Barbaro: Death of a Champion

Since we’re on the topic of horses today, there’s nice piece about Barbaro, euthanized yesterday after an eight-month ordeal, from Jane Smiley in the Huffington Post.

Barbaro3“Some observers have been angered by the outpouring of sympathy toward Barbaro, but there is something extra large about the death of a horse…

…I watched the Preakness with some lifelong racing people. When Barbaro got injured, we turned the TV off. All of us had seen it before; everyone who loves racing has seen it all too many times. It is the paradox of racing. His dynamic beauty and his exceptional heart were gifts Barbaro inherited from his racing forebears, who had the luck and toughness to run and win and prove themselves worthy of reproducing. Subsequently, during his medical saga, he showed that he was intelligent, too. According to a friend of mine who talked to trainer Michael Matz in the summer, Barbaro knew when he needed some pain relief–he would stand by the sling and shake it until they put him in it, and when he was tired of it, he would shake himself so that it rattled, signalling he was ready to be taken out. And then he would go to his stall and lie down. Did he want to survive? It seemed as though he did.

In a great race horse, the heart and mind do the running, and the body tries to hold up…”

Barbaro’s painter recalls horse’s strength [evening sun]
Site of Barbaro’s greatest triumph could be final resting place [cbc]
Rest Well, Barbaro: Derby winner was a classic story of hope [daily times]


  1. Cory says

    So basically, a man rides a horse in races literally to the ground, then when the horse (who apparently was smart enough to inform his trainer when he wanted pain medication) is no longer of use he is “put down” when apparently he wanted to live. How is any of this humane? (and I’m sure I’ll be flamed for this, “at least the horse was being cared for”, “what else will the horse do?”, etc.)

  2. hoya86 says

    Cory, I’ll join you in that sentiment.

    I guess it’s ok for the wealthy to fund their obessions since it’s thier own money – but really!

    Do they pursue social causes with the same open checkbook attitude?

  3. anon says

    Actually, there were a lot articles about lame horses out when this story broke (no pun intended?) last year. The potential for complications is enormous and the chances of success nearly nil. In the end they went much further for the big B than normally would be considered prudent. You can bet that insurance would not normally pay for these treatments. That aside, we should not be equating (equuting?) the death of a horse with the death of a human. It’s dangerous to anthropomorphize animals.

  4. peterparker says

    I found the story of this horse’s injury and subsequent death to be very sad. And while I have no problem with the amount of money Barbaro’s owners spent trying to save his life (I’d spare no cost for treatments to save my dog’s life), I do have to wonder if this tragedy happened simply because horse racing is inherently inhumane?

    And Cory, from what I understand, Barbaro was not euthanized because he was ‘no longer of use’. In fact, if Barbaro had recovered he would have gone on to a multi-million dollar career as a stud horse, commanding $100,000 stud fees per, ahem, load. His owners made the determination to euthanize him due to the fact that he was in unending pain from complications of the original injury. Euthanizing him was the only humane option given the fact that all veterinary/medical avenues had been exhausted.

    Still…while horse owners will tell you these animals love to race, I have to wonder if horse racing is inherently inhumane?

  5. Sfnatv says

    The news gave more attention to this damn horse last night than to the war in Iraq. Where are our priorities? Has one single serviceman/woman who died in Iraq been given equal coverage?

  6. Chris says

    Jane says: “His dynamic beauty and his exceptional heart were gifts Barbaro inherited from his racing forebears, who had the luck and toughness to run and win and prove themselves worthy of reproducing.”

    True, but it’s people who did the selecting. The origins of the modern thoroughbred are far from natural. Much like pure-breed show dogs, these animals have been selected by people to have certain “desirable” traits, but which often make the animals much more frail and vulnerable to illness than their wild, undomesticated ancestors.

    For example, modern racing horses are prone to bleeding in their lungs. Thinner lung tissue is able to facilitate gas transfer better and so the lungs are more efficient. Unfortunately, they are also less sturdy, so while the horse with thinner lung tissue is more capable of explosive speed, they’re also liable to drown in their own blood since the lung tissue is more fragile and more easily ruptured.

    The point is that it’s not some accident of nature or some inevitable consequence. People are responsible for the breeding of these animals and thus are also responsible for their suffering.

  7. Je says

    Barbaro gets euthanized eight months after breaking his leg, to end his suffering. But Joe Theisman is still causing suffering to millions of OTHERS with his inane blathering on TV football broadcasts, over 20 years after breaking his leg, and has NOT been euthanized. Sometimes life just ain’t fair…

  8. Cory says

    “People are responsible for the breeding of these animals and thus are also responsible for their suffering.”

    Exactly. My point is race horses may very well not be put in these positions. Forcing these animals to carry the weight of a man while racing around a track as a “career” seems ridiculous. These horses are literally being driven to the ground, and once the animals are no longer able to race, they are euthanized. Stating that it was for the horses best interest is hypocrisy, as not racing horses in the first place would be for their own best interest.

  9. sam says

    If you all want to change the world, then donate your own money. Don’t wait for the wealthy to save you. If you all donated 1 5 or 10 buck each, you could solve a plethora of social ills…But I guess it’s easier to wait for Oprah to give ALL her money away then spend it on hermes…

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