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Monday, March 8, 2010

Pre Race Veterinary Exam, Changes Are Needed

Early on race days at most tracks across the country veterinarians inspect horses for soundness prior to racing. The attending state veterinarian will check the horses tattoo, feel or look thoroughly at the legs, and then watch the horse jog away and back towards him. Horses that do not pass the pre-race soundness exam are scratched from the days race card and placed on the vets list. Once on the vets list the horse must have a published workout before the state vet and often a barn exam follows to ensure the horses soundness before he can be entered in another race.

This has been a good practice and many horses have been saved from injury from trainers who neglect their best interest. Although I applaud the pre-race vet exam I feel like it does not go far enough to protect our horses. In my opinion a horse should also be evaluated on his or her overall health as well. An underweight or unhealthy horse should not be allowed to race. This is overlooked in many pre-race exams as long as the horse appears to be sound.

On February 27th, 2010 an owner contacted me about a 3 year old filly that he was interested in claiming. She had been performing poorly in Maiden Allowance races and was dropping in for a claiming price of $10,000 at Sam Houston Race Park. I glanced at the filly before the race and called the owner to pass on the claim. I informed him she was very, very thin and has large sores on her hocks that usually come from a lack of bedding in their stalls. Her overall shape was very poor. I requested that the owner allow me to make the trainer an offer of $500 the next morning after the race, a much more realistic price for the skinny filly. The owner asked me, "What if he will not sell her, what will happen to her?" He insisted that we make the claim to 'save' the filly.

After the claim was made and the filly returned to our barn I examined her thoroughly to find she was in worse shape than I had originally thought. Although her legs were clean and tight and she passed her pre-race soundness exam I could count every rib on her side and several vertebrae in her back. Her shoulders and hips protruded from her thin body. Her teeth were some of the worst I have ever seen on any horse, especially a three year old filly in race training. I would dare to say they have never been touched before. Of course she couldn't eat much of the grain we feed so the next day we ordered a couple of bags of Equine Senior and made a mash for her. She loved it and carefully ate every bite.

Until she is in better condition and the sores in her mouth have healed we will not send her to back to the track. Her new owner is thrilled with his claim and her condition is dramatically improving daily.

My concern with the pre-race vet exam is why are horses in this shape allowed to race without so much as a mention to the trainer of their condition. This particular filly ran back in 7 days in this horrid shape. Since the veterinarians perform these exams to protect our horses why can they not, 1. at the least mention the horses poor condition to the trainer, 2. Offer suggestions to help the horse gain weight, or 3. Give the trainer a warning and place the horse on the vets list for 30 days.

I leave you with this question, just how many bones should we be able to count on a horse before they are deemed unfit for racing?

(ATTENTION COMMENTORS, Please keep in mind this article is not only about protecting horses but changing the way our horses are viewed by the public at the races. Do you really think the public doesn't notice unusually thin horses? In no way is this article meant to attack any certain trainer or stable regaurdless of how it has been perceived by some. Unless attention is drawn and an example is made out of the issue of extraordinarily thin horses the improvement in care of these animals will not be addressed. The article was suggesting the state vet could potentially help trainers with thin horses by offering suggestions towards their care or madating a few extra days before a horse could race again to possibily put on weight. Each and everytime we go to the paddock we are putting on a 'show' for the public. Without the public none of us could enjoy this sport we love so much.)


Anonymous said...

I agree that in your extreme case, mal-nurisment and sores should have resulted in the horse being scratched. However, I would point out that trainers have differing opinions as to how much weight a horse should carry when they are "fit". Some like them big and stout and others do not want a "grass belly". The latter horses have a sucked up grey hound look, but are not unsound. Neither are the bigger horses. Therefore, scratching an otherwise sound horse that is "ribby", could become very subjective on the part of the state vet.

Anonymous said...

owner and trainer should be fined big time. that is uncalled for what a ass

Donna Keen said...

The trainer of the horse was the owner as well, no excuses as to why this horse was too thin!!

Bill said...

We need to take subjectivity out of the equation - too much politics go into the vet/trainer/owner dynamic.

Take endurance racing for instance, the heart rate has to hit a certain number during the vet check or the athlete is disqualified, no questions asked.

Anne said...

I don't think any 'ribby' horses should be running. That seems a no-brainer for me but apparently not for the owner/trainer in question. Is he not looking at his own horses? What do the rest of his horses look like? If this game little filly is the only one that looks like that, why didn't he notice, care, or do anything about it? If the rest of his horses look like her, why is he allowed to have them? Frustrating.

Anonymous said...

You know what? Donna, this is to you. You are very subjective and think you are better than everyone else. BS on you! Chances are that this filly was poorly bred or raised in poor conditions, something that may stick with her forever no matter how well she is taken care of. Not everyone can afford the "superior" lifestyles that your equine professionals are afforded. However that does not mean that they shouldn't be able to participate in racing. I do not agree with the mistreatment of any horse but whats the point of claiming any horse off of any trainer if you do not believe that there are things you can improve. Yes, in most cases, sores on the hocks are due to lack of bedding, but in other cases could be due to another injury and do not really effect the horse. Before being so subjective why don't you look at your own barn? Maybe they shine and look pretty and have all the trappings of well taken care of animals but that doesn't mean that they are sound. Myself and a lot of other people on the backside have noticed that you like to throw stones at glass houses. Just because they shine doesn't mean they are sound. Kinda like you yourself. Just because you put on a glossy exterior doesn't mean you are a good person. Talking about this situation with your owners or employees is one thing, but posting a blog about it is another. Get off your high-(unbridled)-horse and see that we are a community and our livelyhood is struggling, we don't need anymore of bad publicity like this. This horse makes up only a small percentile of the racing community, not all. Just remember, we are all in this together. Horse racing has a bad enough name without people who are on the inside drawing attention to rare cases.

Tess said...

I have to applaude everyone who has a concern about the health and welfare of every living being who can not speak for them selves.I have been apart of the race horse world my entire life.enjoyed every momoment of it until i grew old enough to understand the deepest "secrets" that go on,the things that are keep from the general public and the things that we as "horsemen" literally belive is for the best intrest in the horse.I have never had my name on the front page of the DRF,Thouroughbred Times nor the QH RAcing Journal.But i have worked with some of the most respected "horsemen"in the industry.As far down as a hot walker up to assistant trainer and also dabbled in the veterainary part of it.Have been married to a TB trainer who did a great job with what he had.We made it a point that his horses in his barn where healty,comfortable and "sound".HE was respected for knowledge of claiming horses and turning them around and "squeezing a few wins out of them.I remember horses that he or his owners wanted to claim or buy should have been retired the moment the tag was snapped or the check was signed.Most were beautiful grand looking animals onthe outside and most amazed me that they had the strenghth to walk to the paddock.But i soon learned that no matter how grand they looked or how mal-nurished they were.No matter if they were claimed or bought from the most prestigous barns in the industry or the poorest barns ,over half of these animals have one thing in common,lamness issues.I know and you all know that no matter how many "vet checks" or medication rules and regulations are out there ,someone is gonna find a way to get these horses to the "winners cicle".I have witnessed first hand horse that had simple things as needing Lasix to keep them from bleeding ,to horses that were blocked our injected just to train.Horses that leave the coziest stables with shattered joints,screws and long list of things that keep these animals pointed towards the winners circle.I have jogged hundreds of horses for vet check knowing the internal problems they had ,and passed vet check.I have witnessed things such as making the state vet belive the horse has one cannon bone longer than the other,this is the reason for the "limp".I have also jogged many horses that were scrathed and put on the "vets list"only to have them return to their stalls and have an appointment with the personal vet to "fix" the problem so they can return to the races with a "clean bill of health".We are all guillty of this. It saddens me more to see a beautiful "healthy" animal euthanized because of our greed than to see a emaciated animal on the evening news.Until we can all close our eyes each night knowing that every horse that leaves the comfort of his stall is 100% sound in mind and body,do not point fingers or cry about the emaciated under cared for horse(s) that share the same running surface as the "healthy"one.

Anne said...

To the person that wrote that this case shouldn't be pointed out: Don't be absurd.

Of course attention should be drawn to it-- How can changes be made if no one is paying attention?

I agree that we are all in this together and I applaud you for that statement. But making a personal attack on the writer of this blog seems a bit low and unnecessary.

MaryAinMI said...

Donna - I understand how difficult it is for people within the industry to bring up issues that many will consider controversial. Just wanted to say how much I, for one, appreciate your taking these difficult steps on behalf of horseracing, which I know you love. Anonymous clearly feels these types of open discussions are a threat to her or his or others livelihood. I think these kinds of discussions - which reveal honestly and openly the places where racing is broken - could be the type of initiative that helps racing come back into its own. Be prepared for the inevitable criticism you will receive from industry stakeholders. But please don't stop.

Anonymous said...

Hi Donna,

Looked at your blog. Very impressive. From what I see, racing needs many more participants like you and Dallas, who train but also care deeply about the welfare of the horses. If a racetracker blasted you for your opinions, so be it. He or she is misinformed.

Sure, you can link to my blog.


Bill Shanklin

Anonymous said...

The point i'm making is that your are exploiting someoe to make a personal gain. Not cool. Not cool on a human level. I agree that changes need to be made but not when a personal gain is the outcome and not the overall wellbeing of the horse. Instead of pointing fingers work from the inside out.

Donna Keen said...

I think you mistakenly took my article to 'dog' a certain person. What would I have to gain in ruining him??? Maybe I should have talked more about changing racing standards instead of taking out my frustrations on the few creeps involved in our industry. But- Some trainers go year after year not caring for their horses, where do we draw the line? I want changes made to the industy in a whole. The vets take an oath to protect horses when they graduate vet school. I am just asking them to do a little more to make racing fun to watch again. I want people to leave the racetrack paddock talking about the beautiful well manicured horses they saw, not what have been hearing lately.

Anonymous said...

every trainer knows that when you claim a horse you are taking a chance on it. you dont know the horse, or what its been doing other than published information. you put in a claimed this horse and maybe its good problems, that is the risk you took in claiming it. can you say that you have never ran a horse in a claiming race that was claimed that didnt have any problems? can you say that all your horses are sound? just because they look good doesnt mean they are sound. can you say you have never had a horse that wouldnt eat? i have seen horses i thought looked a little thin in the paddock, but they looked damn fine in the winners circle. you cannot categorize every horse they are individuals. maybe your horses are fat and well groomed, how many of them have you run recently.. you say you want to help the horse industry, start in your own barn.

Anonymous said...

The fact that you have listed some of this person's personal habits that do not have to do with his horses isn't right. Support the cause, do not like your manner. And another point, instead of focusing on this one person, who is not the worst of the bunch, why not pick on someone who is truly abusing animals. How many times have you been at Sam Houston this year? How many horses have you entered? We are struggling to make entries and your horses never seem to make it to the races. Maybe you train them too hard.<----- Making that assumption is no different that what you are doing. Attacking people personally. And yes you have something to gain. Look at all the "Team Keen" supporters on this page. Makes you look like you're trying. The person is irrelevant and only a puppet for you. Could have been any regular Joe.

Donna Keen said...

Right, personal comments removed...

In response to anonymous...
We ride our horses bridle-less not to impress people on the backside but to show the true intelligence of horses that most people never come to realize. Horses are brilliant and can learn anything, they understand kindness and show gratitude for be well taken care of.
You obviously know me well enough to know the things we do away from the track to benefit ex-racehorses. I, like everyone else, have done things in my past that I am not proud of. I haven't always been the horse advocate that I am today but I have never neglected the basic care and compassion for the animals I have been blessed to take care of.
I didn't write the blog to make friends or to throw stones at anyone, I wrote it because it is a much needed change that needs to be addressed. This happens way to much.
You are obviously a well educated horsemen so how can you make excuses for someone who does show any kindness whatsoever towards his horses. If you would have looked up the pedigree and the breeder of this horse you would have seen she was well bred and had some of the most caring breeders in the business to care for her while she was young. The main reason the owner wanted this filly was her pedigree, King of the Heap, because his has a similar bred filly that ran very well for him on the turf, which this filly never has run on.
I did not mention the name of the horse or trainer on the blog. Another thing I failed to mention was that her wolf teeth are embedded in her jaw and had skin growing over the top of them, TOTAL NEGLECT. Make excuses for that if you will but I would rather call the humane society. I will be posting pictures soon of the 2 week turn around on this filly from just feeding her. You be the judge and jury then.
As far as bringing attention to a suffering horse industry I agree with you to a point. But this veterinary exam needs to be changed to stop horses like that from being in the eye of the public. That's the real issue here, stopping the bad publicity. You probably take good care of your horses and haven't ever watched or listened to the people in the crowd saying the horses look like 'dog food and glue', (read the comments on my facebook page about a lady who used to love racing and will not return, she thinks we are all cruel because of a few bad apples). It causes those of us who take good care of our horses to fall in the same category with those who don't.
This is the SPORT OF KINGS, I am sorry if you feel like people who can not afford to treat their horses well still deserve to race. I disagree.
I appreciate your input and hope you continue to read the blog. I will be posting about other very controversial subjects on the backside soon.

for new anonymous poster...

If horses are not 100% ready we don't run. If we offend someone in the racing office or another trainer we apologize. We don't get to train on Sunday's anymore so it is against our better judgement to run on Mondays. No matter what the track gossip is, like most of you we want the best for our animals. And like most of you this is not just a business, but a passion. Please stop thinking this was a personal attack, it was about changing veterinary practices to make racing more attractive for the public. Without the public we are all out of business.

Read this... maybe you will see it from someone elses opinion.

Roger S. said...

Since I was the one who claimed the filly I am entitled to put in my 2 cents.Obviously when you claim a horse, you can only look at the outside, not the inside of the animal.You pay your money and you take your chances.I understand the game.
What I saw was a skinny filly ,with good confirmation,and a nice stride.
As it turns out her mouth is so sore that it is suprising she ever ran a step.We will not even put a bit in her,until badly needed dental work is done.
For the cowardly anonymous writer to make this an attack on the Keens is just plain wrong and disgraceful.

I own 8 horses with the Keens,plus brood mares and babies.

I race in other parts of the Country at tracks like Saratoga,Keenland. and Gulfstream with "big name" trainers.

NO ONE takes better care of my animals than the Keens.They work about 18-20 hours a day and generally run a little short of cash at the end of the month.But that does not stop them from adopting and rescuing horses with money they do not have.

Just for the record, I would claim or rescue that filly today,knowing what I now know.


Good luck to eveybody,and I will see you in the Winner's Cicle with this girl in the very near future.

Roger Sofer

Anonymous said...

Those of us that are in this business because of the passion we have for the beauty and majesty of the horses have a hard time seeing an animal in the condition described. I agree that horses in such poor condition should not be allowed to race. It is not only cruel to the horse that is trusting us to do what is right, it is very bad for our industry. Donna is bringing attention to something that has been overlooked for far too long.If your horses are fed and cared for to the best of your ability, there shouldn't be a problem with Donna's blog. I know for a fact that in the Keen barn the horses' health and well being are the primary concern. It should be that way in all race horse barns.

Ian said...

I think this is pretty simple. Choose to do the right thing for every horse by discussing the problems that are made apparent by this particular situation and work to improve them. I believe this is what the blog is trying to do. To quiet this situation as a matter for the only the backside is the kind of action that shrouds horse racing in a perceived veil of dishonesty and deceit.

Donna Keen said...

ATTENTION COMMENTORS, Please keep in mind this article is not only about protecting horses but changing the way our horses are viewed by the public at the races. Do you really think the public doesn't notice unusually thin horses? In no way is this article meant to attack any certain trainer or stable regaurdless of how it has been perceived by some. Unless attention is drawn and an example is made out of the issue of extraordinarily thin horses the improvement in care of these animals will not be addressed. The article was suggesting the state vet could potentially help trainers with thin horses by offering suggestions towards their care or madating a few extra days before a horse could race again to possibily put on weight. Each and everytime we go to the paddock we are putting on a 'show' for the public. Without the public none of us could enjoy this sport we love so much.

Linda said...

You are absolutely correct, Donna -- the race vets have an obligation to evaluate the whole horse -- not just the legs. It does the industry right as well as the horses and the fans. In these dire economic times, it becomes even more important. Not to take out trainers and their stables -- but to take action where it is warranted.

I have a neighbor that I'm trying to help who over-extended herself with horses. I could see it coming even before the economic downturn. There is no difference, really, with race trainers. Sometimes we take chances and it works out and other times it does not. It seems a fine line between "brilliance" and "neglect" in the world today.

There have got to be officials/people who can stand up for those who can't speak for themselves -- and that's a lot of us on some days.

susan said...

There is a lot of over-reaction to Donna's article. In short, she advocates a more thorough exam of horses before they race. This would be a good thing--for the horses themselves and for the public image of racing. Any good writer uses examples to back up their arguments, and this is what Donna has done by discussing the overly thin filly with the painful gums and sore hocks. I would suspect those individuals who took offense at her post are defending similar conditions and practices in their own barns.