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September 30, 2019 - The Vegan Authority

One Man's Battle to End Horse Racing

One Man's Battle to End Horse Racing
File Photo / © Photabulous!

Horses are fragile, sentient, intelligent animals that the race horse industry breeds for speed to be raced for profit, for gambling, for cruel entertainment.

Patrick Battuello is a leading expert on racehorse deaths in the US, who has been waging a campaign to end horse racing.

Abolitionist versus Welfarism

Battuello says his organization, Horseracing Wrongs is abolitionist in its approach. "We are not interested in compromises, reforms, or half-measures. Racing must go." He admits it’s an extreme position, but one he says is supported by the figures and stories contained within the public records he receives.

His uncompromising approach to the industry sets him apart from the welfarist type reforms promoted by the Animal Wellness Action and the Humane Society of the United States. The Humane Society recently advocated shifting drug testing and regulation from the states to a new national authority, Deadspin reported.

PETA’s senior VP, Kathy Guillermo, said her group supports Battuello. “His reporting shows that the industry can’t hide behind its meaningless statistics any more,” she said. “Patrick has said that he won’t work for changes in rules, which we completely understand,” she added. “PETA is also an abolitionist organization. We oppose racing. We also know it’s not ending soon and we feel obligated to end as much of the carnage as we can. So we have chosen to work for changes that will mean less suffering and death—and as a by-product, fewer horses on the track.”

Dangerous for the horses

Tragically, horses die for all sorts of reasons, and it happens in America with a frequency not seen in other racing nations. The reasons are many, and they add up, Deadspin reports: "the use and abuse of injury-masking drugs; the unforgiving dirt surfaces and sprint-centric racing; the year-round schedule without a built-in offseason; and an overall lack of transparency and oversight."

And currently there is no national regulatory body in the US, so keeping track of horse fatalities falls on 38 separate state commissions. Those profiting from horse racing, a $15 billion dollar industry, are loath to highlight the dangers to the horses forced to participate or the ultimate casualties that tragically occur each year.

This is why you hear "track-speak" when a horse is killed, which only hints at a bad outcome in an attempt to shield the truth - that a horse has died, or been killed due to their injuries.These including terms such as:

  • "pulled up in distress"
  • "took a bad step"
  • "fell" and was "vanned off" by the horse ambulance
  • "cast in stall"
  • "fractured right shoulder"
  • "unresolved injuries"
  • "expired after breezing"
  • "sustained injury to leg"
  • "fractured limb necessitating euthanasia”, to name a few.

Taking action

Beginning in 2015, Battuello began sending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to each horse racing commission, asking for the names of the dead. “Once I started finding out I could get this information - it gave me so much confidence to go out there and take on a multi billion-dollar industry.”

Patrick Battuello

Patrick Battuello Image by: Photabulous (CC BY) Adapted from: horseracingwrongs.org (CC BY)

Over the last five years, Battuello has documented more than 5,000 racetrack deaths (he calls them “kills”), mostly thoroughbreds. Almost every day—sometimes twice a day—a new post is documented on his website HorseracingWrongs.org in what amounts to a news service for horse racing carnage. In 2018 alone, 1,122 racehorses kills were documented complete with horse names, dates, and locations.

Santa Anita Park, California

Horse racing become national news last year when 30 horses tragically died racing or training at California's Santa Anita Park in its winter/spring meet.

But Battuello refers to Santa Anita as a "golden moment" to make his anti-racing case after having done so for many years without much visibility or traction. "He stressed that what happened at Santa Anita wasn’t an aberration, but the norm. " "He knew several racetracks in Pennsylvania and West Virginia that had twice or even three times the number of fatalities as Santa Anita in a single year, but few people outside those places seemed to know or care." But given Santa Anita’s stature, a couple dozen deaths set off a media storm.

"In fact, Battuello was quick to point out that Santa Anita had been even deadlier than surface reports indicated. The famed track didn’t experience a spike in deaths at all, he said, but more like a cluster, since it averaged 50 per season going back a decade.

On the Horseracing Wrongs website, however, Battuello is more concerned with the outcome rather than the causes. To him, that a horse died is what matters, and adding up those deaths has given him the quantifiable evidence he believes he needs to take on an entire industry. Without him, we might never know exactly how many racehorses die. And we would only rarely hear their names.

In addition, Battuello encourages industry insiders to write accounts of their experience. Once such contributor, an exercise rider of 20 years, describes galloping two unsound horses that snapped their legs and had to be euthanized on the spot. Another injured horse she galloped was kept in his stall for a week before the 'Meat Man' came by to take him to the livestock auction. She said the memory still haunts her.

Battuello is a third-generation pizzeria owner, but after reading the book Animal Liberation 17 years ago, he opened Albany's first all-vegan restaurant. His partner Nicole Arciello is a vegan chef and also contributes to the blog. In horseracing, they found a cause that they believed their fellow activists had long ignored.

He and Arciello protest weekly for the cause they are devoted to, having done so at some 23 racetracks in 17 states (and counting). At first in 2014, only six people showed up, but now they get upwards of a hundred kindred spirits participating. At one of the recent weekly protests they attended, Arciello wore a custom t-shirt that read: “You can love horses. You can love horseracing. You can’t love both.”

Battuello also takes encouragement from a sea change in culture, for example, the closing of Ringling Brothers circus in 2017 after 146 years in business and the dwindling fortunes of SeaWorld and of greyhound racing. Even though he is up against a $15 billion well ensconced industry, Battuello said their goal is to win “the hearts and minds of average Americans” and in that, they appear to be gaining traction. For the month of August, they rented a billboard on Interstate-90 in Albany that says “Horseracing Kills.”

“I’m under no illusion it’s going to happen overnight,” Battuello said. “But it’s going to happen.”


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