On March 10, Henry – known in his racing days as Root Beer Float — celebrates his 22nd birthday and almost six years with me.
He didn’t always have much to celebrate — the ups and downs of his life could easily be material for a novel like Black Beauty.
Foaled on March 10, 1998 at Frances A. Genter Stable in Kentucky, “Root Beer” ran 52 races between April 2001 and February 2006, winning seven and earning a total of $110,000.
His first racing year was spent on the west coast at Emerald Downs Casino & Racetrack in Washington State and the now-closed Bay Meadows Racetrack and Golden Gate Fields in California.
Next, “Root Beer” was shipped to Mountaineer Casino & Racetrack in West Virginia, where he remained for a full 3-1/2 years from March 2002 to October 2005, racing there a full 32 times. Although he apparently did not suffer significant injury during that period, Mountaineer is known for generally callous treatment of horses – most recently, dumping the deceased horse Bridget Moloney in a landfill after she earned $389,748 in six years of racing and then abruptly and mysteriously died.
“Root Beer” spent his last racing year at Ohio’s Beulah Park, before the Ohio chapter of the Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses (CANTER) purchased him in March 2006 as part of their mission to “provide retiring Thoroughbred racehorses with opportunities for new careers.”
There is no record of Root Beer Float’s life after that – until the April 2014 day when PETA fieldworkers found him, together with a mare we later named Caroline, abandoned and starving in a rural North Carolina field. The fieldworkers identified him from a lip tattoo that all Thoroughbred racehorses receive, and then quickly took steps to seize the two horses and arrange for veterinary treatment and temporary foster care.
Meanwhile, Ingrid Newkirk contacted Greg and me, knowing that we had recently purchased a rural property with an unused barn.
“You know that I will never hesitate to feel out the prospects for additions to your family,” she wrote, “and I must ask you if two horse friends who we just rescued from starvation are a forever possibility. They are vegetarians of course, and birds and deer all love and feel safe around horses! Just a thought, in case you are up for this. Otherwise, forgive me. I have to try as finding good homes for horses is tough.”
Knowing that Henry and Caroline had few options, Greg was determined that we would adopt them, despite our very limited horse experience.
And somehow, against the odds, Greg and I made the adoption work.
After Greg’s October 2015 death, Henry and Caroline brought me so much solace and pride that in September 2016 I adopted another PETA rescue horse named Charlie, who had been drugged and raced for years despite his injuries.
Today, all three of these horses continue to thrive on my small Maryland farm – and they continue, with a little help from equine trainers, to grow ever more trusting and respectful of humans.
Meanwhile, my experience with Henry and Charlie inspired me to learn all the ways that horses suffer in the racing industry, and to do as much as I can to end their suffering.
PETA’s relentless work for more than a decade has already secured major breakthroughs for racehorses:
At the U.S. federal level, for more than a decade, PETA has exposed and worked to end the use of performance-enhancing drugs that cause hundreds of racehorses each year to suffer fatal breakdowns. On March 9, 2020, federal prosecutors charged 27 racehorse trainers, veterinarians, and drug distributors – including Jason Servis, trainer of 2019 American Champion Three-Year-Old Male Horse Maximum Security – with what the New York Times describes as “a corrupt scheme to secretly dope horses and cheat the betting public in what has become a $100 billion global industry.” (Weiser B. and Drape J. 2020 March 9. More Than Two Dozen Charged in Horse Racing Doping Scheme. New York Times.)
In California, thanks to whistleblowers who came to PETA, in 2019 the Los Angeles District Attorney conducted an investigation of horse deaths at Santa Anita Park — its first-ever criminal investigation of the culpability of trainers and veterinarians. The most shocking revelation was that 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify had tested positive for an illegal drug at Santa Anita that April, and should have been disqualified. In the wake of this investigation, California has implemented a host of new PETA-proposed regulations that ban the use of some drugs, while imposing tighter record-keeping restrictions on others. (Guillermo K. 2019 December 20. L.A. DA Agrees With PETA: More Must Be Done to Stop Horse-Racing Deaths. PETA.)
In February 2020, Assembly Member Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) introduced the Equine Welfare and Safety in Horse Racing Act, Assembly Bill 2177 sponsored by PETA and Social Compassion in Legislation, to mandate the use of CT scan equipment for screening horses’ legs, prohibit veterinarians from prescribing medications for anything other than a diagnosed condition, authorize the California Horse Racing Board to suspend or revoke a trainer’s license for repeat violations of medication regulations, and more. (Kretzer M. 2020 February 24. PETA Cosponsors Bill to Combat Horse Racing Deaths. PETA.)
In West Virginia, thanks to a PETA exposé, the state’s racing commission announced plans to begin a necropsy program in January 2020 — bringing this state in line with many others that use necropsy information to reduce future racehorse deaths. This announcement came after PETA’s revelation that the Mountaineer Casino & Racetrack dumped deceased racehorse Bridget Moloney in a landfill. After PETA Scandal, West Virginia Tracks and Horsemen Making Plans to Institute Necropsy Program by January 2020. Paulick Report.)
In South Korea, after PETA’s investigation of a Jeju slaughter plant where former racehorses are killed for meat, local police charged the Jeju Livestock Cooperative Association and three workers for slaughtering horses in front of other horses – a violation of South Korea’s Animal Protection Act. (Update: South Korea’s Largest Slaughterhouse and Two Employees Fined for Illegal Killing Methods Following PETA Exposé. 2020 January 11. PETA Australia.)
If only Greg were still alive to witness all this — he would be so proud!