Imagine 5 million years of evolution and this is their fate. Running around in circles to provide a momentary diversion for the ethically impaired. It's crazy.

The once diverse family of horses entered the fossil record 50 million years ago. In contrast the history of man began only 5 million years ago, beginning with Ardipithicus ramidus and ending with us, Homo sapiens sapiens. Early man, Homo habilis, made the scene little more than 2 million years ago. Do the math. Horses predate modern man by 3 million years. Yet still we treat them like play toys and parlor games. We're Crazy.

One can only imagine the karma associated with the injustice and disrespect humans have inflicted of on all species of horse. From exploitation to extinction, and all points in between, few are the instances when horses chose freely to do the bidding of humans without a history of discipline and dominance defining the choice.

If horses where truly content with their domestic duties- stalls, corals, and other forms of incarceration would not be needed. Of course some would say, "Horses need to be protected from harm. To which I suggest, horses have survived on earth in spite of humanity not because of them, having only humans and the occasional predator to fear. I would also note humanity benefits far more from the domestication of horses than horses benefit from their captivity by humans.

So when the gamblers and racing enthusiasts speak for horses, claiming contented ambivalence or willing participation, they know not what they speak of. Oppressors speaking for the oppressed could hardly be considered a reliable source. People can and will justify the horse racing industry as much as they like, but it's just more anthropocentric justification for continuing anthropocentric behavior. In the case of Del Mar, the anthropocentrism is dressed up with fancy hats and shiny suits.

I can tolerate horse-racing season as the fading ritual it is. And yes, I can accept humans are a selfish species bent on their own destruction. What I won't suffer are fools who profess animals, domestic horses included, are complicit in their subjugation. They are not. To believe otherwise is to be delusion or ignorant.

Pity the horses.

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