Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Newsworthy in New York

It’s been a big, big week in the equine news, and I’ve been so busy, busy, busy that there hasn’t been a moment available to offer up any commentary on all of the headlines that have come across the wire. Today’s Equine Reader post will therefore be a conglomerate of sorts, to get things up to speed.

First off, just a brief mention to congratulate Dressage wunderkind Moorlands Totilas and his rider Edward Gal, who

garnered their third win
in the 2009/ 2010 FEI World Cup Dressage Series on Monday in Neumunster, Germany. Though Totilas did not post the same high score that he did in his previous two world record breaking performances, his 87.60% was enough to put him way up on the leader board. How exciting to realize that that sky may be the limit for this pair! I will certainly be watching as they continue their ascent to freestyle glory.

In New York State, the racing world continues to be rocked by two controversial stories, the first concerning the long delayed VLT installation and racino development at Aqueduct racetrack. The folks at NYRA just can’t seem to stay on the good side of the auditors, and investigation has already commenced into the fiscal skeleton of their operation following last December’s announcement that the racing entity would be bankrupt before they
made it to this year’s Belmont Stakes. With this week’s revelation of the significant salaries paid to NYRA president Charlie Hayward and COO Hal Handel, further furor has been created in the Albany legislature. Ray Paulick posted some fascinating data concerning salaries among head racing executives nationwide, and it certainly does appear that the NYRA leaders are paid quite well in comparison with their cohorts across the country. Only the heads of the Breeder’s Cup and Jockey Club are, in fact, paid more. With approval still pending for a developer to begin work on the long overdue Aqueduct racino complex, it seems a strange time for NYRA to start attracting so much negative press due to the dubious economic model of its operation.

And finally, Ernie Pagallo, the NY state breeder accused of 35 counts of horse neglect and cruelty after state investigators seized 177 malnourished horses from his farm during a raid in April 2009,
went to trial for the abuse in upstate New York yesterday. Paragallo had his racing license and privileges suspended following the raid, and, as the Daily Mail reported, stated on video yesterday that he was "not denying it. If they want to lock me up, maybe they should. Whether it’s my fault or not it happened and it’s my responsibility." Luckily many of the seized horses were turned over to equine rescue and rehabilitation organizations, and are expected to recover.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Horses Helping Humans Helping Horses

Today brought two positive strides for important causes that link our human and equine worlds.

As the reports, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, currently the world's largest charity organization committed to fundraising for breast cancer research and survivor support, has agreed to renew its partnership with the Kentucky Oaks (gr. 1) at Churchill Downs. Kentucky Oaks Day, held the Friday before the Kentucky Derby, will again have breast cancer fundraising as the focus of its races and events (e.g., its "Pink Out" initiative, which encourages Oaks attendees to wear pink as a way to show their support for the cause). According to the, one particularly notable event scheduled for the day will be a parade in which breast cancer survivors will walk next to the Oaks' fillies as the horses make their way to the gate. Churchill Downs has promised to donate 1$ per attendee to the Susan G. Komen Foundation on Oaks Day, and will also donate 1$ for every "Oaks Lilies" themed mixed drink sold on-site to Horses and Hope, the Kentucky equine industry's breast cancer support and fundraising organization. This is a wonderful example of a way in which a large racing organization is using its notoriety to support a worthwhile cause in the human world. I would love to see similar partnerships leveraged for other causes by aligning noteworthy non-profits with prominent races and venues.

And the recently incepted Equine Health and Welfare Alliance, formed by a group of Kentucky-based AAEP certified equine vets, is pushing to gain House approval for a bill that that would "recommend voluntary standards for horse rescue and retirement shelters, and suggest deal with abandoned horses." According to, "the bill will create the Kentucky House Agriculture and Business Committe to assist, advise, and consult with the cabinet on issues of equine health and welfare and will take action to help maintain the health, welfare, and safety of equines in the Commonwealth." The group hopes that such a bill would also provide for a wide scale assessment of the true state of horse abandonment and rescue in the U.S., and develop measurable goals for addressing the issue of unwanted horses. Since the prohibition of U.S. horse slaughter in 2007, and due in large part to the fierce impact the recession has had on demand in the equine market, determining how to care for homeless horses has become a critical problem. It will be interesting to see whether this legislation gets passed, and whether it can drive further change for abandoned and rescued horses.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Rollkur outlawed thanks to Internet advocacy

Great news this week out of the FEI's round table conference at its Olympic Headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, as the equestrian governing body voted to outlaw the "Rollkur" or "hyperflexion" style of dressage training, in which a horse's head is forcibly overbent to induce proper carriage. The group ruled unanimously that "any head and neck position of the horse achieved through aggressive force is not acceptable." The board's investigation and ruling began after controversy surfaced over a video that showed Patrik Kittel utilizing such aggressive hyperflexion while training for a competition in Denmark that his horse's tongue turned blue. The FEI will institute a working group of Dressage officials to develop strategies for identifying and sanctioning hyperflexion offenders in competition. Kudos to the FEI for addressing this issue and passing a ruling that promotes the safe and humane campaigning of dressage horses.

It never ceases to amaze me the various lengths to which even (and perhaps, especially?) some top level competitors will go when seeking those almighty points/championships/dollars. What I do think is impressive is how the Internet and social media have become such powerful tools in the fight against equine welfare transgressions, due to the speed and efficacy with which they can deliver such stories to concerned members of the equine community. Videos can be taken surreptitiously of training abuses, and then circulated in real time, resulting in fast and forceful advocation for the affected horses. Twitter and blog sites join communities of like-minded people quickly and fiercely, forcing governing bodies to swiftly investigate and rule on abuses. It seems we have passed the threshold into a new era for equine welfare, in which abuses can be readily and immediately checked due to the instantaneous nature of digital dissemination, and everyone can participate in creating a better world for our horses.

Monday, February 8, 2010

BLM roundup results in tragic foal death

An equine welfare crisis has been underway now for several weeks in Nevada, as the BLM has sanctioned a massive helicopter round-up of wild horses in an attempt to curb their overpopulation on Nevada cattle grazing lands. Equine welfare groups have been up in arms against the roundup since it began, because the helicopter method of roundup is highly traumatic and even dangerous to the horses. So far it has resulted in 27 equine deaths, and approximately 30 late term foal abortions in mares that were rounded up and captured. Tuesday's Horse, however, reported today on one of the most abysmal results of the round up that I have yet seen, the euthanasia of a foal whose hooves were actually sloughed off due to its being galloped down steep and rocky terrain en route to the Calico round up center where the horses are now being kept. A link to the article is here, but please be forewarned, it is a grim image, and an even sadder story. It's just the kind of thing that breaks ones heart, be they a horse lover or no. To join the petition to end the round-up, click the link here.

On a positive note, there has been an important step taken for the equine welfare cause this week as a group of prominent equine veterinarians have come together to form an Equine Health and Welfare Alliance, to "identify issues adversely effecting the humane treatment of horses and identify solutions through legislative or regulatory action; promote research to improve equine health; improve the quality and oversight of horse rescue operations; and build a nationwide grassroots network to advocate on behalf all equine breeds." As Doug Byers, DVM, one of the group's participating veterinarians explained, "'The horse is a deaf mute. It can’t speak for itself. So our focus will be solely on issues and mechanisms that protect, promote and preserve adequate humane measures of basic needs for the horse.'" In the wake of the many stories of abusive practices within and outside of various equine industries, and stories like the one coming out of the BLM above, I am relieved to see that there are still many people devoting their time to advocating for America's horses.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The stunning Rachel Alexandra that is.

The reported on Monday that the superfilly had her first breeze this past weekend at Fair Grounds racetrack since winning last year's Woodward Stakes (gr. 1) at Saratoga. Apparently her connections are keeping relatively mum about the course of Rachel's 2010 campaign, but some are whispering that a match-up with Zenyatta could be inevitable. Perhaps Oaklawn Park will be the meeting place for the two announced this week that it will be holding an invitation only breakfast on February 4th to detail its plans for an upcoming "Race of the Ages." What else could it be???

And a few updates on the Michael Gill situation that began unfurling last week. Apparently the beleaguered owner has been ejected from competing at Penn National due to an unusually high number of his horses breaking down during racing or training. Jockeys at Penn refused to ride in races with Gills' horses after two breakdown incidents last week, and demanded an investigation. Gill has told the media he plans to sell off all the horses in his stable to "prove" that the track surface at Penn is the problem, not the fitness of his horses. Regardless, it's refreshing to see the industry truly stepping up to deal with the issue in a swift and certain way. I will keep you Equine Readers apprised of future developments.