The Good, the Bad, and the Dumbass


 California Chrome’s incredible run at the Triple Crown ended on a shameful note after one of his owners went on a bizarre rant about the cowardice of other horse owners. This was really a strange spectacle and I understand Steve Cobrun has since apologized, so I’m not going to go on at length about it, but really, does the guy think they just hand out Triple Crowns? There’s a reason no horse since Affirmed has done it, and that was nearly four decades ago. Well, I guess you can’t expect much from a guy who actually has “Dumbass” right in his company name.

I have a weird relationship with horse racing. I love racing, and horse racing is one of the most exciting racing forms, but I also recognize the inherent animal cruelty that goes on within the sport. Plenty of horses break down during the course of a race and typically they are killed on the spot. Horses don’t circulate blood like humans do, so when a horse breaks a leg, the injury is typically fatal. Failed race horses are generally euthanized as well. It’s an ugly underbelly to the enterprise known as the “sport of kings.”

On the other hand, horse racing is a sport that connects people with animals. A horse race back in 2006 was the impetus for me to give up eating flesh. That year I, like a lot of people, fell in love with the amazing and genuine Triple Crown contender Barbaro. That was a beautiful horse. Barbaro was the heavy favorite to win the Triple Crown until he broke down during the Preakness—the second leg of the three-race event. It was a bad break, and in spite of seven months of treatment and the deep pockets of Barbaro’s wealthy owners, the horse eventually had to be put down. Anyone watching the race knew that would be the outcome. It was horrible, and I sob to myself recollecting that tragic day. I was watching the race with my dogs, and that was when I had my epiphany, when I realized that I could allow myself to love any animal that I really got to know. I love my dogs, I loved a horse I’d never even met; why wouldn’t I love a cow, or a chicken, or a pig, if I had the opportunity to really connect with that animal? So I stopped eating meat. One small brick in the wall of cognitive dissonance removed, plenty more where that came from.

This is a weird life, and most of us have to put on the blinders just to get through an average day. If we opened ourselves completely to all of the human and animal suffering that surrounds us we’d lose it.

I don’t watch horse racing as much as I used to, but I’ll still watch a race once in awhile. But now when I marvel at the sleek, wondrous animals racing around the track, I also grit my teeth and say my own little sort of prayer for them, and shudder at all the carnage and waste that goes into those two minutes of exhilaration.

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Bob Howard has been living, working, and writing in Northern Califonria since he moved to Chico in early 2000. In January 2011, he and his wife Trish relocated to Los Molinos, 30 minutes north of Chico, where they are the proud proprietors of the Double Happiness Farm. There they grow organic food, ornamental plants and trees, and generally work to enjoy the beauty of this great region.