Monday, May 2, 2022

Dear Racing



It almost feels useless writing this blog, when the last time I posted one to this website addressed many of the same concerns. Concerns over issues that have not only remained largely unchanged, but that have worsened. That blog was two and a half years ago. You see, that seems to be horse racing’s MO.


But one thing has changed. I’ve stepped away from racing—at least for the time being.

No, I could never say goodbye to horse racing entirely. It has enthralled me since I was just a little girl, has become the center of my world since my adolescent years. It is part of me. A big part of me.

So you can imagine how much it hurts to realize that being in racing full time has drained me, chipped away at my passion, and given me less hope in a world that desperately needs it. When personal and family tragedies struck during a time the industry was tearing me down, I had to do the best thing for myself and step away.

While I will still remain involved in ways—especially in ways that push for the betterment of the industry and celebrate the good that exists within it—I’ve chosen for now to not place my livelihood aboard what seems to be a sinking ship. A ship on which, in addition to watching the sport shoot itself in the foot on my multiple occasions, I have been exploited.

Despite feeling the need to take some time away from being involved in the sport I love, my passion and love for it is too strong to not stand up for the changes I believe the industry needs to make. Granted, my time in the industry has repeatedly made my voice feel silent and disrespected, but I have dedicated too much of my life to horse racing to give up altogether.

So, what pushed me away? What are some of the issues racing desperately needs to address?

It would be nearly impossible to address every single issue in horse racing, but personally, I view them within two categories: the treatment of the horses, and the treatment of the humans.

First and foremost, I fell in love with horse racing because I love horses. And since I was bitten by the horse racing bug, I’ve steadfastly defended that the industry, too, loves horses. Now I’m not so sure.

While the morality surrounding the horses is the main reason I stepped away, the treatment of many humans in the industry isn’t exactly ideal, either. And yes, that includes how I’ve been treated.

One year ago, I attended my second Kentucky Derby. I remember desperately hoping for a “normal” Derby because my first Kentucky Derby had been two years prior, when Maximum Security crossed the wire first and was shortly after disqualified. And, of course, less than a year after that Derby, his then-trainer Jason Servis was indicted by the FBI – a moment that, on the tail of a year full of breakdowns at Santa Anita, made me question why I was involved in the industry.

As we all know now, my second Kentucky Derby wasn’t a “normal” Derby. Instead, what came to light after the 2021 Run for the Roses and the tragic fate that faced Medina Spirit further made me question what I was doing. I loved horses. Why was I a part of an industry where leaders seemingly used horses as tools to secure a place at the pinnacle of the sport?

When that is the case, it is easy to wonder how many other “horsemen” are abusing their position as these horses’ caretakers. Whether that is running a sloppy organization or intentionally gaining an unfair advantage, it is unacceptable when that falls upon innocent animals. Cases of abuse and neglect, of sometimes preventable breakdowns, of drug overdoses, and of many other unacceptable treatments of horses have plagued our industry’s headlines. And not because our committed media wants to highlight the negative aspects of racing, but because they are prevalent issues that must be addressed.

Of course, that’s not to say there is a complete lack of good apples in the racing industry. In fact, there are many of them and I’ve had the pleasure of working for or alongside several of them. But how can they rightfully succeed when those without integrity are given slaps on the wrist? How can we let repeat offenders off the hook? How is necessary change possible when this is the case?

That change further seems impossible when those proposing change are often ignored or silenced. It is well known among many in the industry that if you speak out about something or someone you disagree with, you will be asked to delete it (in the case of a social post) or even punished, sometimes to the extent of losing your job or being blacklisted. The power rests in the hands of a select few. Despite being told the younger generation will change the industry, we are not given the opportunity to actually make that change.

When you’ve crafted your entire life around an industry that treats you this way, it can be very discouraging to maintain that dedication. But that isn’t the only negative factor industry employees and participants face.

Simply entering the sport can be incredibly difficult if you were not born into it or if you don’t “know somebody.” Even if you do get your foot in the door and establish a career within the industry, you are often at a disadvantage to those with a family name when it comes to promotions or joining boards. Add in the industry’s tendency of misogyny, and there exists an added level of “proving yourself” and earning your place if you’re a woman. Let’s not forget that sexual harassment and assault is an issue for women everywhere, and runs more rampant on backsides and farms than many like to admit.

Among the most significant issues in the industry for employees are the hours and pay. Of course, as animals and athletes, horses must be cared for every day. This means many farm employees work six days a week (sometimes seven), and in many training establishments, employees only get one or two days off a month. This is not fully sustainable and yet, you are looked upon as weak for needing rest. And heaven forbid you have enough time off to visit your family. 

As for the pay, imagine how discouraging it is for employees to see horses purchased for millions of dollars when their own paycheck pales in comparison to an equivalent position in most other industries. Not to mention, despite the aforementioned hours, overtime doesn’t exist in every operation. The sustainability of industry positions must improve if it wants to retain good employees.

Often, passion and love for the horses can overcome these things. But we are still human. We all experience burnout. Yet, in many careers in racing, the work-life balance is incredibly poor. And on the note of quality of life for employees, don’t even get me started on the living conditions for backside employees.

Many, many other issues exist within racing and I hope to tackle several of them on this blog. After all, despite its many flaws, horse racing will forever be my greatest passion in life. And while I have stepped away from making it my livelihood, I don’t plan on removing it from my life entirely. I just can only hope that someone, somewhere, who actually has a chance to enact the changes this industry so desperately needs will listen.

Unfortunately, I know many others who have reached a decision similar to my own. Despite our dedication to racing and our demands for change, we have found ourselves here. We are not complicit. We simply have been turned away regardless of our efforts.

I love horse racing and I always will. I want it to be the best it can be – the sport I know it's capable of being if those with power actually enforce the changes needed. Even now, on the sidelines, I want to do my part – just no longer at the risk of my own livelihood.

I'll say it one more time. I love horse racing. But horse racing needs to step it up, and quickly.

10 comments:

  1. Terri SamblanetMay 2, 2022 at 7:43 PM

    Mary, the passion in this post is incredible and I feel how hard this is for you. I believe in and respect so many of your concerns and beliefs and support them fully. The similarity of your love for the horses and horse racing mirror mine, even though I have loved the equine for many many years, the art of racing and educating myself with the racing side has only been within these last few years. My dreams of owning a horse to train and race and maybe one day actually run for the roses is becoming so far out of reach due to the unfortunate and ugly side of humans that put the win and money above all else.
    These are beautiful creatures that only want to please and do what God intended for them, without drugs, abuse or neglect.
    And the human mistreatment in employees is also something that truly needs addressed.
    Thank you for this and I can only hope it makes people stop and think after reading and maybe just maybe get through to some who need it and helps make a difference
    🐎❤️

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  2. Wow, so much truth in what you just wrote...it feels like something I would have wrote!!! Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Mary Dixon ReynoldsMay 3, 2022 at 2:21 AM

    Mary I feel the same way in all aspects. I decided to hold on and hope the Horse Racing Integrity Act will improve the sport. Im also a writer and have had the same problems you mentioned. Thank you for writing such a truthful, eloquent article!

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    1. HISA will accelerate the decline of Horse Racing.

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  4. Ive been around race horses for 5 and a half decades. It was wonderful when I was a kid. But so much has changed over the years. Like you I had a great passion for racing. Maybe its because I grew up and learned from old time great horseman. Frank Martin, Frank Whitely, Allen Jerkins, Steve DiMauro, Laz Barrera, so many others old time Greats. Yes those were the days.

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    1. Laz Barrera was juicing horses in the 70's and 80's. Not the guy you want to hang your hat on.

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  5. Very interesting!

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  6. Nice article but " money makes the world go round " and it's hard to change human greed. Hopefully ( but not realistically ) things will get better in the immediate future.

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  7. One man with a wealth of knowledge, quiet demeanor and experience in horse racing became the media darling. They put him on a plateau and as ARA’s became active and loud, they made him the face of all that’s bad about racing and he gave them plenty of weapons to use against him, some true, some hyped up by media. There are thousands of grooms/exercise riders/trainers/shoers/veterinarians that show up everyday to care for the equines but, good stories rarely make the headlines that grab peoples attention so all the public sees is “Baffert bad”. My heart hurts whenever a horse goes down and heads to “barn 13” and while one is too many, these are fragile legged animals that seem look for ways to hurt themselves off the track, much less on the track. I’m by no means a Baffert apologist but I also don’t think he’s the butcher of the racetrack.

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    1. Sorry, when you have as many overages and deaths in your barn as that fraud has, you can't defend it. So don't.

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