As the 75th anniversary of the Iroquois Steeplechase approaches, animal rights activists at Nashville Animal Advocacy are planning a protest.
The NAA is a group that primarily works through education, research, protests and legislation to advocate for animal rights, as well as veganism. The group has staged recent protests at the Nashville Zoo and against the use of elephants in circus performances.
Executive Co-Director Tricia Lebkuecher said that around 10 to 15 people will be at Steeplechase this Saturday, May 14 to hand out information to passers by about what NAA claims is an abusive sport.
“When you examine the horse racing industry, the torture is pretty obvious,” she said. “Horses enjoy galloping in a pasture, but a human on top galloping and racing isn’t the same thing.”
The iconic sporting event has attracted more than 25,000 spectators each year since 1941, with visitors watching the best horses and riders in the world race over hurdles in a three-mile turf track.
“These horses are supreme athletes, among the best of the best to compete anywhere, and you will find no finer track conditions at any other course in the world,” Dr. Monty McInturff of the Tennessee Equine Hospital said. Dr. McInturff is the official veterinarian for Steeplechase.
There have been five equine deaths in the last 19 years of the race. In 2012, the winning horse at Steeplechase, Arcadius, collapsed and died instantly of a heart attack after his win. Lebkuecher said that incidents like this raise a red flag.
“Many people don’t know about the drug abuse in the horse industry,” she said. “PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) did an undercover investigation and found that the most prevalent problem was the myriad of injections that horses received to race beyond their physical capabilities.”
Steeplechase does have measures in place, however, to prevent drug abuse and equine deaths.
“The health and safety of our equine athletes is our utmost concern, and everything we do is designed to keep them safe – the way the track surface and the jumps are prepared, the cooling stations and pre-race examinations by our veterinary team,” McInturff said.
“Any athlete that does not pass the exam for health and soundness is not allowed to run,” McInturff said. “They love what they do, like any other athlete, and just want to run. Our job is to allow them to do it safety. Our team from Tennessee Equine Hospital will have seven veterinarians who perform post-race testing for illegal drugs and are there to oversee the race meet and ensure the health and safety of the horses.”
The event is run by the nonprofit Volunteer State Horsemen’s Foundation who manages and produces the event. The foundation supports several local organizations by way of proceeds, including the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.
Since being designated as an official charity in 1981, the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt has received more than $10 million from the Iroquois Steeplechase proceeds.
The event takes place at Percy Warner Park. The gates will open at 8 a.m. and the first race will start at 1 p.m. The last race ends approximately at 5:30 p.m. with the featured race, the Iroquois and the Cheltenham Challenge. General admission tickets are $20. For more information visit www.iroquoissteeplechase.org.
NAA is planning for the protest to start at 11 a.m. outside of the Steeplechase entrance. As of now, 12 people have confirmed that they are going on the group’s Facebook event.
“We just want to inform people,” Lebkuecher said. “We are just trying to raise awareness because many people think of the event as just a Southern tradition with big hats and Mint Juleps, but there is so much more to it.”
Samantha Hearn reports for Home Page Media Group. She can be reached via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @samanthahearn.