Sometimes I just don't know what to think of the horse industry. We have made so many strides with our equines, in health, safety and welfare practices. We are as a whole committed to the humane husbandry of our animals, and the blogosphere is always alight with stories about the latest new measures intended to bring peace and understanding to our horse lives. Natural horsemanship, barefoot shoeing, gobs of research into horse behavior, a slew of food products and training gear -- all are available to help us keep our horses at their best. Even the flat racing industry, once so intensely the bane of equine activists, has made huge strides in the years since the Eight Belles and Barbaro disasters, to the point that the Kentucky racing commission is currently considering a full race-day ban on drugs so that horses will run free from all medical substances.
But just when a horse lover begins to feel like humans are finally getting it RIGHT, and starting to see that our horses are not disposable relics of a bygone age, but animals with which we can develop profound partnerships, we have the running of the 2011 Grand National Steeplechase. In which two horses died over fences from a broken neck and a broken back. And in which the race continued to be run even as participants had to zig and zag around the horses' prostrate tarp-covered figures. As Erin Gilmore pointed out in her blog On The Line, horse fatalities happen in that same way almost every year at the Grand National. But we just keep running it. And we remain glued to our televisions, dumbfounded as horses go down, full of sadness and anger in the wake of yet another preventable equine tragedy, but seemingly not capable of doing anything to change it.
We can change it, however, if we are willing. If we let our horses carry us there as they have carried us before through wars, and storms, and life's darkest moments. If we listen to our horses, and think about a future that doesn't put them so dramatically in harm's way. Granted most horses aren't asked to race to near exhaustion over treacherous obstacles. But really, none of them should be. And we hold the power to change steeplechasing as we have changed flat racing, western pleasure, gaited pleasure, show jumping, eventing and a host of other events. By putting our horses first.