It’s time we acknowledge and respect animal welfare advocates

It is easy sometimes to stereotype certain groups of people and lump them together. Often in a derogatory way.

With all the negative publicity recently surrounding catastrophic breakdowns at racetracks across the country, many animal welfare (some may be called animal rights) advocates have become alarmed and vocal. But these groups are not all the same. Their motives, intentions, and methods vary. I think the best way to view some of the major players involved in ongoing public debate on horse racing’s future is to look at their intentions.

A simple test is to ask a few questions. Do these groups truly want what’s best for the horse? Do these groups want to end horse racing as a viable sport?

When those questions are asked the answers will vary depending on the animal welfare group in question.

Some animal welfare activists prefer to see horse racing completely disappear from the sporting landscape. But not all animal welfare advocates are working toward that goal.

For example, we have the Humane Society of the Unites States (HSUS) and Animal Wellness Action. These two groups have taken a much different approach from those who wish to see horse racing disappear. They want racing to thrive.

I’ll introduce you to the person from each organization who is on the front line of advocating on horse racing issues. In fact, I’ll have them introduce themselves as they have spoken recently at high profile events involving the sport.

Valerie Pringle is the HSUS campaign manager for equine protection, and she spoke at The Jockey Club Round Table Conference in Saratoga Springs last August.

Ms. Pringle lobbies and develops strategy for federal legislation to benefit horses, including the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, which would help end the slaughter of American horses, and the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, which would end the practice of soring horses to achieve a painful and manufactured gait.

I’ve selected a choice quote of Ms. Pringle’s from the Round Table:

“I have loved, ridden, and trained horses my entire life. And these are the two horses that I've been fortunate enough to own. The horse on the left is a Thoroughbred named Amber. I was able to buy her from someone. She retired from being a first field fox hunter and I made her the most amazing trail horse and I also taught her the art of dressage. The horse on the right was technically a little big for me, 18 hands, a draft cross named Braveheart. And I rescued him from an auction in Pennsylvania and he became probably the best dressage horse that I've ever ridden.”

And here is Ms. Pringle speaking before a Congressional Animal Protection Caucus meeting last June:

“We do not oppose horse racing. As an animal protection organization, our interest is in improving the welfare and treatment of all animals—including racehorses.” 

Marty Irby is the executive director at Animal Wellness Action, one of the nation’s leading animal protection organizations on Capitol Hill. In 2019, Mr. Irby was named by the D.C.-based publication The Hill as one on the nation’s top lobbyists.

Mr. Irby was selected as one of seven presenters who gave live testimony at last month’s hearing on the Horseracing Integrity Act in front of the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce and Consumer Protection.

Below are a few choice quotes from Mr. Irby’s testimony:

“As a lifelong horseman who began riding unassisted at the age of three, I have spent the vast majority of my life in the presence of horses, and most of the past decade working to protect them. I understand their biology, their social characteristics, behaviors, and instincts, and I believe that horses are born to run.

“I want to underscore that Animal Wellness Action does not oppose horse racing.  We join with many horse owners, breeders, trainers, and racing enthusiasts in speaking out on the broader topic of the protection of horses within the American horseracing industry, and across the greater equine world. We seek to promote the proper care, training, presentation, and exhibition of our iconic American equines and to minimize on- and off-track risks to the horses, including catastrophic injuries sustained during racing.”

Neither of these two individuals and the organizations they represent are new to the issues involving horse racing. They are not opportunists who just began contemplating horse racing’s welfare issues during the media frenzy involving horse deaths last year at Santa Anita.

I first met Ms. Pringle and Mr. Irby three years ago as we walked the hall of Congress together lobbying for the Horseracing Integrity Act.

Their positions on horse racing welfare mirror those of many of us in the horse racing business.

More importantly, their positions reflect the public at large. We all should take notice.

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