Humane?

A number of readers want to know what I think about this. Short answer: I think they are nuts whose movement is going nowhere. In one hundred years, they will be remembered with the same fond amusement as we give to the Victorians who spent time investigating whether rocks had spirits, and the existence of fairies.

Other readers want to know what I think of the tragic death of Eight Belles at this year's Kentucky Derby. For those who don't know, the filly fractured both her ankles at the finish after coming in second. PETA is claiming that the horse was injured and the jockey should have pulled up.

I was sick and slept through the race, so I can't comment on the jockey's conduct. I'm not against horse racing per se; anyone who has ever worked with show horses or race horses knows that the good ones really love what they do. They sort of are like human athletes--they are extremely competitive and they like to perform. Balky horses who feel kind of middling about running flat out don't make it to the Derby.

The risk of injury is tragic--particularly because horses can't survive any serious injury to their legs. But I don't see that risk as a reason to stop horseracing, when racehorses are extraordinarily well treated and have lives that are, as near as we can determine, pretty enjoyable for them.

I do, however, think that humans have a responsibility to the animals we breed. I'm not sure that we should race two and three year olds, who are lovely and fast, but also have bones that aren't fully formed and may be more vulnerable to injury. I'm very sure that we should make all the racecourses in America switch to synthetic track. I also think eventers should rip up their courses and replace the picturesque stone walls with something less liable to catastrophic injury.

Too, I think we should take a long, hard look at extreme breeding. I feel this way about show dogs, which are getting more inbred and disease-ridden with every passing year as breeders obsessively try for perfect physical characteristics at the expense of health--and at least in the breed I'm familiar with, bullmastiffs, keep making the dogs bigger even though this makes joint trouble much more likely.

Racehorses, too, are often bred for speed and racing spirit to the exclusion of nearly everything else. If you value speed over soundness, you're going to end up with a lot more injuries. Even if you don't care about the horses, there are human jockeys that also often get hurt when this happens.

Horse people really, really love their animals--it's ridiculous to put them in the same basket with industrial pig farmers. But they're also wrapped in an insular community, which tends to lead to complacence: as long as all those other horse lovers are doing what I do, then it must be all right. Plus there's a collective action problem--one breeder can't breed horses for soundness if everyone else is shopping only on performance. With all the bad publicity various corners of the horse world have recently had, I hope that the equine world will get serious about policing its collective action problem and set up tougher standards that alleviate some of these problems.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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