Barbaro feedback


This week I’d like to share with you reaction to last week’s column, some of which was overwhelmingly sad.

Last week I wrote about positive procedural changes the thoroughbred racing industry could undertake to improve the lives and safety of the valiant horses needlessly made to suffer on the track.

Many wrote poetically about Barbaro and his heroism. Barbaro was a hero indeed. But most of the people saying so also ignore a lack of oversight to practices used in the sport of horseracing that are unnecessarily cruel to tens of thousands of other equines.

But Jerry Jamgotchian, who wrote to say he owns a stable of racehorses, is livid about the commonly-allowed practice of heel-nerving.

According to the Daily Racing Form Web site, “Heel-nerving, more properly known as a neurectomy, is a form of blocking or desensitizing an area of the equine foot through either conventional or cryogenic surgery.”

A few enlightened states such as Arizona now ban the practice. But many states continue to allow the practice, done to allow horses to feel no pain as they run on an injured leg or hoof and which can lead to an increase in the severity of the injury and even cripple the horses.

California, which Jamgotchian calls home, is among those that allow heel-nerved horses to race.

Jamgotchian wrote, “”There is absolutely no reason why cutting the heel nerves of any racehorse should be legal in California. Besides being barbaric, it could also cause a serious racetrack catastrophe that might injure or kill other horses and jockeys.”

Would that pain-relieving tactics such as heel-nerving were limited to the racetrack.

A well-respected veterinarian in the mid-Atlantic once advised me to “bute” one of my horses that came down with ringbone, a form of osteoarthritis, so I could continue to jump him. The practice is common in the hunter/jumper world. The only problem is that “bute,” short for phenylbuterazone, can cause ulcers and liver and kidney damage when used over long periods. Needless to say, my horse is sound (not lame), off “bute” and will never be jumped again.

Another reader wrote: “It would be really interesting to read a more in-depth article on your viewpoints of the entire horse industry in general. So many people believe that the only area of issue is the racing industry. Very few know of the parallel problems with the jumping, cutting and reining, barrel racing, etc., industries.”

Well, I try. But one can only write so much about animal cruelty without being labeled a zealot, which destroys one’s credibility. Instead I refer readers to Matthew Scully’s widely acclaimed book, “Dominion,” which examines all animal cruelty. It is a stunning look at how insensitive human culture is to animal cruelty.

Another reader wrote, “We horse lovers who think of our horses as members of our family and beloved friends are often laughed at and chided by those whose only apparent reason for having horses is ego and money.

” ‘You’re spoiling that horse and he’ll kill you,’ I hear from these self-absorbed people. Yeah? Well, two of our horses are rescues aged 30 and 31. They didn’t have easy or pleasant lives before they came to us, so it’s darned well about time they had some pleasure and joy in their lives. Our older horses taught hundreds of people to ride. The least we can do is give them some long overdue paychecks and remind them that it does matter that they’re breathing and that they’re having a little fun now.”

Well said, my friend. I was having similar thoughts as I sat in my ob-gyn’s reception area for an annual checkup. The waiting room was full of obviously pregnant women. Many of them were wearing fur coats, unaware that even as they were excited about giving new human life they were needlessly taking animal life and flaunting it.

We are startlingly oblivious to the animal cruelty we inflict. It’s great to know many of us are waking up. Maybe someday we all will.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)