Horse racing is a glamorous business. Classy, fiery horses, elegant outfits, the thrill of betting, and the chance of winning a lot of money.
Spectators readily believe in this cliche, especially the rising Warsaw middle class with their black SUVs and designer clothes. To them, the races are just another scene where they can show off their new-found wealth and have some out of the ordinary entertainment. With absolutely no clue about horses they are unaware of where the celebrated (and cursed) animals return to after the race. Whereas the spectators get back to their gated community or their dream mansion with guard house, mowed lawn, hydrangeas, sunday breakfast on the terrace and all, the horses have to live under miserable circumstances.
Athletes Behind Locks and Iron Bars
While my horse was at the horse clinic at the Warsaw racetrack, I had the chance to observe the stables there for about 20 days. On my second day there, I went for a walk to get some fresh air. At first, I didn’t think much of the many locked doors and low-ceillinged buildings that I came by. Until I had a closer look through one of the iron barred gates and saw that there were horses inside!
I don’t know exactly how many horses live on the grounds there, but there are many of these stable buildings. Behind every one of these windows there is a horse living in the dark. Even on a bright day, the buildings look gloomy.
Stable doors are locked and shut. No paddock time for the horses, of course. The only time they get outside is during warm up in the horse walker (they are tied to a metal construction with their heads held high) and the training. No grazing, no playtime, no social contact to other horses. With the cold Polish winter weather, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t get to go outside at all in the ice and snow. What I found especially sad is that this place has great potential. There are old trees and pretty lawns, a small river and a lake. With all this space it would be possible to make the stables a lot more horse friendly.
The day on which I took the photos, the weather was lovely, people went for a walk, dogs and children played outside. Cats had a nap in the sun. Only the horses were in their dark stuffy cages, unnoticed. There are a few grass fields, but very few horses get to go outside (and certainly no horses in training).
I was also shocked about the often brutal handling of the horses. Beating and yelling was completely normal. One day, I heard some commotion outside of the clinic stable and went to have a look. Two men and a woman just loaded two horses. One person was standing in the trailer, pulling, while the other two beat the horses with ropes until it went in.
There is also a riding school on the grounds, Poland Park, where riding in hyperflexion (‘rollkur’) seems to be rather the norm. Such scenes as in the photos below I saw on several occasions when driving by (and no, these are not just moments in time, I stood there for about 15 min).
Dear citizens of Warsaw, please don’t support this abuse. Spend your money on something else. Don’t encourage this practice by buying a race horse or going to the races, even if it’s fancy. Take your family to dinner or for a nice walk in the forest. Go skydiving if you need a thrill. Horses are supposed to run in the fields or get at least some paddock time every day. This is the reality of the stables at the Warsaw racetrack. I think their eyes tell it all.
For more information on horse racing please have a look here: http://horseracingwrongs.com