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Eight Belles gave all for “the love of the sport”

May 7, 2008 - Amy Jo Hanna-Eckenrode
After a tragedy occurs, such as the one that involved Eight Belles at this year’s Kentucky Derby, it takes me a while to compose myself enough to write somewhat intelligently.

I will start by saying I have known many horse owners. Many close friends. I can vouch for the deep love they felt and the impeccable care they gave to their animals. I went through a heartbreaking time when a good friend had to have her old horse put down. Somehow it seemed the bigger the animal the greater the pain even to an outsider like me as she described holding onto her ole’ boy as the vet, in tears, administered the euthanasia. My friend’s lean frame, trying to provide comfort until the very last minute to her longtime companion, crumbled along with her 1,500 lb. horse as he went down for the final time. I remember it took a long time for her tears to dry. They had been friends for almost 27 years.

Eight Belles was euthanized after breaking both front ankles a quarter-mile after the finish at Churchill Downs. She was the first fatality in the 134-year-history of the race. She was only 2-years-old. Horses are not considered ‘mature’ until the age of 6. Their knees are not even fully fused until the age of 3 ½.

I have always been respectfully intimidated by horses. Their size alone humbles me. But there is a certain look in their eyes that tells me there is much more inside. It was not surprising to learn that the senses of a horse are generally superior to those of a human (not that it would take much these days).

The cerebellum of a horse’s brain (the center of their sense of balance) is highly developed and they are very aware of terrain and placement of their feet. Horses' sense of touch is better developed than you might think. They immediately notice when a fly or mosquito lands on them.

These incredible animals can weigh close to a ton yet balance the majority of their massive body weight on 4” x 4” hoofs.  I guess if I could ask God one of my “Why?” questions it would and has been, “Why did you create horses?” What is their true purpose? Humans have domesticated and used horses for work and transport for centuries. Was that their purpose?

Horse racing (thoroughbred to be exact) has been considered a sport for centuries. It wasn’t until the early 1900s however that [formal] betting on races began, in America of course.

For the love of money… and speed….

Did Eight Belles pay the ultimate sacrifice for human greed? It’s hard for me not to believe this isn’t the case with over $100 billion now wagered annually in 53 countries. I would bid you well not to try to convince me otherwise.

Eight Belle’s first and final protector, jockey Gabriel Saez, was exonerated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority. Not surprising. That would be about as unbiased as my mother standing up for me against the neighborhood bully.  My first reaction when I heard the news – through my bouts of complete nausea – was that it would have been a bit more fitting for Saez’s ankles to have snapped in half after being thrown from Eight Belle and then have him be euthanized on the track.

I’m not going to get into the PETA issues, eliminating the use of the whip or the banning of racing of horses younger than 3 or the arguments for synthetic Polytrack surface being safer than the dirt tracks.

I think horse racing simply exists because it has for generations and it began long before humans formed any kind of respect for animals.

If the level of stress and potential physical dangers to a horse aren’t enough reasons to stop this so-called sport you’d think that a study that once proved that after boxing, the U.S. sport with the highest number of deaths per 100,000 participants was horse racing might knock some sense into a few people. Then again, just watch a boxing match. Two men punching each other in the face. On purpose. With the goal to knock each other out.

It’s not surprising that the senses of a horse are generally superior to those of a human.

On behalf of humans, I’m truly sorry Eight Belles. I am truly sorry.

Here is a link to a good article by a lover of this ‘sport’ and a person who respects this incredible animal.

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