Welcome to Alex Brown's blog. I will occasionally write about horse racing, horse welfare, social media and other random topics.

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Why are horses important to the American culture: Media’s role

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Buffalo Bill and Will Rogers

Buffalo Bill might be one of the earliest examples of an entertainment entrepreneur.

Bill Cody had many western-related jobs during his early career in the 1860s and 1870s; these included army scout, buffalo hunter, and pony express rider. But Cody is better known for the show he established, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West (1883 – early 1900s) which took the “wild west” to audiences throughout America and Europe.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show undertook 33 tours, which included the Chicago World’s Fair in the United States, and 8 tours in Europe; the European tours began with the American Exhibition in London, in 1887, performing in front of Queen Victoria.

The show clearly had an impact, in both Europe and America, and influenced many 20th-century portrayals of “the West” in the emerging media landscape. The show also included a cast of characters that comprised other western luminaries such as Sitting Bull, Annie Oakley and Calamity Jane.

Buffalo Bill became an international celebrity in his own right, as he shared with his audiences something that was distinctly American.

Will Rogers was perhaps the first “western” personality who truly understood the emerging media of his time, movies, newspapers and later, radio.

Rogers’ entertainment career began as a vaudeville rope act, bringing his “western” tricks to the New York City theater audience. Rogers combined his western show with commentary of the news of the day.

He was able to branch out and wrote more than 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns, an extension of his news commentary. His silent movie career began while he was still in New York, before he then relocated to California. In total, Rogers made 71 movies, of which 50 were silent, and 21 were “talkies”. Rogers was a leading earning movie star during the 1930s. As the radio medium developed in the latter part of the 1920s, Rogers became a radio personality too.

Buffalo Bill Cody and Will Rogers had done much to establish the western culture in the psyche of America and abroad.

The Western Movie

As the movie industry developed in the early 1920s, western movies became a very popular genre. These movies portrayed and sometimes glamorized the frontier life of the cowboy, the indian, the army, and the spectacular vistas. Of course, an important element of frontier life, and by default, the western movie, is the horse.

The horse was sometimes central to the story, but always participated. In some of the early western movies horses received star billing, alongside co-stars such as William Hart (Fritz), Tom Mix (Tony), ken Maynard (Tarzan), Gene Autry (Champion) and Roy Rogers (Trigger).

Horses have remained an important element of a plot in both movies and books. Fictional examples include Black Beauty, National Velvet, War Horse, The Black Stallion and Flicka.

Television

Television, the final broadcast medium to emerge, in the 1950s, included a variety of early shows that focused on horses and the western culture. These shows included the Lone Ranger (and Silver), which evolved from the radio medium and also spawned a series of books, Champion the Wonder Horse, a 1950s TV series, and Mr Ed, which ran from 1961-1966.

Horse Racing

Horses have also appeared in media as a result of horse racing.

Seabiscuit, who raced from 1935 to 1940, became a best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, as well as a terrific movie, in the early 2000s. Other race horses, like Triple Crown winning Secretariat have also inspired multiple books and movies.

Horses and the western culture, have been important to the rise of media, and media has been crucial in establishing the western culture, and horses, as part of the American culture.

If I have overlooked an important event, horse or character, please include this in the comments.

History of Horse Slaughter: United States

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For the project I am working on, Horses, Sports, Culture and Slaughter, I have wanted to get a better understanding of the history of horse slaughter, in the United States. Finally, after a lot of searching, I found this resource: White Paper by Allen Warren.

For those of you who are interested in the history, in some detail, read from:

The first of the three men mentioned at the beginning of this paper who drastically altered the ancient relationship between humans and horses was Henry Ford. While snipping the ribbon to open his first Model T automobile assembly line plant in Detroit on October 1, 1908, Ford’s comments to the press included the following statement: “My goal is to relieve the American farmer of the burden of horse care.”

to:


A post script to this story is that another U.S. industrial giant, Quaker Oats, better known for its breakfast products, bought out the struggling Ken-L-Rations operation just before World War Two and continued to slaughter horses, although in much smaller numbers and selling a few carloads a week of Chapel’s original pickled horse meat in eastern cities where immigrants from Europe since the first world war had eaten it before and couldn’t afford to buy beef or pork at war time prices

Basically the history details three key protagonists:

Henry Ford: Invented the technology that displaced the horse which, in turn, created a supply glut of horses.

Phillip Chapel: Exploited this supply glut by initially buying up horses for the WW1 effort. When that market ended, he supplied horse meat for Europe because it lacked the agricultural infrastructure to feed itself after the war. When that market ended, he pivoted again, this time to supply dog food on a massive scale within the United States. He began his operations in New Jersey, shifted to Illinois, and then set up a presence in Montana to exploit the wild horse population.

Frank Litts: First animal activist, the “Cowboy Bomber” who tried to put an end to Chapel’s slaughter business, first through fair means, then through trying to blow up Chapel’s operation in Miles City, Montana.

Some fascinating stuff along the way. Very well worth a detailed read for anyone interested in the issue of the horse’s relationship with man.

AVMA releases joint statement on Horse Slaughter

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American Veterinary Medical Association’s Pro Slaughter Position

It reads: “Consumption of horsemeat by humans is a cultural and personal choice; the veterinarian’s primary focus is on the health and welfare of the horse throughout its life. That said, our veterinary associations believe the humane slaughter of horses is preferable to a life in discomfort and pain, inadequate care, or abandonment.”

The position concludes: “Horses destined for slaughter should be handled and transported to the processing facility in a humane manner. Use of local slaughter facilities is preferred to avoid welfare risks (e.g., physical and mental stress, injury) associated with long-distance travel. Horses should be humanely slaughtered consistent with the requirements of the country in which the horses are being processed.”

The above statement is a surprise, when you figure that it comes from an organization that comprises veterinarians, but it is no surprise when you know the history of the organization’s position on horse slaughter.

As far as I can tell, there are three fundamental flaws to the position:

1. it presents the end of life choice for horses as binary, it is not. Many choose humane euthanasia, performed by a vet.

2. it uses the phrase “humane slaughter”, many argue that the slaughter process is not humane, and incentives in the slaughter pipeline do not favor humane treatment.

3. horses are not born a food animal. This becomes a food safety concern, given the concoction of drugs they might ingest, undocumented, over a lifetime. The AVMA knows this better than any other organization, their members prescribe and administer those drugs.

Habitat for Horses had a few choice words in response: International joint statements address horse slaughter, rabies in dogs.

IndieGoGo Campaign for YouTube Horse Slaughter project

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I have just launched an IndieGoGo campaign, with the goal to raise $5,000 to support the YouTube project I am developing.

Here is the link to the campaign: Working Title: Horses: sports, culture & slaughter.

Here is the YouTube promotion: Crowdfunding Pitch for Horses: sports, culture & slaughter

Any help, support, sharing, would be very much appreciated. Here is the preamble for the campaign:

Examining the issue of horse slaughter in the US, through the lense of horse sports & culture.

Short Summary

My goal is to create a 50 minute video story, in several parts on YouTube, that covers the horse slaughter issue, in the United States, in a very pragmatic, non-gory fashion. It will be an educational piece for everyone to learn from, regardless of any particular stance on the issue.

The reason that I think this is important is that many of us either work in horse industries, support them, or simply enjoy horses, yet we really do not have a clear understanding of the horse slaughter issue. Worse, the reasons put forth for slaughter, and for ending slaughter, are often perverted by the goals of the medium providing those reasons.

To serve the horse well, as the horse has served us, we need to be better informed. All of us.

I have studied the issue, as a horseman in the horse racing industry, for eight years. I started exploring the issue during the coverage I provided of Barbaro during his time after injuring himself in the Preakness in 2006. I subsequently wrote a book about that entire episode: Greatness and Goodness: Barbaro and His Legacy.

I also write for a variety of horse related media, and am passionate about making the issue of horse slaughter understood using a non-emotional narrative.

By contributing to this project, you will help it gain a wider audience, as well as allow me to provide some support for people who are helping me on a pro-bono basis.

What We Need & What You Get

I am seeking $5,000. This will be used to help finish the editing and production of the story. It will also be used to help promote the story once it is completed. If I am not successful in reaching my goal, the funds will first be used to support editing and production, before promotion.

I will be offering a personalized copy of my book, for any donations of $100 or more.

The Impact

Any support for this project will certainly help improve the final product and awareness for the project. There is not much to say beyond that. The project will proceed regardless of the amount of funds raised, but support will be awesome.

The important role the kill buyer plays in Horse Racing in the United States

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The claiming system, in conjunction with the liberal use of drugs, is a critical issue for the horse generally in racing in the United States. The system encourages a short term view by horsemen, and because the drug history does not travel with the horse, each new ownership does not have a complete record of how the horse has been treated; in addition there is a negative incentive for the prior owner to pass along this information.

There is a direct connection from the best tracks to the lowest tracks to the auctions and kill buyers to the slaughter house. Not only does the claiming system move horses around (mostly down), but horse traders do the same thing. Most of this activity occurs at the end of race meets where moving horses to new locations adds costs to the horsemen. So a horse could be sold, at the end of a Churchill meet, for example, to a trader buying horses for Charles Town or Mountaineer Park.

The current system works for the horsemen as long as there is someone willing to take the horse (claimed or sold) after a period of time. This is fine when a horse is running for 50k, then 40k and so forth. It gets tough when the horse hits the bottom. The last trainer is caught with the horse, and oftentimes will be under pressure from the racing secretary to either run the horse, or get rid of it, or lose the stall.

Programs like CANTER are great, they serve as an advertising medium, but less often do they become the place of last resort (i.e. they will rarely just take a horse when a horseman has to move one out.) The same with many of the rescues that work directly with the tracks. They are great, but the reality is, they either fill up quickly, or become very selective in terms of which horses they take, preferably ones that they can more easily rehab and move on.

That’s where the “horse trader” comes in. He/she will buy anything, $200, no questions (no need for a sound horse in this case, they are going to kill for the most part, although some traders might have some connections with private buyers to move the good ones on, or perhaps even sell them on to the bush track circuit etc.).

Most horsemen on the backside will know who the horse trader is. They might not like it, and don’t ask questions, but they might not have any choice. The advantage the trader has, over a rescue, he can take an unlimited number of horses. Thoroughbreds make good horse meat (drugs aside of course.)

Some tracks have responded to this issue with a “no slaughter” policy. While excellent on the surface, there is a potential for unintended consequences. Prior to a “no slaughter” policy, the horse trader might have just shipped the horses to the local auction, some might have then been picked up privately, or by a rescue. Now many go directly to a kill buyer, and that guy won’t let rescues see them because they don’t want to get the horse trader in trouble; the horse trader is his business partner. Similarly the horse trader cannot afford to get the horse’s connections in trouble. It’s all now hush hush.

How can we compete with the horse trader, kill buyer relationship? We need to design a system where a horseman can get the equivalent that he / she would get from the horse trader, at the time the horseman needs to move on her horse.

Of course there are plenty of horsemen who will do the right thing by their horses, always, but we have to be realistic about the system we have designed.