As a young child who loved being outside and connecting with animals, I looked forward to going to my grandparent’s racehorse farm in Pennsylvania each year. Only now, with years between my younger self and current self, I can more clearly identify the abuse and cruelty on a seemingly harmless “family farm.”
I grew up in a family that rode horses and made their money off of horses by racing and selling them. As a child, I would see my family members “break” horses, which can be done in many different ways, but ultimately breaks their spirit, wears down their bodies, and runs them dry just to reach the end goal of forcing them to comply with orders and commands for personal or financial gain. I watched my family members “exercise” them by pushing them to exhaustion, “discipline” them by whipping or running them into compliance and forcing them to race, all of which led to untimely harm their bodies in a sport that exists solely for entertainment.
My family would do all of these practices often, even daily, as a way of life. When I was asked to help out on the farm, something inside of me felt wrong about exerting power over these animals. When I spoke out about my feelings or showed my apprehension in wanting to train horses, I was often told that I was “just too sensitive” or “just needed to get the work done.”
At the time, I didn’t understand the real harm that is done to their bodies when forced to participate in the intense sport of racing. Many horses begin training or racing when their skeletal systems are still growing and have a hard time handling the pressures of competitive racing. Horses don’t stop growing until around age six, and this causes break down in the body and lameness down the line. Because injuries are so frequent, trainers and veterinarians are often able to keep injured horses racing, even as they experience pain, by giving them drugs to mask it and control inflammation.
When they are all done with their racing years, they are often retired to be used for meat because it is the only way to profit off of the horses. Many horses will end up in slaughterhouses in Mexico and China for dog food, glue, and meat for humans to consume, where they will be shot in the head with a bolt gun. The Humane Society states that “Over 100,000 horses are sent to slaughter each year, and the vast majority would be rehomed. The USDA documented that 92.3 percent of horses sent to slaughter are in good condition and are able to live out a productive life.”
I now listen to my younger self and no longer participate in this industry or riding horses for sport. I don’t support an industry that exploits horses for their entire lives, only to send them off to a slaughterhouse in the end. Even when certain practices and memories have been a large part of our lives, it is our ethical duty to stop participating in the cruelty as soon as we identify it.