I believe in animal rights, albeit I despise groups like PETA that blow small truths out of proportion and generalize entire industries. I feel like PETA takes it about twenty steps too far. However, I can’t help but to acknowledge some of the points the activists make and some of the faults they do manage to uncover.
It’s May, and so the hot topic has been Derby Day. I was never a fan of Derby Day because I associated it with cruelty towards horses, thanks to my mom’s standpoint growing up. But my friend challenged my opinions on derby racing when I came to Cleveland. We were getting gelato in Little Italy a couple Kentucky Derby’s ago and I was appalled by the gaggles of city people lined up to watch a 2-minute race around a track. I grew up with horses. My first job was in the stables. My mom rides western with me and paid for dressage lessons when I was younger. I understand the deep relationship one builds with a horse and how one should respect these beasts, all their power, and realize how much work it takes to care after one. Sitting in that room with those Clevelanders, I knew none of them knew the first thing about horses. How could city people care so much about a dumb race? I’d never seen people at home pay attention at the bar when the screen was on. I remember sitting in Sharky’s one year and everyone was more fascinated by the Pirates and Orioles baseball recaps. And is my mom right about the cruelty that those animals undergo? I decided to look into it further.
One of my good friends from home actually owns an eighth of a race horse. Yet her family doesn’t care about the races, just about the bets and the money it brings in. I decided first to search about what makes the Derby so exciting and if anyone else feels the same sort of animosity towards it as I do. I came across a post on Angelfire called “The Kentucky Derby Really is Decadent and Depraved”. I feel like the author makes some good points. For example, a quote on what makes it so popular:
“I despise the Derby for the same reason I despise 21st Century R&B and 2001: A Space Odyssey. They thrive by circulating so much hype around nearly non-existent substance until the hype becomes the substance. Of course what I call “hype,” Derby fans call “tradition. … Let’s not forget that all this tradition comes from the Deep South. Yup, from the countryside that brought you cotton plantations, the Confederacy, country music, and grits comes little men riding big horses in a circle for less than two minutes. Sell hot dogs in the stands and whiskey at the bar and you can garner enough fat alcoholics with no real lot in life to become obsessed with it. Instant tradition.”
This would explain why so many Clevelanders seem hooked at the bars and over social media. They don’t care about the actual event, it’s just about the bets, the celebrities, the stupid meaningless stuff – and the hype. To confirm this opinion, I read a few blogs and recaps from Derby parties. Nearly every single commentary was the same. People might add a comment like “Those hoses are so pretty and strong!”, but mostly it was blathering on about mint juleps, overdone outfits, and southern tradition. PAH-LEASE. Even PETA recognizes this. I love the introduction from the PETA Files, which sums up my sentiments perfectly:
“There is a certain kind of person, it seems, who enjoys dressing up like a deranged escapee from some historical theme park and swilling mint juleps just to watch horses run around a dirt track for a couple of minutes.”
So, with the mystery of the hype solved enough for my satisfaction, I now began to wonder if my mom was ever out of line for finding horse racing cruel towards animals. I asked her last week if she thinks PETA over exaggerates. She agrees they do, but that they have some truths that shouldn’t be ignored. Maybe some animal cruelty situations are localized, but the point is they still exist and that horse racing still supports it. Searching some more, I found another person sharing bitter feelings about a party she attended in Maine with people who knew nothing about the race but supported the hype and didn’t blink once at the thought of what happens to the losing horses after the race. She describes this night in “Why I Hate the Kentucky Derby”, where her date casually informed her that the losers from the race she watched would be sent to slaughter for the meat industry. She even recaps the life of the horse who won that day, Real Quiet, and mourns his death as not a steak but as a tired breeding stallion whose genes were used to continue the age-old tradition. I was still skeptical of tales of stun guns and horse meat until I watched some videos of horses being stunned and of trucks driving hours on end to take horses across the border. Furthermore, the disappointed date provided an article from William C. Rhoden of the New York Times which seems legitimate enough for me:
“The most significant source of racehorse deaths is the slaughter industry, one driven by overbreeding and demand from the lucrative global meat market. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than 100,000 American horses are slaughtered each year in Canada and Mexico to satisfy horse meat markets in Europe and Asia.
Breeding operations produce thousands of so-called surplus thoroughbreds. What happens to the excess, the often anonymous horses? Some are sold to owners who take them overseas. Some wind up racing in Japan. Some wind up in slaughterhouses.”
PETA claims 80% of people are opposed to horse slaughter in the US, yet it evidently continues to happen. PETA also reads of endless statistics about horse breeding, horse deaths, poor animal treatment, and all of those things I don’t have to bore you with. My main point – which I think I’ve made – is that Derby Day is a loathsome event, yet so many people blindly worship. I find it pathetic. I believe in knowing what I support and, if these sheep weren’t so ignorant, I should hope they wouldn’t support it as well. Alas, ignorance and stubbornness, the leading follies of humankind.
So all you Team Derby people out there, have fun dressing up, choking on mint juleps, and pretending to be southern for a day while you lose your money along with the life of your bet horse.