Mourners at the edge of a lake where flowers were thrown in remembrance of 21 horses who died April 19 in Wellington, FL (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
"The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men." - Alice Walker, author
Another needless tragedy has occurred as a direct result of humans exploiting another species for their own selfish gains, this time in the name of "sport".
Investigators are trying to determine exactly what caused the deaths of 21 horses on April 19 at a polo club in Wellington, FL. At this time, speculations exist that the cause may have been an incorrectly-mixed chemical compound injected into the horses prior to a polo match. Franck's Pharmacy in Ocala, FL issued a statement that "on an order from a veterinarian, Franck's Pharmacy prepared medication that was used to treat the 21 horses."
Injections of this kind are administered to increase resistance to exhaustion in horses during competition and rigorous exercise, according to Loyd V. Allen, Jr., editor of the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Compounding. However, no such supplements need be given when horses are not forced by humans to perform beyond their natural limits.
Citing anonymous sources, Argentinian newspaper La Nacion reported that the 21 Lechuza Caracas team horses were injected with a lethal dose 10 times higher than the intended amount of selenium, a trace mineral that is poisonous to horses in high doses. The newspaper reported that 0.5 mg/ml was prescribed but the compound actually contained 5 mg/ml. Franck's Pharmacy has acknowledged "that a strength of an ingredient in the medication was incorrect" but declined to provide any additional information.
When I hike, play tennis or engage in other strenuous activities, I make sure to eat and stay hydrated so that I can perform as I would like without succumbing to exhaustion. When I become tired, I rest. When my energy returns, I continue. When I need to stop, I stop. I have choices.
Horses and other non-human animals used by humans for entertainment and profit have no choices. They are not volunteers. The non-human animals we exploit are victims and we are the perpetrators.
"We have enslaved the rest of animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form." - William Ralph Inge, Outspoken Essays, 1922
The U.S. Polo Association, citing their "tradition of promoting equine safety" while continuing to sanction polo events, is reviewing and investigating what went wrong on April 19, but this is clearly a case of closing the barn door after the horses are dead.
There is a possibility that federal laws were violated in the compounding of the supplement in question in the death of the horses, but the deeper issue is not in the federal statutes. At the root of the problem is an issue of morals and ethics. Rather than trying to fix a flawed system by reinforcing safety guidelines for those we enslave, perhaps the better course of action is to reexamine how we treat the multitude of non-human animals with whom we share this planet.
In the 1860s, many white slave owners in the United States took measures to see that their slaves were well-maintained and kept in good working order with the understanding that maximizing slave efficiency would maximize profits. They were treated as things to be used, machines with specific purposes and not beings with the same rights our forefathers had fought and died for less than 100 years prior. We jealously guarded our rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" while actively denying those rights to others whenever it suited us. Of course, the United States eventually recognized that this was not good enough and that a change needed to be made in the entire system, hence the abolition of slavery in 1865.
144 years later, we as a society have yet to extend this way of thinking to how we treat non-human animals. It's time for our actions to match our words.
"The assumption that animals are without rights and the illusion that our treatment of them has no moral significance is a positively outrageous example of Western crudity and barbarity. Universal compassion is the only guarantee of morality." - Schopenhauer