From Fugly: Unlucky horses on Luck

By now, most people have heard about the three horses that died while filming the HBO series “Luck”.  The first two were euthanized after breaking their legs during staged races and the third was apparently being walked back to the stables when it reared up and fell back.

The American Humane Association (AHA) has been involved from the beginning.  After the death of the second horse, they worked with HBO to implement more strident regulations – including having an additional vet on site and radiographing the legs of each horse being used in production.  (Not quite sure what that additional vet was for – I imagine that at that point they just stood around, death syringe in hand, waiting for the next horse to catastrophically injure itself).

The horses being used were between the ages of 5 and 8; not exactly spring chickens in the world of racing, but not ancient either.  PETA’s vice president and “equine specialist” Kathy Guillermo, has been quoted objecting to the age of the horses being used in the “races”.  Apparently she’s not familiar with the AHA horse specific guidelines that state “no horse under the age of 4 shall participate in horse-racing scenes”  (section 8-68 e).  I’m not sure why the age of the horses is a point of contention – there are races for older horses.  Snarkly’s (aka JG) own OTTB was raced until he was 9!  Points like this make me wonder at Kathy’s “equine specialist” title.  It’s like saying the celebrities from Friday’s post are “equine specialists” because they supported an equine-specific issue.  THAT DOESN’T MAKE YOU A SPECIALIST!  By the way, here’s Kathy’s bio on PETA’s website – you’ll notice there’s no mention of horses in it.

What they should be focusing on, as opposed to trying to list as many possible issues as they can conjure up in their tiny PETA brains, is the health, particularly soundness, of the horses being used.  The necropsies noted the first horse (a 5 year old gelding) as having a lot of damage to his suspensory (couldn’t have felt good to gallop around on that) and having banamine, bute, “Solu-delta-cortef (Prednisolone)” and “Torbugesic (Butorphanol)” in his system.  According to a recent article by, bute and banamine together is a no-no as it can cause renal toxicity.

There are some people who will question as to when the horse was given this cocktail of drugs – and rightfully so.  It could very well have been in response to his newly shattered leg, before they determined the best course of action was a humane euthanasia.  Except, PETA’s lawyer, in a letter to the president of the Pasadena SPCA (cc’d to the Assistant District Attorney), states the drugs were given prior to the injury occurring.  Now, PETA may not be the best source of information, but one would hope that their lawyer is held to the same ethical standards as all others and therefore wouldn’t outright lie – at least not in a printed format that could come back to haunt her.

Unfortunately, what’s done is done.  Moving forward we have to ask who’s responsible for the deaths of these horses, just how avoidable were they, and how do we prevent them from happening in the future?

According to section 8-79 of the AHA’s guidelines, they “may inspect the animals and check appropriate documentation, including health certificates and Coggins tests.”  Part b. goes on to state that the “animals must be adequately trained, conditioned and prepped”.  So were these horses inspected?  And what are the AHA’s guidelines for inspections for horses that will be used for racing?  Do they have different levels of qualifications for different purposes?  Ie. a horse to be used for racing should exhibit a certain level of fitness and soundness before being “hired” for a production, while cowboy/western production will have completely different physical demands.  How are they going about testing for soundness? (I wonder what would have happened if they had required radiographs from the beginning on Luck?  What would the legs of those two horses looked like?)

Or are the directors and producers of the show to blame?  Did they know and (perhaps more importantly) understand the physical limitations of their equine actors?  Did they proceed knowing full well they were endangering the horses? All the while with dollar signs dancing before their eyes?

We see examples of it across the world.  Horse abuse, particularly in the name of human profit, is a growing commodity.  People seem to be dreaming up new ways to exploit and profit from them every day (and yes, I do include PETA-ites in that as well).  But how do we stop it? Do we keep fighting the good fight, as we’ve been doing? Or is there a better way?  Because it seems to be an uphill battle and I’m worried we’re losing ground.


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Posted on March 19, 2012, in Horse News and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Well, the question is, were the first two horses racing fit? Or were they brought out of retirement?

  2. I would say the screening process for these horses needs to be adjusted towards prevention. Regardless what type of film you are making. Pre-film x-rays and drug tests etc.
    But then, why would you want to pay more when you’re trying to make more? I think the problem comes down to money.
    Spending money on vetting takes out of the profit margin, and Gawd forbid some people should earn a penny less.

    And I still have no valuable use for PETA. 😦

  3. From whom did they buy/obtain the horses? A Hollywood horse rental enterprise? Those are the people I would want to investigate. Renting out animals for film productions is a big business, and while some firms might be very careful about the health and welfare of their “inventory”, dollars to donuts others are not. They probably go to auctions and vie with the kill buyers and rescues for horses, and if their purchases turn out to be in poor condition, fill them up with medications and put them on their for-rent list.

    Years ago, some retired police horses were put up for sale in my city, and I got one. No papers or anything, but he was said to be a standardbred-percheron cross, even tho’ he was quite small and refined compared to the behemoths the mounted officers generally ride (huge Clyde-TB crosses with enormous feet).
    Turned out that the farrier who came to our barn knew the horse; he was the one who sold him to the police in the first place. He casually admitted that he told the police the horse was a STB-percheron cross, altho’ he was actually a thoroughbred-quarter horse cross. That horse never should have been a police horse! By falsifying his breed to make some money, the farrier condemned the horse to seven years on concrete and asphalt roads that wrecked his legs, more delicate and vulnerable than those of the Clyde-TBs. The horse became hopelessly lame with bone spavin.

    All this is to say, when money is to be made, dishonesty raises its ugly head, and the horses pay with their lives.

    • That’s terrible! I can’t imagine how I would have reacted if my farrier told me that about one of my horses…! I probably would have fired him on the spot, though…

  4. PETA has always been a sham of an organization. Any org. who rounds up and steals puppies just to put them to sleep and throw their bodies in a Wal*Mart dumpster deserves nothing but contempt from true animal lovers.

  5. I think some folks need to take in consideration that any production company be it for a movie or for a t.v. production…
    They are going to have to have several “takes”… can you imagine that day after day, hour after hour for those poor horses.
    Even if they use horses that look the same or can be air brushed to look the same like they did in the Hildago movie..
    those horses are likely given a certain time period of rest… but probably run or work out several times a day.

  6. Sort of Anonymous

    From the little I’ve read on the incident, the third death, was “just one of those things” that can happen with horses.

    If ANYTHING was done veterinary wise before the decision to euth, Turb and banamine are probably from that, the steroid perhaps as well. Does that excuse running a horse with a damaged suspensory by buting up? No.But do we then insist that all hollywood animal actors be drug tested every day?

    I’d be curious how much damage to the suspensory could have been diagnosed beforehand, and how far before hand. Then again, Eight Belles’ people probably kept a pretty close eye on her, and we all know how that turned out. Horses are resilient, strong, and fragile all at once.

    Do we say NO to live animal performances? Where’s the line? I don’t think anyone on Luck mistreated those horses; 3 (or 4? Can’t remember) horses died at THE BREEDER’s CUP the day Go for Wand broke down. You can bloody well bet those horses were given the best care possible by their connections. The horses of Luck were just, well, unlucky.

    I never name a pet Lucky. And if they come with that name, I change it!

  7. I have such a low opinion of PETA at this point that I wouldn’t be surprised if she was dosing the horses specifically so they could break down and she could do that PETA thing they do. Which is remove animals from the trauma of life so that interacting with humans won’t further damage them. Or some dang philosophy of that sort that I can barely ken.

    Mostly I think those people are nutters and if this were a century ago, they’d be the ones removed from the trauma of life and safely enclosed in the womb of some nurturing institution.

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