One of my mom’s horses, Mulie, died on Monday. He was 25.
Mulie was a thoroughbred, registered as Oat Bran Blues. My mom trained him as a racehorse and he won some races, coming close to a track record at Delaware Park in the early 1990’s.
When Mulie was done with his racing career, my mom brought him home to her farm and taught him a second career as a show horse. When he was too old to be ridden, Mulie spent most of his time in a field with another gelding, living out his years as a well-loved grass-eating machine.
The problem with horse racing, as I see it, is what would have happened to Mulie, a gelding with no breeding value, if he hadn’t had the good fortune to be trained by someone like my mom, a woman who feels responsibility for every horse she works with.
The problem is people who can afford to buy a horse, or dozens or even hundreds of horses, but don’t see these horses through to the end of life. In the case of most thoroughbreds, not even seeing them through their entire racing careers, letting them get sold down the food chain till they end up sore and neurotic, potentially suffering a fatal break down, being sold for meat on the black market or, maybe, if the horse is lucky, getting pulled by a rescue group and taught a second career.
The act of making anyone who buys a horse, any horse, accountable for that horse for its lifetime would revolutionize horse sports -and racing in particular. It could be something as simple as setting aside a percentage of the purchase price of the horse.
Buying another living being is a karmic contract. There are no two ways of looking at it.
As a foal, Mulie was very curious about the world and he once poked his nose into a hornets nest and got stung so badly one of his ears was stunted and flopped to one side, making him look like a mule.
Mulie was a goofball. Though basically a mellow guy who could be trusted to give a safe ride to even a small child, he was prone to spooking and shying at the sight of unexpected things.
He had lost some weight over the winter and his coat was a mess, but he was still Mulie. Polite, but indifferent when I came into his field to be near him for a while. He was standing there munching hay and, once in a while, acknowledging my existence by looking over at me. Then, a bird landed on a nearby fence post and Mulie lifted his head, widened his eyes in horror, and snorted loudly, spooked at the sight of a bird he’d probably seen 80,000 times before.
I rode Mulie a number of times through the years, and my mom had done amazing things with him. You could get on his back, and just LOOK in a certain direction and he’d go there. She had taught him to respond to and enjoy every nuance of a human’s body. It was an incredible thing.
Most of the horse trainers I’ve met possess this skill to some degree. Working with horses is an artform. It’s a calling. You do it because you have to. Because a life without horses would not be one worth living.
My positive experiences with horse people at racetracks are why I am not categorically opposed to horse racing. I don’t think the problem has much to do with the trainers, jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers. The problem is lack of accountability.
The problem is in what would have happened to Mulie if his owner hadn’t given him to my mom at the end of his career.
It’s funny the value we arbitrarily assign to the lives of other beings.
People were all up in arms about horse meat in burgers a few weeks back and yet, by now, everyone knows just how graphically hideous the life of your average beef cow is.
Why is it fine to eat a cow, but horrible to eat a horse?
Pigs are a lot smarter than horses. Yet, for some reason, it’s okay to keep pigs in gestation crates, but the NY Times is outraged when a race horse is given too much horse Advil.
I don’t eat animals, and I don’t condemn those that do, I just wish they were more CONSCIOUS about the whole thing.
We are a strange, fickle species.
No wonder Mulie was looking at me like: What? What do you want? As I stood in his field.
Animals don’t understand us very well, because we make no sense whatsoever.
Rest in Peace, Mulie.