Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Horses Are Never Safe -- But They're Probably Safer With Humans

Annie has gotten more than one scrape, bruise or cut, and although she doesn't seem to care, each time I feel guilty. Animal liberation believers point to this sort of thing and say, "Hah, horses would be better off if left to their own devices! Don't ride/own horses, you're exploiting them!" As much as I don't really believe that, the sentiment strikes a chord in my guilt-ridden conscience. After all, a lot of harm is done to many riding horses, out of either ignorance or cruelty. A recent study, however, makes me feel a little better:

"Vet Rosie Owen of Liverpool University studied 652 randomly selected competition and leisure horses.
She found that 40% of horses suffered a “traumatic injury” — anything from a graze to a fracture — in the course of a year. Of those, 47% required veterinary treatment.
But what will come as a surprise to many horse owners is that 62% of injuries occurred while the horse was turned out in the field. Only 13% of injuries happened during ridden exercise, while 11% occurred in the stable."

 So basically, horses get hurt more often when they are left completely to their own devices-- if anything, they're more safe when they're least free! Kind of like children.

Of course, this is no excuse to go leaving junk in your pasture, or using barbed wire as fencing. It doesn't mean you shouldn't patrol for woodchuck holes out there. 40% of horses getting hurt each year is a lot, and we should do everything we can to reduce that percentage. But maybe we can feel a little less guilty when our babies get a scrape or a strain-- seems like it's pretty natural.

As for racing injuries, a huge fuss is made about thoroughbreds having to be euthanized when they break down on the track. I totally believe that thoroughbreds are too badly bred, raced too early and given too many drugs, all of which contribute to their untimely deaths or injuries. But I don't agree with the extreme viewpoint that horseracing itself is cruel.

When you look at racehorse deaths statistically, they're not too different from injuries and deaths in human sports. Racehorse Death Watch reports that in Britain, about 1.2 horses die every day due to racing-related trauma (we don't have good US data, surprise surprise). But human athletes die or are seriously injured with relative frequency as well.

Let's look at football (the American kind). This study shows that in high school and college football alone, at least one kid dies every year. TIME magazine reported that in Texas high school football alone, at least two kids a year suffer spinal paralysis-- injuries that horses would be euthanized for. An estimated 1.2 million football-related injuries are sustained annually, with serious fractures and concussions making up 15% of those injuries. It's even thought that there are a huge amount of brain disorders going undiagnosed among football players-- injuries which often lead athletes to premature deaths via accidents, drugs and suicide. And have you ever watched a football game and NOT heard about a player facing serious consequences due to an injury he received while playing? In short, while it's hard to get comprehensive statistics for deaths and serious injuries in any sport, it's pretty safe to assume that very bad things happen to people every day in football.

And those are humans, who have protective gear, who have the capacity to make complex judgment calls, and where everything possible is done to save lives even at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars, which isn't true in the case of most horse injuries.

I'm not trying to defend the worst parts of horse racing OR professional sports. My point is this: sports are just dangerous, for both humans and animals. Of course we need to do our best to minimize risk, but there will never be no risk. Any sport, from football and running to trailriding and racing, will have risk. We have to either accept that and move on, or ban horse and human sports entirely-- and I don't like the second option.

By the way, I got the green-highlighted statistic from blogger Susanna Forrest. She is a horse lover living in the UK, and constantly posts fascinating equine-related stories gathered from around the world (she found the study above from the UK publication "Horse and Hound"). If this study made you feel better about your horse keeping skills, or you just want to see cool horse stuff, visit her blog here:

1 comment:

  1. Horses do not ask to be in the races, they are slaves. They are not healthy as race horses. Just one example: 90-95% of the race horses suffer of exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage, that has no effective treatment.