Friday, August 27, 2010

Friday Horse News

The Equine Reader is at a loss! There is so much good horsey news out there this Friday that it's a bit of a conundrum as to how to go about choosing one item on which to focus. So in the spirit of it being Friday, and I being altogether not focused anyway, as the weekend beckons with its promise of beautiful sunshiney weather and low humidity (not often found in concert here in NYC), I will cover everything I see fit to bullet. So here goes.

  • The Jockey Club voted this week to deny all Stud Book privileges to both Ernie Paragallo and Chad Moore, who were both convicted of horse cruelty in separate cases earlier this year. Paragallo was convicted in March on 33 charges of horse cruelty for the widespread neglect of the equines housed on his NY farm, and Chad Moore was convicted in May of 12 counts of animal cruelty in Ohio, after several horses, a donkey and a pony on his farm were discovered severely malnourished, and several horses were discovered dead of starvation. While the circumstances surrounding the revocation of these mens' Jockey Club privileges is certainly not good news, the fact that the racing industry is standing up swiftly and certainly to send the appropriate message regarding horse abuse and neglect is undoubtedly positive

  • It's Travers weekend up in Saratoga, nearly unbelievable to me considering that this weekend also informally marks the end of summer, and I can scarce understand how it flew by so fast. Regrettably I won't be up in Saratoga for the last big racing hurrah of the summer, nor will I be at Sunday's Personal Ensign stakes, and will miss watching Ms. Rachel Alexandra potentially grind her way to a thrilling win over the longest distance she will ever have posted (the 10 furlong classic distance). Good luck to Team Rachel, and I will be anxious to hear news of whether last year's most dominating filly will return to her former glory in the Personal Ensign.

  • Sunday also kicks off the Hamptons show jumping season's most prestigious event, the Hampton Classic Horse Show. This year the show will feature an ASPCA sanctioned horse adoption day on Monday, to allow attendees of the event to view and potentially adopt horses rescued by local horse shelters. Whether or not a significant numbers of these animals find new forever homes, let's hope the event at least raises awareness and donations for the cause.
Here's wishing all of my readers a sunny, breezy, and horse filled weekend. Ride on!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Carriage Horse Welfare, Part 2

As usual, my impressions of the carriage horse industry in NYC have raised some ire. First, I would like to thank my readers for pointing out (calmly and entirely without vituperation) that all NYC carriage stables do indeed have sprinkler systems in place. I have corrected my previous post to reflect that assessment. It is good to know that these basic safety issues are attended to without exception.

As for the various other issues concerning the welfare of carriage horses in NYC, that I have witnessed first hand, I stand by my opinions. I do not, and will not ever, consider it safe or humane to have horses trotting on hard pavement behind moving cars. In the comments I received to my previous post, there was also argument that living for long periods in tie stalls is acceptable (I disagree, and have said so before on a post regarding NYC riding stables), and that horses are safer in a burning building in NYC, where they might have to negotiate two or more floors and then egress out onto a busy street, than in one out in suburbia where they are on the ground floor and nearer to safe, immediate exits (again, I disagree).

In addition, the fact that all carriage stables in NYC were originally built to house horses is a comforting thought until one realizes that many were built in the 19th century, long before current standards for light, space, and ventilation were even considered. Back when horses were very much livelihood, and not considered to be nearly so worthy of human advocacy as we view them today. Their stables' historic origins could in fact be viewed as even greater proof that horses living in NYC are an anachronistic holdover from a much earlier period.

Even this video, filmed by the NY Times, (and this one left by a commenter to my previous post) does not do much to assuage my impression that even the best of the carriage houses can be dusty, dimly lit, cramped, and dilapidated. Draft horses are living in small box stalls, very clean yes, but nonetheless quite urban-sized accommodations for such large, free-ranging, rural creatures. These compressions of space provide the basic requirements for horse subsistence but not too much else, and this comes as no surprise considering the difficulty with which ample space is to be found for just about anything in NYC. I do not agree with this type of environment as housing for carriage horses any more than I agree with it in the cases of other NYC stables such as Kensington, and the now defunct Claremont, that also house(d) their equines in tight, dusty quarters to make the best use possible of the small spaces they are granted. We learn more about the physical, psychological, and social needs of our equine charges every year, and housing them in NYC does not, in my very humble opinion, meet the living requirements of a species that evolved to inhabit expansive open stretches of land. Even if we make sure these urban horses have 5 whole weeks of access to open land every year, "suburban" horses often have their basic needs for free range and forage much more amply met.

(On a related note, the scene in the video in which the owner of the carriage company grabs his horse's mouth and backs its carriage nearly into the path of an oncoming truck, does not, likewise, do much to change my impression about the difficulties of combining unpredictable prey animals with the crowded, unsettling world of NYC.)

If my observations are entirely unfounded, then the carriage industry is facing, at the very least, a serious problem with PR. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for those who advocate to maintain the industry to spend more time promoting its benefits and introducing the public to ways in which it is committed to horse health and safety. I regret that my opinion offends those who do labor to make the carriage industry in this city as safe as it can be, and those who make their living working in it, but I am only concerned with seeing all horses in this city remain healthy and happy. And I assume that is a cause that all of us, "propagandists" or no, can stand behind. It will only be so, however, if we remain open and conversational, instead of attacking those opinions we don't deem appropriate.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Fire breaks out in Manhattan carriage stable

I have long railed against the anachronistic logic of maintaining carriage horse fleets in large urban centers like NYC. As a city dweller, I have seen more than one near-miss incident in which a horse and car ended up in far too close of a proximity, with a bridled nose coming up very literally within inches of a stopping bumper.  Proponents of the carriage horse industry in this city have openly contested my opinion right here on this blog, arguing that the city's working carriage horses are well cared for and kept out of harm's way, adroitly guided in and out of the City's congested swirls of traffic by attentive and adept driver/handlers.

While I won't ever be able to lend credence to the idea that horses + careening taxis = a safe work environment, and though I have seen far too many "attentive" drivers attending to cell phone calls while steering their horses to believe that the entire human contingent behind the carriage industry is focused on equine welfare, I haven't ever been able to argue much concerning the off-hours care of these equines because I haven't ever visited a carriage stable in the city. I know that horses in NYC stables live in small box stalls and that some must navigate the several floors of converted warehouse buildings by ambling up and down steep ramps.  Only this week did it come to my attention that a fire recently broke out in one such stable on Manhattan's west side, and while it was luckily brought under control without any equine injury, the thought that an entire stable full of horses could have been trapped in a burning building in the City is a horrifying one.

New York City needs to continue to evaluate why horses live and work here under unsafe conditions. While the romantic vision of carriage horses ambling along the shady paths of Central Park is a storied part of NYC history, the reality of life for these horses is not always so rose-tinted. If these horses are to remain here, providing the City with both tradition and tourist revenue, we need further legislation to attend to their immediate welfare. The City is taking strides, but it won't have done enough until these horses have all basic safeguards in place.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Big News in New York

This is the week that New York racing thought would never come. Genting, LLP NY, a Malaysian casino company, has been chosen to operate the VLTs that have long awaited installation at Aqueduct. The company has superseded the bureaucratic and political machinations that have stymied every previous potential VLT operator in the state, and will commence build-out of the first 1600 machines within 6 months of getting the contract. Even thought that contract hasn't yet been signed, things are looking hopeful, as Governor Paterson and the NY state senate have approved the choice. At any rate, one would think that NY state is not really in a position to turn down the 380 million that Genting  has promised to deliver upfront for licensing. That alone should be able to guide the powers that be to apply their signatures and get the process started.

There could be many great changes in store for the NY racing industry if this VLT money actually comes through. For one, NYRA has committed to broad scale renovations that will bring its tracks to a higher aesthetic standard and improve backstretch conditions. But more than that, the money will hopefully boost the beleaguered NY breeding industry, and provide greater state funds for ancillary programs like safety initiatives and racehorse retirement programs. And that just makes good horse sense.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Follow Friday - Natalie Keller Reinert's "Unretired Racehorse"

Now I know that follow Friday is a Twitter thing, but I've decided to repurpose it for the sake of my blog because I like alliteration and because it works for my posting here today. My version of follow Friday also holds the differentiating feature of being not an aggregation of tons of twitterers that I really like, but a singular shout out to one blog per week that I feel warrants recommendation.

If you haven't ever read Natalie Keller Reinert's blog "Unretired Racehorse" you are missing out on a rare treat. Rare because Natalie is gifted with the written word, and is obviously writer first, blogger second, a distinction that sets her work apart from much of the content that swirls about in the galaxy of the Internet. And treat, because her funny, down-to-earth recounting of the trials and tribulations of racehorse owner/trainer/ridership is observant, light-hearted and compelling, and really gives a passing reader the sense of being there with her on the backstretch. Or, sometimes, in the woeful isolation of the detention barn at Belmont, or the oh-so-light-and-airy summer stables at Saratoga . Natalie has apparently just moved to our great state from Florida (not sure she's not going to regret that come winter time...) and it's quite interesting to hear her descriptions of all the racing events that I've come to love so much in this area. So a big welcome to her, and here's hoping she finds a happy place here in New York.

On an unrelated note, this post did originally have the potential to be labeled "Foal Friday" because this little Zedonk baby is too adorable not to point out. Apparently zebra daddies and donkey mamas running together in the same herd can be the perfect recipe for unabashed cuteness.