Saying Goodbye to Horse Racing

Derby winner Barbaro fighting for life – Yahoo! NewsGrowing up, one of my favorite things to do around my birthday wasto watch the Kentucky Derby. I continued that tradition through collegeand adulthood.

Barbaro won the race this year, but it wasthe first I did not watch. Although I love watching the horses race,lately I have felt uneasy about how humans treat other species. Usingan animal in sport for our own amusement suddenly seems like animmature activity.

A couple weeks later, Barbarowas the favorite for the Preakness, but a horrific accident at thebeginning of the race left one of his legs broken and fans waiting tohear if he would make it through the day.

Hisrecovery was immediate and successful and for a few weeks it seemed hewould only continue to improve. Sadly, that is no longer expected to bethe case. Laminitis has infected his left hind leg and horses donot generally recover from as severe a case as his. His doctor saysthat they will know more in 24 hours. Should he show signs ofdiscomfort in his gait, he will be shot to death. Experts say there isno coming back once it reaches that stage.

The pending death of Barbarosuggests that we humans should reconsider our exploitation of animals.I would never support a sudden ban on the use of animals for sport,work, or experimentation, but I hope that we soon begin the longprocess of weaning ourselves from our dependence on them. We would notbe where we are today without the exploitation of animals, buttraditions do not need to continue indefinitely, especially whentechnology is rapidly changing all of the former rules.

It is very difficult for me to say goodbye to the enjoyment of watching the Kentucky Derby. However, the Barbaro’shorrible experience convinces me that this is the right decision.Everyone needs to reach such decisions on their own, through constantreflection and rational thought, without unnecessary fear mongering andlegislation. I have reached my own limits of comfort, and I hope otherswill begin reflecting on these issues as our traditions fall away.

Thisis a time when we can begin thinking about our relationship with otherforms of life on this planet. Are we stewards, owners, consumers, orfamily of other species? Where do they fit in as technological progressleads us inevitably toward profound changes within our own species? Dowe bring them along, leave them alone, or consider them at all?

The challenge now is simply to begin thinking about these issues andrevisiting our most cherished beliefs and traditions. A few years fromnow, there will only be time for action.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet. His first published poem, "Roadside Freak Show," arrives on August 21, 2017 in Impossible Archetype.  His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey. Richard is also the Downlink Lead for the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) team at the University of Arizona. He monitors images of the Martian surface taken by the HiRISE camera located on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in orbit around Mars and helps ensure they process successfully and are validated for quick release to the science community and public. Once upon a time, Richard wrote and edited the science and technology news and commentary website Frontier Channel, hosted the RADIO Frontier Channel podcast, and organized transhumanist clubs. Follow Richard on his website (, on Goodreads (richardleis), Twitter (@richardleisjr), and Facebook (richardleisjr).