Sunday, May 21, 2006


Note: First person writing is to be avoided. This time it can't be helped.

In my former professional life, I saw both a man and a horse die on a racetrack, the man in a stock car, the horse on a simple practice gallop.

They were both horrible, grief-ridden experiences no one could ever forget. In their immediate aftermaths, however, the horse's death was much more disturbing and difficult to accept. Years have passed, and I still wonder why.

The question is back this morning. If Barbaro must be put down, which sadly looks quite likely, he will be mourned by millions who had no idea of his existence before the Kentucky Derby, maybe by as many people who mourned the death of well-known superstar Dale Earnhardt. How come?

The relationships between human beings and the animals we've domesticated are as deep and complex as the ones between our fellow humans. In the case of a racehorse dying young, the wellspring of our grief may be guilt. Race car drivers accept the risks of their trade with eyes wide open, with human calculation of the danger compared to its rewards. So do jockeys, whose job, by the way, is many times riskier than auto racing.

Thoroughbreds don 't. They can't. Horses aren't deep thinkers. They're BRED to compete, and the urge to run and win is part of their genetic makeup. It's all they know, the sum total of their consciousness, and we, homo sapiens, put it there, the same way we bred horses as beasts of burden, weapons of war, and any number of pursuits with a dreadful rate of premature and sudden death.

Barbaro has no idea why his right back leg hurts so badly. But we know why. It's a tough "why" to live with, too.


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