For some reason, I find the death of Barbaro rather upsetting. The first two horse races I’ve ever watched on television were his victory at the Kentucky Derby and his injury at the Preakness. I’ve since followed his medical travails with baited breath, rooting for his left foot, then his right foot, and then his left foot.
That said, some of this Barbaro commentary is just silly. This morning, while listening to NPR and watching the news, I’ve heard Barbaro being compared to Mozart, Beethoven and Muhammad Ali. His graceful movements are “like a symphony”. He ran so beautifully “because he just loved to run”.
Let’s not get carried away. Barbaro ran because he was being hit with a stick. We’ve bred racing horses to the natural limits of their body, so that the bones in their elegant legs are too fragile for their muscular mass. One false step and every bone is shattered, which usually means automatic euthanization. In other words, thoroughbred horses are freaks of nature – like gigantic chihuahuas – and not the epitome of natural design.
I can only hope that Barbaro’s demise leads us to treat all horses – and not just winners of the Kentucky Derby – with more humanity. We should stop pushing the envelope of equine design. We should stop turning second-rate racing horses into dog food. And we should stop racing animals for sport.