For the Love of Horses

By Susan Wagner, DVM, MS, DACVIM

I can’t believe it’s been a year since my father’s passing. As I think of him, I’m reminded of what we shared that was just ours – the love of horses. We received such pleasure from watching them run through the fields, and especially enjoyed the arrival of new foals, so bandy-legged, yet graceful. He and I marveled at how these amazing animals could exquisitely glide through the air on their toes and fingers. For those of you who don’t know horse anatomy, if you equated them with us, they are literally running on the tips of one toe and one finger. Now that’s a miracle of nature.

We also just passed that time of year all thoroughbred lovers wait for – the Triple Crown. This was the first year I couldn’t get dad’s input on which horse was going to win. I couldn’t call him after the race to go over the details. His big chair was empty. I know he would have loved this series, and as was usually the case, he would have picked the winners. I hope his spirit was visiting an owner’s box, the place I’d always wished we would sit someday — my dad looking dapper as ever, and me with my hat and mint julep.

But horse racing isn’t all hats and fancy drinks. My father and I both understood the darker side of racing. Horses are trained and raced when they are too young, and given substances to make them race harder. Some horses never see grass. They live in small stalls at the racetracks. And of course there’s the money aspect, and the greed that can pollute the best of intentions. I personally witnessed this as a young naive veterinary student. I took care of a horse that many believed should have been humanely euthanized long before she was. It was delayed because all parties involved would have lost too much money. No future foal, no money. And racing is getting darker. Those who can afford to spend millions are having horses bred just for those big races – the big payoffs.

Animals are a reflection of our society – the duality of life. Instinctive grace and a natural love for running can be played out as two broken forelegs at the end of a race. There are those who want the sport to be cleaned up, yet they energetically enhance this drama. They hate the abusers and hate the sport. Hatred and judgment bring on more of the problem.

Perhaps we can learn the lesson of balance from horse racing. Can we, as a species, choose to honor these gifted athletes, do all in our power to keep them safe and happy, send them to a wonderful retirement home instead of slaughter houses, and keep a handle on our greed? Can we harness the energy of their grace and beauty to move forward in this sport, and in all aspects of our lives?

What can we learn from racing? What young human athletes are being exploited in the name of money and glory, then discarded once they no longer can perform? How many of our elders have lived productive lives, yet are being abused in care facilities?

It’s easy to judge when life is so out of balance, and it’s hard to believe that judging and hatred keep the drama alive. Yet we know that life is energy, and similar energies create the same vibration. If we hate and judge, we create more situations that require hatred and judgment. It seems too simple to make a choice – to decide as a species that abuse of all kind stops now. It seems far too simple to be true.

But as a veterinary neurologist, I know that all action starts with a choice – an intention. When an animal (or you and I) move from one place to the next, the journey starts with the decision – the intention – to move. Next comes the firing of neurons in our voluntary motor cortex, sending signals to other areas of our brains, that send signals down our spinal cords, into our nerves and muscle, and we move. It all happens in the blink of an eye – and it all starts with an intention.

Perhaps a collective, powerful, intention of no more abuse will start those impulses flowing for humanity. Once they flow, we can watch one of the miracles of human nature – ingenuity. A shift in energy occurs, hearts open up, creative new ideas spring forth, and life changes. All creatures find themselves in a better place.

No more abuse. That’s where it starts. And they’re off…..

Dr. Susan Wagner is a board certified veterinary neurologist whose pioneering work acknowledges the bioenergetic interaction between people and animals. She is an advocate for change in the area of interpersonal violence and animal cruelty, and works toward a greater understanding surrounding the health implications of the human-animal bond.

Residing in Worthington OH, she is an active public speaker in the areas of energy theory and healing, spirituality, and the human-animal bond. She especially enjoys teaching about the spiritual nature of animals. Dr. Wagner is published in several peer-reviewed journals. She is also co-author of Through A Dog’s Ear: Using Sound to Improve the Health and Behavior of Your Canine Companion, and was research director for the Through A Dog’s Ear CD series. Dr. Wagner is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at The Ohio State University Veterinary College, and a Level IV Healing Touch for Animals practitioner.


Jane Beattie
Jane Beattie8 years ago

Thank you, Blunder
My first horse was an ex-racehorse. There was a lot he didn't know -- like how to go downhill, how to stand still when mounted, and other stuff -- but he was kind, intelligent and willing -- and learned fast.
He loved to run, and if the footing was good, I'd open him up. One telling experience: I once had him in a group of about ten other horses and riders, on a dirt road. At a walk and trot, he was content to stay at the back, but once the group started cantering/loping he saw it as his job to get to the front. He strategized and passed the other horses carefully, and eventually did get to the front without hurrying. I could almost hear him sigh with satisfaction.
Yes, I was in charge, and fed and cared for that horse, but I also learned from his attitude toward the art of racing. Of course, in a perfect world, there would be no cruelty, but the fact of horse racing does not generate cruelty by itself in my experience..

blurider L.
Alfred L8 years ago

Any notion that racing horses is cruel in and of itself is INSANE! Horses LOVE to race! Once a horse realizes he can indulge his natural instinct to run out front, to be his athletic best, then to 'eyeball' and psychologically intimidate - to dominate the competitors - doing what's natural for the best of the beast, he's not stressed, he's happy running out front - he's fulfilling what evolution or creation made him for! He's no longer experiencing the streess of 'running for survivsl', or man made pressure, he's just playing, exercising his wonderful mind and body and being the creature that God, evolution or maybe God-driven evolution, gave us - as lovely to behold in either case!

We should honor that by making life the best for the horse it can be - honoring the animal for what it is and separating that from the demands of 'free market capitalism' and the worship of profits!

blurider L.
Alfred L8 years ago

It's quite true that hoses - in every discipline - are asked to perform too early! It's economics and it's shameful that so much of our life - so much beyond humanity and humane treatment for animals, is driven beyond our best selves, by economics!

It's another tiny little fragment of the cruel underside of our national religion - free market capitalism. It's further proof of our inability , in spite of the best parts of our humanity that we can barely or only briefly speak of it then agree that the economics create pain, suffering and evil, then move on - seemingly ecpecting someone else in another time to sddress the problem with any real intent! SHAMEFUL!

At the same time we must get all the details right as we lodge the complaint! To tell lies about the plight of the race horse is to leave the door open to excusing more abuse!

For instance, the author simply DOES NOT know of as race horse which NEVER KNEW GRASS! That's an umforgivable distortion that will never get us anywhere!

She's known of numerous horse which ever saw ENOUGH grass - which spent too much time confined in stalls, but most of these horses spend their youth growing up in idyllic circumstances, then the Stallions and mares which have succeeded have idyllic futures - maybe others haven't fared so well and this needs desperately to be addressed, but let's be honest abotu the harshest realities for the least of the contenders. They all grew up, relaxed on grass, in sun - a few will be fine!

Brock S.
Brock S.8 years ago

As a life-long fan and participant in the Quarter Horse and Thoroughbred racing industry, I very much find it disturbing when we somehow allow neglect and abuse. We may not fix our problems tomorrow, but we'll never get them fixed unless we embrace much of the same attitudes so well articulated in this article.

I think Thoroughbreds are treated much, much better than what most people ever dream. But I think it important to recognize that we're not perfect and we must continue to strive for perfection in the treatment of all animals.

Jade H.
Jade H8 years ago

Thanks for such a great article. In my life it was my Mom that was on the phone with me (in another state!) discussing the Derby and who she had picked. I miss that even after 4 years of her passing. I started having doubts back in the 90's when I was watching The Breeders Cup race and saw a horse's leg snap at the knee coming around a turn - destroyed on the track behind a screen, but can still hear the screams of the horse after it went down. Accidents happen, but the new attitude of breeding "winners" is the reason we have not seen a Man of War or Secretariat in the last 25 years. And the "change" has to come from our attitude of doing the right thing - not "hate and judge" as the author points out. Ghandi said you can judge a country by the way it treats its animals...we certainly don't measure up at this point!

Cheryl Terrace
Cheryl Terrace8 years ago

thank you for this insightful article. I live in NYC and believe
hansom carriages should be banned. It is not romantic, it is cruel and outdated. Pedicabs are a much better mode of transport!

Richard W.
Richard W8 years ago

I've always felt that if you ever needed proof of God's presence in this world all one need do is spend a little one-on-one time with a horse. Truly, what a blessing this animal is to human existence and experience.

Pamela C.
Pamela C8 years ago

Most people who go to a track go there to gamble; they don't give a damn about the horse or whether it is abused. You bet I'm judgemental about them, let alone the abuser. It is difficult to prove abuse regarding a privately owned horse. Horse racing is not a sport, its an exploitive situation.

Pam H.
Pamela H8 years ago

Many horses are literally raced to death. And how many of them who survive years of horse racing (simply to entertain gambling humans) end up at the horse abottiors? When a horse goes down while racing, the media always shows more concern about the jockey, and then the horse usually ends up having to be 'put to sleep'.

Jayme G.
Jayme G8 years ago

What I dont understand is how someone can say in the same breath, how much they love horses and how they love to watch them race...I cannot even watch the commercials for horseracing...I close my eyes, it sickens me, just the thought of these wonderful creatures, who have so much heart and will do most anything that is asked of them and with all that they have...horseracing should be banned all together. It is just plain torture and cruel...ban horseracing...