Readers React: Letters About “Star”

In the October 2011 installment of This Horse Life, Sue Copeland brought up a touchy subject: drug testing. Readers reacted strongly to the sad story about a young cutting horse named ?Star.? Here?s a selection of those letters.

I was very angry reading your column in the October issue. Why would anyone think that horses are put on this earth to further their own ambitions, and at what expense? That poor horse (“Star”) was abused just like any other abuse case. I would have a hard time being friends with someone with such utter disregard for their animal, even though she was led by a trainer to do this. We, as horse owners, have such an awesome responsibility for keeping these animals safe and looking out for their welfare, even if it means having to put our own ambitions in second place.
Andrea Wayne

I read “Poster Girl” in the October issue with interest and sadness.?I hope people rethink their attitudes toward routine drug use.?I do wish you’d included the Appaloosa Horse Club as one of the groups with drug testing in place.
Anne Farden

Thank you for your column on drug testing. “Patty” (“Star’s” owner) said “the lack of drug testing killed my mare.” Competitors who’ve been informed of the risks of drug use have to accept the consequences of their actions along with the blame when something goes terribly wrong, as it did in this situation. Even with drug-testing rules, there will still be those who try to get around it, and the horse will still pay.?For those who justify using drugs to prevent cruelty to their sore horses, does this sport, no matter horse’s age, cause soreing of the horse? If so, doesn’t that make the sport in and of itself cruel??Or, could it be the push to win futurities, in more than just cutting, an extreme motivator of cruelty?

I am aware that for many of these people, winning competitions can make or break their business, because this is their livelihood.?It doesn’t justify a win-at-all-costs attitude. I imagine it has become even harder to win and still stick to your principles without cheating. I’ve bragged a lot about reining horses and how broke they are.? A friend recently told me that his time working for big wigs proved to him that there are a lot of drugged horses out there at every show. Lately, I don’t know what to think?when I get excited watching a good run, is it real or not?

Regarding “Poster Girl” in October’s issue, she had to write this as sick joke, right? One cannot possibly be sincere in writing an article outlining an owner who knowingly allows drugs to be used on her horse, the horse is damaged beyond repair from the use of those drugs, and then complains that the reason the horse was ruined was because some third party did not drug test her horse? “Patty” knew what she was doing, and she did it to win. Unfortunately, her horse had to suffer the consequences for her irresponsibility and selfishness. The only reason we need drug testing is to stop irresponsible owners like Patty from torturing their horses in the name of winning.
Margie Conner

Let me start out by saying that I am 69 years old and have not had horses of my own for a very long time.?No doubt, I’m ignorant of much that is intrinsic to keeping horses today. Perhaps I don’t even know enough to comment intelligently on your column. But it’s all about our love for these animals and treating them as they deserve, isn’t it?

How often I’ve thought how much we’ve learned over the years to improve our treatment of our wonderful companions;?how much better their lives are now. Then I read something like “Poster Girl,” and I have to wonder.

I recently looked through some old photo albums and laughed at the pictures of my 4-H horse club; what a ragtag group of humans and horses alike! We relied on each other for advice and improvement. But even as teenagers, we knew that 2- and 3-year-olds were babies, and we treated them accordingly. And if a particular activity caused our horses pain, we didn’t do it! Even though many of us were younger than 12 when our parents gifted us with our horses, it was with the understanding that we were responsible. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have received them.

“Patty” sounds part and parcel of so many in today’s society: the instant gratification; ends justify the means; I’m not responsible, it’s someone else’s fault crowd. As “Star’s” owner, she called the shots. It would have been different if she had been ignorant of what she was doing (though hard to understand how she could’ve been) but she was totally aware. She was willing to play the odds with a horse she claimed to love. And “Star” paid the price.

Your sister publication Practical Horseman stated in a recent article that over 40 horses have been killed in the last few years in eventing, and an equally shocking number of riders. Yet the printing of these terrible statistics brought (probably expected) letters of “Yes, but there’s danger in everything you do and I’m not going to change just because…” ?Am I not seeing the whole picture? Isn’t this all about winning?

A close friend and I were recently reminiscing about our childhood, a time when we leapt upon our horses’ bare backs and spent the day alone with them, exploring, playing, and just having fun. I know I’m glad I grew up when it seemed that nothing could get better than that.
Pat Hufford

After reading your October 2011 column on drugs, I really have to wonder what people are thinking. Is winning so important that you have to kill a horse to get there? I have been to lots of events in the last few years. My daughter has done speed events at rodeos and horse shows, and she was well on her way to winning the all-around event, when her horse came up lame. We have an excellent vet here in our area, and at his advice she took six weeks off because the horse could be permanently lame if she didn’t have the time to rest.

I think it should be mandatory that all horses are drug tested before any event. If your horse is so sore that he can’t run a set of barrels or poles or can’t run out of the chute for a roping, then the horse needs rest or maybe needs to be retired. I’ve seen horses put down at events because the owner didn’t have a clue what the drug that was used to help the horse compete would do.

All events, whether rodeos, NBHA barrel races, or even just a simple local horse show, should be drug testing the horses before and after a competition. The horse industry, along with the arenas and saddle clubs where the events are held, need to wake up before it is too late.
Name Withheld in Missouri

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but “Patty” is 100 percent responsible for what happened to her horse, not the trainer or the association. She made the choice to put the drugs in the horse. Yes, event-sanctioning associations need to be testing, but ultimately the owner needs to take full responsibility. In this world today everybody is taught to blame somebody else for whatever happens in their lives. “Patty” okayed the drugging of her horse, regardless of the reasons, so she’s completely responsible. We only learn from our mistakes when we can own up to them. I hope she can learn.
Karen Albright

I didn’t realize how naive I was until I read “Poster Girl.” I guess I have heard of racehorses being given drugs to race and was always appalled at the lengths people would go to to win. I didn’t, however, realize that giving horses pain medications and sedatives to compete in other horse sports was accepted behavior. Realizing that this is considered okay disturbs me greatly.

It saddens me to think that people are so competitive that winning by any means has become acceptable. I can’t imagine ever drugging my horse for my own personal gain. I don’t know how anyone could justify pushing a horse beyond its natural limits to win a competition. I’m glad “Patty” finally saw the light. It’s too bad that it took the death of her horse for her to see it, though.
Laura Kintop

I read your column in the October issue. All I can say is I’m shocked. I’ve always found it unpalatable that horses are started so young and put under such stress, but I didn’t realize drugging was such a standard procedure. It leaves me feeling sad. Thanks for addressing a hard issue with frankness and no sugar coating.
-?Martha Cook

Like you, I’m totally for drug testing but have friends working for big-name trainers who drug horses like its no big deal. I had no idea it could mask serious physical problems and cause the death of such a young horse. I’m going to tell all of my friends to read this.
Bridget Helms

I’m fighting back the tears after a long cry from reading about “Star.” Thank God for the drug testing to control heartless people and their foolish decisions. I love what Bob Avila says about longevity training and how he and Clinton Anderson care for their horses. We need more Avilas and Andersons in the horse world.

I just read the October 2011 issue, and your column about “Star” brought tears to my eyes. This issue needed to be addressed, and hopefully your piece will get other people thinking. Kudos to you for bringing up a topic that many people don’t even want to consider.

I was shocked to read that it’s normal and routine to use pain medications on these young horses. I already knew that working young 2- or 3-year-old horses wasn’t good, but I did not realize the full extent of the damage and pain that these poor horses deal with as a matter of course. And for people to think that this was acceptable and normal!
Megan Roberts

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