Michigan Farm News article accurately portrays racing industry

In recent days, I have received calls and emails from several people regarding an article in the Equine News insert of the Feb. 15 Michigan Farm News.

I had not read the story, but the fact that it had evoked such emotion from a broad range of people in and out of the racing industry compelled me to seek it out.

The article, written by Michigan Farm News editor Paul Jackson, absolutely lived up to the hype. Over the last year and a half, I have tried to project the issues surrounding Michigan’s racing industry in a comprehensive and easy to understand manner, but I wish I could nail it down like Jackson has in this piece. His story is the most accurate, truthful portrayal of the state of racing in Michigan I have read in a long time. While the story focuses on the harness side of the industry, its message rings true for everyone involved in Michigan racing.

In the article, Jackson outlines the consequences of a series of failures by the leadership in Lansing and elsewhere to not only assist the racing industry, but to even hear it out. The two major consequences outlined in the story are the exodus of Michigan’s horsemen to more lucrative states and the increase of abandoned horses due to strict anti-slaughter laws.

The departure of horsemen, Jackson suggests, can be largely blamed on the failure of state Congress to pass expanded gaming legislation in 2004, despite the obvious benefits, and the constant meddling of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. Jackson highlights Standardbred trainer Rob Harmon, who moved his stable to New York after it became clear he could not make a living in Michigan. Despite his farm and family still residing in the state, Harmon said he had no interest in ever buying another Michigan racing license.

The other, less publicized, issue discussed is that of horse slaughter and abandonment. Jackson argues the leaders in Lansing and Washington D.C. turned a deaf ear to the agriculture industry in favor of animal rights groups who pushed for harsh anti-slaughter laws. Since then, the nation’s animal shelters have been packed to capacity, and those not lucky enough to be admitted have become part of the epidemic of abandonment by owners of all breeds who can not afford to feed or euthanize their horses.

The piece then discusses the hypocrisy of the animal rights groups who pushed for the legislation, focusing on the Humane Society of the United States. According to the article, the organization does not operate any animal shelters in the country despite owning a “multi-million dollar budget”. Subjects interviewed by Jackson suggest these groups’ desire to cause trouble without offering solutions only serves to create more problems.

Jackson’s article is a must-read for those unfamiliar with the dire situation of Michigan’s racing industry. While there are many factors that have led us to the point we are today, there is little denying that the antagonization of racing by those in power has been a major factor in the industry’s collapse.

To read the article “State, national laws put horses, racing on last legs”, click here.

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7 Comments

Filed under Commentary, Politics

7 responses to “Michigan Farm News article accurately portrays racing industry

  1. With all do respect, anti-slaughter laws are not a problem with regards to abandoned horses. The problem is irresponsible owners. Look, I am not naive to think we can place all unwanted horses in new homes, but if you have a horse (racehorse or pleasure) you have a responsibility to it.

    Racehorse owners spend hundreds of dollars on vet bills for their charges and hopefully they make money for their investment. If you have a horse that can’t be adopted out and is no longer able to race, then spend a few hundred dollars more to euthanize the horse. If you can’t afford to take care of a horse when the time comes, then you shouldn’t be owning it.

    Why do I post this here? Because I love horse racing. It is hard to get the public support when they hear about horse slaughter. Eventually, the fate of racing will depend on the perception of the sport by the public.

    BTW, I love your blog. While you focus on the runners, I appreciate the fact you recognize the harness industry is a partner in the struggles racing has. You don’t act like harness racing doesn’t exist. I am going to put a link for your website on my blog.

  2. mibredclaimer

    Pacingguy,
    I am very much with you that the problem lies with irresponsible owners. You are correct that those who have the funds to pump money into the horses ought to have enough to deal with them after their racing careers.

    All that considered, the abandonment problem reaches out much farther than the racing industry. I live in an area of great economic depression, and the number of seriously under-fed horses of all breeds (which, to me, is a form of abandonment) in my township alone is sickening. More and more farms across the state are waking up to find new horses dropped off in their fields.

    This is not to say these horses would have ended up at the butcher instead of starving in the field, but the option would be there as an alternative to prolonged suffering.

    Horse slaughter is an ugly subject, this is true. That said, an uglier subject is the way horses are jammed into trailers for long trips to Canada or Mexico. I do not feel great about horse slaughter, but I see it as a necessary part of the horse industry. If it’s going to happen, it’s probably best it does in the United States where it can be properly regulated for humanity.

    Every effort should be made to keep horses from getting that far, but for those that do, I’d rather see them treated with proper oversight than shuffled across the border.

    Thanks for your kind words. I’m not a particularly big “harness” guy, but it is important to understand that we are all in this together. Everything just works better when everyone is on the same page. I’ll add you to my blogroll as well.

    • I don’t think slaughtering in the states is the answer. Even if legal, I don’t think it will happen.

      The European Union has instituted new rules regarding the importing of horse meat for human consumption as of April, 2010. To keep this short, due to the medication used on race horses, for all practical purposes horses will need to be in quarantine for 180 days before they can be slaughtered to make sure any medication not allowed in food for human consumption is not in the horse. If you put all these horses in a feed lot and they get sick, you need to treat them with antibiotics which means the 180 days starts over. From what I gather is if American slaughterhouses wanted to sell meat to Europe, they would likely have to abide by the same rules. Bottom line is it will not be economically feasible to use race horses for human meat.

  3. Great comment Pacingguy! I completely agree with you regarding the slaughter issue and the legalization of it. To back up what you say, all you need to do is look at the numbers of horses slaughtered when slaughter was legal and those numbers prove that it is demand driven and therefore does little with the problem of overpopulation and the “unwanted horse” issue. In fact, equine neglect increased or remained unchanged during the times of higher slaughter numbers. Basically, it supports that unwanted horses/neglected horses and horse slaughter are unrelated to one another. Here is a link to a study of this topic.

    For the simple sake of trying to gain racing fans, the sport does not need any tie to slaughter.

  4. Great comments Pacingguy! I completely agree with you.

    Regarding the discussion of “unwanted/neglected” horses and horse slaughter – there have been studies that demonstrated there was little to no relationship between the slaughter of horses (when slaughter was done legally in the US) and the number of neglected and unwanted horses. It showed that the horse slaughter business is demand driven and does not increase the number of horses slaughtered when there is an increase in supply of horses. You can conclude that slaughter is not an answer to the real problem of over population/over breeding and neglectful owners.

    I tried to put a link to that study but I believe my comment wasn’t accepted because of it. I’m happy to send anyone a link to that study if they’d like.

    Also, Michigan Farm News is clearly not in the perception/marketing business. For the sake of building up racing and a fan base, it needs to keep far, far away from the issue of slaughtering the athletes when they are done racing…

  5. oops – sorry for the double post! I thought the first one didn’t go through…

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