the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles at the end of saturday's kentucky derby was shocking to all who witnessed it (i, thankfully, did not). after running the entire race on churchill downs' famous dirt track -- hard and fast that day -- and coming in second place, the filly was loping around the first turn to slow down and cool down, and both her front ankles snapped. she had to be euthanized on the spot, before the horrified crowd and a world tv audience.
the event will, i hope, serve to bring into question all events in which animals are the subject or the vehicle for human "sport". in the case of thoroughbred horse racing, it is my understanding that there has occurred so much inbreeding over the years, in the pursuit of speed, that such injuries become more and more inevitable. at what cost, both to the horses and to our own integrity?
greyhound racing? similar story.
professional rodeo? don't even get me started. i grew up in rodeo country, and have vivid memories of one particular whoop-up rodeo (whoop-up being my home town's annual celebration of the trail by the same name, used by booze smugglers from canada into the u.s. during prohibition) -- a bronc was released from the chute, somehow landed awkwardly and shattered a rear leg joint. the poor creature leaped and hobbled and literally screamed (a sound i shall never forget) around the arena. the only thing holding its lower hind leg to its body was a shred of hide. that near-severed limb spun and looped crazily as the horse fled in panic to escape the pain. even after riders were able to rope it and tie it down, it took a full half hour before the owners could be reached for permission to put the horse out of its misery with a gunshot to the head.
freak occurrance? well, imagine yourself to be a calf, prodded out of a chute and running terrified from the pursuing horse and rider. suddenly a rope settles around you neck, and you are jerked into the air from full forward flight to come crashing to the ground, choking. the rider then hastily binds three of your four thrashing legs and raises both arms when finished, signalling the stopwatches to stop, recording his time. good clean fun, right? someday i'd like to see a cowboy sent racing across the arena, only to be ridden down and roped in similar fashion. i think his attitude that the whole procedure is painless might change.
rodeo is sacrosanct in much of the american west, as is bullfighting in spain and mexico. they remain in my mind bastions of barbarity and torture, right alongside dog fighting, cock fighting, fox hunting, and canned big game hunts. this is not sport, this is savagery.
Eight Belles is mercifully no longer with us. i hope that her death will spark a universal debate over our assumptions on the humane treatment of animals. but i'm not holding my breath.