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Barbaro: the bond between horses and humans

January 31, 2007

by Neil Clarkson

The world remains awash with Barbaro news.

The tributes are still flowing, and there is talk that the body of the four-year-old colt may be laid to rest at Churchill Downs, only a few hundred metres from his the scene of his remarkable six-and-a-half length win in the Kentucky Derby.

Google News was, at last count, carrying nearly 5500 news stories relating to the death of the thoroughbred.

Sprinkled throughout the eulogies and news reports of his death were the inevitable commentators suggesting supporters of Barbaro "get over it".

It's only a horse, suggested one. What, asked another, is the difference between a horse and squirrel?

So, as countless media organisations around the world wrote tributes and carried news, and this website clocked record numbers of visitors getting updates as the story unfolded during the day, a select few were sitting down at their computers to provide us with their counter view. Their's is a predictable, boring and unthinking line.

Perhaps someone should sit these people down and provide some manner of explanation.

Man has been in partnership with horses for thousands of years. In this mechanised Western world the horse plays little role in the day-to-day economy, but an estimated 100 million horses, donkeys, and mules still power Third World economies.

In most nations, including the United States, horses played a crucial part in their development. They hauled ploughs, carried people, pulled wagons.

Across Western nations the racing industry is worth billions of dollars to the international economy. Pleasure riders and those pursuing other horse disciplines contribute similarly impressive amounts to the international economy.

Yes, Barbaro was a horse. A champion horse. His winning margin in the Kentucky Derby against a quality field had not been seen in 50 years. He carried his injury with great dignity. He was described by surgeon Dean Richardson as a happy horse for the vast amount of the nearly nine months he was in rehabilitation. He wanted a shot at life.

It is a great credit to his owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, that he was given that chance. Sadly, the outcome was not what his many thousands of fans had hoped for.

So, yes, I do believe a horse is different to a squirrel. And I am surprised the Los Angeles Times found this viewpoint worthy of space.

While all animals should be treated with dignity and respect, the treatment given Barbaro was not only a reflection of the esteem in which this particular horse was held, but an acknowledgement that the paths of humanity and horses are inextricably linked.

No amount of mechanisation or technology will ever change that.



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