The Perils of a Shifting Landscape

Photo © Lauren Mauldin


As I watched the Breeder’s Cup races at Santa Anita Downs, the tension I felt was not just excitement about the contest or my usual visceral response to watching races. I felt a sinking dread about what may happen. If another horse breaks down, if there is another catastrophic injury, if there is a fall…if, if, if…the consequences may extend exponentially beyond the tragedy of the event. 

In the late afternoon on that day, Mongolian Groom fractured his leg and was euthanized. He was the 37th horse euthanized at that track this year. He broke down even after the management of Santa Anita had a panel of vets examine each horse pre-race before it was saddled and went to the track. Accidents happen, fatalities occur, we cannot stem the incoming tide. But, the consequences of that fall may be the domino to curtail horse racing in California; it only takes the state legislature to agree. Equestrian sport is painted in the public eye with the stain of cruelty and abuse. It only takes a brief Google or social media search to find horrifying videos and blaring headlines. We all live within this landscape. As equestrians and lovers of horse sport, we must dodge the moguls of public opinion and avoid the landmines of hyperbole. 

Santa Anita Park. February 2019. Photo © Lauren Mauldin

And so, we get to the recent decision by the USEF to ban medroxyprogesterone acetate, or Depo, in competition horses. In 2017, the USEF began to walk this decision down the road to prohibition without input from its membership or dialogue grounded in valid data, sparking outcry and debate. In response, the Federation turned its focus on the usage and effects of the drug. Medication forms declaring its use in competition became mandatory, veterinarians discussed the issue with all constituencies, the debate continued.

 In the end, we bought a little over two years before the drug was banned. However, we did accomplish things along the way: the Federation responded to its members by examining the subject and gathering data. In doing so, they recorded incidences of death in horses receiving depo injections. Having spent time and money on these facts, the USEF would assuredly be willing to share them if requested. The stories are no longer anecdotal, but verifiable. 

Photo © Lauren Mauldin

It is okay that depo is banned. If horses are dying from the administration of the drug, stop administering the drug. A small chance is still a chance of killing your horse with a discretionary substance. The current landscape of horse sport is perilous and shifting. We are perhaps only one more New York Times article or violent video or fatality statistic away from real, long term consequences. Stories of abuse—human and equine—chip away at the stability and longevity of equestrian competition. Let us all steward the sport we love.  

About the Author: Sissy is a Princeton University graduate, a lifelong rider and trainer, a USEF R rated judge, a freelance journalist and an autism advocate. Her illustrious resume includes extensive show hunter and jumper experience. She lives with her family in Unionville, PA and Wellington, FL.

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