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.