PETA, the well-known organization that has launched a number of campaigns for the ethical treatment of animals, has taken a dramatic step in its efforts to impact horseracing. The Rockville, Maryland, non-profit has purchased stock in four firms that own racetracks, theoretically giving PETA a voice in the training and racing conditions of horses.
While the names of the companies will not be familiar to most horseman and racing fans, the tracks that will potentially be affected are commonly known courses. They include Mountaineer and Charles Town in West Virginia; Thistledown, Belterra, and Mahoning in Ohio; Evangeline and Delta Downs in Louisiana; Retama and Sam Houston in Texas; Zia in New Mexico; and Penn National in Pennsylvania.
PETA was closely involved with the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) in the aftermath of the tragic deaths of 37 horses at Santa Anita in 2019. From the collaboration of the two groups, the CHRB implemented mandatory investigations into the racehorse fatalities and increased its drug-testing regime. It has been estimated that, in North America, three racehorses perish daily.
The organization has made no attempt to conceal its intentions. PETA Vice President Kathy Guillermo, in discussing the stock purchases, remarked, "PETA is eager to get inside the boardroom and push racetracks to make simple changes that will make a world of difference for vulnerable horses."
PETA has stated that it has 11 recommendations for horseracing. Among them is a lifetime ban for trainers who have been found guilty of harming horses or have multiple drug dosage violations. They are also pushing to replace traditional dirt surfaces at racetracks with new synthetic blends that have been engineered to prevent catastrophic injuries to horses.
They are also proponents of a controversial recommendation that is roiled horsemen at tracks around the nation. PETA proposes the total elimination of jockeys using riding crops to whip racehorses. Around the country, several states have instituted or are considering the implementation of stringent rules regarding the use of crops, the number of times a jockey may strike a horse during a race, or the type of crop a jockey may use.
While opinions about this change are divided, many jockeys have expressed dismay about potential changes to current whip regulations or the outright ban of crops. One of the main concerns cited by jockeys is the difficulty in managing a horse at full gallop without the use of a crop.
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