I’ve spent the last few days trying to wrap my head around this whole thing. Being as I live right in the heart of horse country, Thoroughbreds in particular, a blow pointed at the industry puts all Kentuckians on the defense of the sport so deeply ingrained into our culture. Those outside of our Bluegrass bubble are more likely to grasp onto any ounce of information given to them, and with the use of social media, said information can spread like wildfire to the masses. And the reaction of the Thoroughbred industry itself? Those deeply involved, from owners to trainers to breeders and fans, have suddenly spoken up on the need for universal medication reform. Others have taken to social media in an effort to show another side of the industry (#fullstoryPETA). But, is this the price the racing industry had to pay for change to happen? To have one of their top-tiered trainer’s barn be infiltrated under false pretenses and then dragged through the court of public opinion? With the only evidence presented being nine and a half minutes of edited video taken out of context that was unknowingly recorded by a fraudulent activist?
Put yourself in your own barn, eventers, and let’s see how many of you would answer yes to having owned/performed/authorized as an owner/trainer/rider to any of the following: chain shanks, bute, acepromazine, joint injections, acupuncture, nasogastric scoping, twitching, ice baths, ulcer treatment, DMSO, Thyro-L, poultice, drawing blood.
Sound familiar? Because video evidence of those exact items is all it took. All it took to be top news in the NY Times. All it took for a Hall of Fame nominee to be taken off the ballot. All it took for owners to take their business elsewhere, for employees to be fired, and for an entire industry to be scrutinized. And, sadly, all it took for a man who loved the sport to take his own life.
It would be ignorant to think that eventing is immune to similar accusations on this level. Although we may fall under different jurisdictions, the horse is the primary vector of our business and/or enjoyment. This issue isn’t just about medicating or drugging race horses. It’s simply just a stepping stone, a back road, a scenic route to a final destination. This isn’t over.
Do I think the racing industry needs to be examined and reformed in terms of medicinal use? Absolutely. What we, as eventers, can take away from the aforementioned debacle is that it is better to be proactive than reactive. Reinforce the foundation of the sport we love, give it a solid base that we can all stand behind, and ask the questions that need to be answered. Or else, we are left to watch as Camelot crumbles.