Omak Suicide Race — Murder on Horses

It has been called “The Deadliest Horse Race in the World”.

Each year in mid summer, a small town in Eastern Washington State, called Omak, proudly promotes an event named “The World Famous Suicide Race,” considered the marquee event at the four-day Omak Stampede rodeo.

Omak straddles the border of the Colville Reservation, home of almost every racer, horse owner, and trainer.

Town officials claim this event (created as a draw for the town’s annual rodeo) is a celebration of history and tradition. In reality, it’s murder on horses. The race seriously injures and kills horses.

Over a span of four days and nights, riders repeatedly run their horses off Suicide Hill with a 120-foot galloping start. At breakneck speed, the horses then meet the Okanogan River. Entry into the river is narrow, causing bottlenecks and horrendous multiple-horse spills. Horse and rider then face a treacherous and often panicked swim about the length of a football field to reach the other side. The final grueling sprint is a 500-foot uphill climb to the finish line.[1]

Always the second weekend in August, each race awards five points to the first-place finisher, four to the second, and so on; the overall winner clinches the King of the Hill title on Sunday.

FIRST LEG — DOWNHILL DEATH DROP

Anyone who has ever watched a Western movie will have noticed that when a horse is asked by his rider to carry him down a steep decline, even in hot pursuit, how carefully the horse proceeds, measuring every step.

After a galloping start in the Omak Suicide Race, horses are whipped to make them “charge” down “Suicide Hill” an almost complete vertical drop of approximately 225 feet at a 62 degree angle, much like a steep staircase.

Studies carried out regarding equine vision show that because of the position of the horse’s eyes, which are set wide apart on either side of the head, there is blind spot directly in front of the forehead. Researchers believe that this “blind field” is the width of the horse.[2]

This means when a horse is catapulted down a sharp decline such as “Suicide Hill” he cannot judge where to land his feet and will not realize where the ground is until it comes rushing up beneath him. Horses are also known to lose their footing and somersault head over heel down the hill.

Since he cannot see the horses ahead of him he may crash into them. Others trip over or collide with falling horses.

The numerous any injuries that occur in pile ups on Suicide Hill are the leading cause of death in the Omak Suicide Race. These include a broken leg, fractured knee, fractured pelvis, broken shoulder, and heart attacks from overexertion. It is also a mentally terrifying experience for the horse.

The above are not only expected in the Omak Suicide Race, but also heralded as part of the excitement.

Omak Suicide Race horses plunge into rivier. Image / Fark.
Omak Suicide Race horses plunge into rivier. Image / Fark.

SECOND LEG — THE SWIM

At the bottom of the downhill death dash, the horses who have survived the first leg are immediately faced with the rocky Okanogan River and a frenzied swim across it.

Horses who have already sustained injuries, panic or get caught up in the reins, and drown. Some horses land in the rocky waters sideways having lost their balance and direction, and in an attempt to right themselves so they can swim, wrench their necks and backs, sustaining further trauma.

Horses are not natural swimmers and tend to panic temporarily when they cannot immediately feel the ground beneath them.

When horses swim they will employ a trotting motion and “a breathing pattern characterized by brief inspiration and prolonged expiration.” The difficulty in breathing when swimming is probably due to the pressure applied to the chest and abdomen of the horse by the water and the fact that the horse does not have the rhythm of body and abdominal movements that serve to help the breathing process” when he is on land.

“[It] should be noted that swimming also results in relatively high blood pressures compared with galloping and that some horses have experienced nose bleeding after bout(s) of swimming. As such, swimming is not recommended for horses with respiratory disease and it is also contraindicated in horses with back injuries.”[3]

Because there is no support from the ground and there is little or no resistance from the water, the amount of energy required to move forward in the water is significantly greater than that required to move forward on land. It takes approximately four complete swimming strokes to cover the same distance as one galloping stride on land. Based on this approximately 500 yards is about equal to a one mile gallop.

As stated before, notwithstanding the physical dangers, the experience is mentally harrowing for the horse.

Horses whipped across deep waters in the Omak Suicide Race.
Horses whipped across deep waters in the Omak Suicide Race.

THIRD AND FINAL LEG — THE UPHILL SPRINT

Already terrified, exhausted and possibly injured, the horses face the third and final leg of the Omak Suicide Race which is a punishing and backbreaking uphill sprint.

When a horse’s gait quickens to a gallop, his breathing is linked to the rhythm of his hoof beats. During high-intensity exercise, this rhythmic breathing lowers oxygen intake, producing a buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide (CO2) concentration, causing fatigue and cramping, much like when a human athlete gets a “stitch.”

To bring the body back to normal, CO2 moves to the bloodstream and is expelled from the lungs. Lactic acid is neutralized in various organs, including muscles. With continuous overexertion, the recovery process is disturbed. In this situation, acid buildup, called acidosis, further reduces oxygen flow to the muscles, creating long-lasting fatigue — and [permanent] muscle damage.[4]

MENTAL PUNISHMENT

The Omak Suicide Race takes place in four heats over four days.

Like humans, horses are imprinted with every experience they have encountered since birth. They are highly sensitive, instinctual animals, and much like us, think about not only what they have been through but also about what they may be about to endure.

Horses have sharper and broader hearing ranges than humans. Loud noises are painful to a horse’s ears. Their sense of smell is also acute. Horses sense or “smell” the fear in other horses, which further perpetuates their own.

Their sensitivity to sound and smells is why they become hard to handle when they are subjected to surroundings and activities they are unaccustomed to and receiving conflicting messages from their senses. The tumult of such an occasion as the Omak Suicide Race must be an assault on their senses that is debilitating and petrifying.

MARKETING GIMMICK OR TRADITION?

First run in 1935, the Suicide Race was the brainchild of Claire Pentz, publicity chairman for the Stampede, after failing to attract big crowds with boxing, trained zebras and stock car racing.

Stampede organizers currently contend that the Suicide Race has roots in Native American tradition and claim it is a customary rite-of-passage, but as you just read, an Anglo conceived the race as a publicity stunt.

The race wasn’t the only thing “created” by white man; the very invention of a Colville Tribes unit is recent.[5]

The races that used to occur among Native tribes of the area were longer-distance, cross-country races on horses bred to thrive on the hard, rocky, desert terrain of Eastern Washington. This is not comparable to flinging a long-legged thoroughbred or quarter horse down a 62-degree slope in the dark of night.

A native rite-of-passage traditionally refers to a ritual or ceremony indicating the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Historically, Suicide Race rider’s ages range from 18 to well into the 30’s. Many have ridden in the race year after year seeking cash and popularity, not cultural fulfillment.[6]

DEATH COUNT

Animals 24-7 report that at least two horses died in the 2018 Omak Suicide race, bringing the known toll since 1983 to 25, “with many more suspected but undocumented”, and no record existing of injuries and deaths from the first “Suicide Race” in 1935 through 1982.[7]

IT JUST WON’T STOP

PeTA has run letter-writing campaigns. HSUS has documented it but unable to accomplish anything past that. That was dangerous enough.

In 1993, the Northwest’s PAWS, or Progressive Animal Welfare Society, tried a more robust tactic, filing a lawsuit that alleged organizers harm horses for profit, but a Superior Court judge threw out the case. In 1996, a PAWS member sued the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office and the rodeo for roughing him up when he videotaped a horse being euthanized; the suit settled for $64,500.[8]

From 2005 to 2009 The Horse Fund ran a campaign to end the Omak Suicide Race, initially focusing on its sponsors. When they went away, Omak got more. Our investigators were harassed, hotel rooms broken into and trashed. Mrs. Farrell received numerous death threats, all which were reported. Not a single law enforcement agency took it seriously — or took any action.

That was then. This is now. Social media has revolutionized advocacy. There have also been changes (for the better) in the law. We are prepared to take this on once again. And we will win — for the horses.

WHAT ABOUT TRADITION?

No caring society subjects another living being to such blatant cruelty and death in the name of culture or entertainment.

There comes a time when we as a people must move forward, and leave behind those acts and events unacceptable in a civilized society, regardless of how steeped in tradition. In this case the tradition so-called is manufactured tradition and means nothing to anyone at all.

CONCLUSION

Horses forced to take part in the Omak Stampede’s Suicide Race suffer enormous physical pain and suffering by way of broken bones, irreparable tendon damage from falls and collisions, and long-term muscle damage from overexertion. “Suicide horses” die from broken necks, strokes, heart attacks and gruesomely by drowning.

These horses do not participate willingly. It is not their intention to suffer. It is not their intention to die.

The Omak Suicide Race is murder on horses.

VIDEO (Mute / Lower Volume)

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[1] Omak Suicide Race at PAWS, https://www.paws.org/about/paws/history/omak/.
[2] New Insights into Horse Vision, Equine Veterinary Journal (1999) 31(5) 384-390, http://www.equinecentre.com.au/health_misc_vision.shtml.
[3] Horse Training Using Swimming and Heart Rates, http://www.equus-sport.com.
[4] When Champs Get Cramps, by Darek Gondor, http://www.allabouthorses.com.
[5] Seattle Met, https://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2017/7/17/the-kings-of-suicide-hill-inside-the-omak-stampede.
[6] See 1.
[7] Animals 24-7, https://www.animals24-7.org/2018/09/14/omak-suicide-race-2018-more-dead-horses-kill-the-messenger/.
[8] See 5.

Edited 8/10/2019 5:30 EST

BLM kills 14 wild horses during Triple B Roundup

Grey Mustang Stallion by Randy Harris. See randyharrisphoto.com.

Federal land managers say 14 wild horses were euthanized during a roundup in northeastern Nevada.

The roundup at the Triple B complex north of Ely gathered more than 800 horses to be removed and shipped to holding facilities.

The Bureau of Land Management says the roundups are necessary because there are more horses than the land can sustain.

Source: Nevada Public Radio »

This is not so. There are not more horses than the land can sustain. Read on.

FEDERAL LANDS — A Perspective

The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres, about 28% of the 2.27 billion acres of land in the United States.

Four major federal land management agencies administer 610.1 million acres of this land . They are the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), and National Park Service (NPS) in the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the Forest Service (FS) in the Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the Department of Defense (excluding the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) administers 11.4 million acres in the United States , consisting of military bases, training ranges, and more. Numerous other agencies administer the remaining federal acreage.

The BLM manages 248.3 million acres of public land and administers about 700 million acres of federal subsurface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM has a multiple-use, sustained-yield mandate that supports a variety of activities and programs, as does the FS, which currently manages 192.9 million acres.

Most FS lands are designated national forests. Wildfire protection is increasingly important for both agencies.

The FWS manages 89.1 million acres of the U.S. total, primarily to conserve and protect animals and plants. The National Wildlife Refuge System includes wildlife refuges, waterfowl production areas, and wildlife coordination units.

In 2015, the NPS managed 79.8 million acres in 408 diverse units to conserve lands and resources and make them available for public use. Activities that harvest or remove resources from NPS lands generally are prohibited.

Numerous issues affecting federal land management are continuously before Congress.

These issues include the extent of federal ownership and whether to decrease, maintain, or increase the amount of federal holdings; the condition of currently owned federal infrastructure and lands and the priority of their maintenance versus new acquisitions; and the optimal balance between land use and protection, and whether federal lands should be managed primarily to benefit the nation as a whole or to benefit the localities and states.

WE’VE BEEN THERE

Various individuals who work and volunteer for The Fund for Horses (The Horse Fund) have viewed great pieces of public lands managed by the BLM over the course of 15 years. They viewed these public lands by both helicopter and light plane.

It is virtually impossible to get across to anyone who have not seen the vastness of these areas just how immense federal lands are.

You can fly for large chunks of time — sometimes hours — and see absolutely nothing but land as far in any direction as your eye will take you.

A huge chunk of federal lands managed by the BLM are where our wild horses and burros roam.

ROOM FOR OUR WILD ONES

How is it possible there is room for cattle ranchers, miners, drillers, and all the rest, yet not space for our wild horses and burros, somewhere — no matter how remote? We do not care.

Our wild horses and burros would acclimate themselves. It may be unsettling at first. However they would survive.

It would be much better for our wild horses and burros to remain free roaming, even if it meant being captured and re-released, no matter where it was, than being robbed of their precious freedoms, breaking up their bands and confining them to holding facilities often in unsafe and deplorable conditions. Certainly anything must be preferable to submitting them to a brutal and terrifying death by slaughter. Castrating their males. Yanking the ovaries out their females.

We asked BLM personnel why this was not a workable solution, one that could surely offend no one and possibly delight quite a few.

The BLM spokesperson replied that the Department of Interior would not want wild horses and burros removed from their designated, herd management areas and moved to vast open spaces where the BLM might find it difficult or impossible to track and “manage them”. That they told us would be in direct opposition to the 1971 The Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971.

Not so.

At any rate, it seems obvious to us that they could simply do fly overs (like the ones we went on) once or twice a year to see where the bands were and report on their size and condition.

Certainly this is doable and good economics. Would this not also benefit America’s public lands? Wild horses and burros actually refurbish the land, not destroy it leaving it barren the way say, cattle do.

Mostly importantly of all, this would mean no more deaths like those of the 14 murdered Triple B wild horses. At least out in the wild, our mustangs and burros have a fighting chance to survive.

HELP

At long last we finally won some introductions, and caught the ear of some valuable people at the Department of Interior. They have been much more receptive to our ideas than the BLM have been.  Please chip in with a contribution, any amount, to help keep us in nation’s capitol and active on behalf of our wild horses and burros, domestic horses, racehorses and walking horses. There’s a lot to do!

Click to Donate

Thank you for your generosity and support.

Field Guide to Horse Fencing

Horses grazing near a fence.

by SISTINE CAPOY

AMONG THE MANY investments you will make when rearing horses, fencing will be one of the most prominent ones. Fencing is a major investment, thus it requires careful planning before any form of action is taken. Fencing is crucial to keep horses on the property and unwanted animals off the property. There are also many other nuances to fencing as it should be constructed to aid facility management by allowing controlled grazing and segregating groups of horses according to age, sex and value.

For some, fencing is a do-it-yourself project while others prefer to hire a professional contractor to construct and install the fence. Regardless of how you choose to install your fence, make sure you have a plan that will guide you through the steps of constructing a good horse fence.

Good planning attributes for all fence types

Planning includes more than simply selecting a fence. It involves the aesthetics, efficiency, management practices, safety, proposed gates, fence lines, paths, traffic routes for horses and handlers, routes for suppliers and access to mowing equipment. A good plan also involves the financial aspects of fence construction.

A good fence should be at least 54 inches above ground level with round corners. Make sure that the top of the fence is at withers heights to ensure that horses don’t flip over the fence. A 20 cm clearance at the bottom will leave enough room to avoid a hoof getting trapped, and will discourage a horse from reaching under the fence for grass.

Fence post selection

The strength of a fence come from the posts, hence they are the foundation of the fence. Posts need to be strong and properly installed. Traditionally, wood is used for fence posts but some horse owners use concrete to set corner assemblies when using wooden posts. Others choose pressure-treated lumber as high-quality wood may be scarce of very expensive in their area. This manufactured lumber is treated with chemicals that resist rot, fungi, and insects. Look for treated lumber posts that are certified for in-ground use.

One con of using wooden posts is that it is time-consuming and requires hard work when installing the fence, but this hard work is not a waste of time because the wood has a highly sustainable.

Gates

Often, gates are made of wood and metal tubes because they should be as strong as the fence. Gates shouldn’t have diagonal cross-bracing because the narrow angles can trap legs, feet, and possibly heads. Gates and fences should have been equal in height, to discourage horses from reaching and attempting to jump over the gate, but wide enough to allow easy passage of vehicles and tractors.

Often, gates are located toward the middle of a fence line where horses get in and out of the enclosure. By placing the gate in the middle, horses don’t get trapped in a corner near the gate.

Safety

The inner side of the fence must be smooth — regardless of the fence material and design. Rough posts can cause injury to horses that run down the fence line. To avoid this exposure you might use an electric fence wire to create a psychological as well as a physical barrier.

Visibility also plays a major role in safety. Horses can easily see a white plank fence of wood or PVC post, but the wires are almost invisible to unruly horses or horses who are in a state of panic.

Barriers

Barriers are the functional parts of fences and are made of different materials. When deciding on which barrier to using, keep in mind that it should be safe, easy to maintain and aesthetically pleasing. Here are the most well-known barriers:

1. Wood board fence: most commonly used, low in cost and maintenance and are the most aesthetically pleasing.
2. PVC board fence: is liked by many horse owners because it is low in maintenance and gives the appearance of a wooden board fence.
3. Smooth wire: these are basically barb wires without the barbs and are the least expensive of them all.
4. V-mesh: Is praised by horse owners as the best fence material. However, its biggest downside is cost as it is the most expensive of them all.
5. Electric Fencing: these fences are both a barrier and dispense a shock that keeps horses within the enclosure.

In closing

In order to build a strong fence, a well thought out plan must be in place even before the first post is even placed in the ground. Thoughtful fence planning and layout will help make daily chores and routines more efficient. Fences differ from facility to facility, however all fences must meet the same goals and objectives: provide a strong barrier and safety. For optimal result, horse owners may combine electric-fence systems with other materials such as wood, PVC plastic, wire mesh, or high-tensile.


AUTHOR BIO

Sistine Capoy works as a content specialist in Horse Fence Direct and a pet owner.

Three more chuckwagon horses killed totalling 6

Chuckwagon Racing kills 3 more horses totalling 6 altogether.

Three horses were killed at Sunday night’s chuckwagon races as the 10-day Stampede wrapped.

The 2019 Calgary Stampede is now tied for second place as the deadliest year for chuckwagon horses in more than three decades.

In total six chuckwagon horses were killed — four of them from the same driver’s team.

The papers say the horses died, like it was their fault. No. They were killed, and the Calgary Stampede could care less or they would put a stop to it themselves. It appears to be little more to them than an unfortunate round of bad publicity.

In the meantime, the Calgary Stampede declined requests to provide the organization’s own details on the killings through the years.

The most complete records available publicly are from the Vancouver Humane Society, which has added up the tally since 1986 using data from the Calgary Humane Society and media reports.

The Vancouver Humane Society says the total tally includes:

72 chuckwagon horses (some reports say 73)
Nine calves
Five steers
Four bucking horses
One wild ride horse
One show horse
One bull

Predictably the Stampede trotted out the most insipid of responses to the chuckwagon horse killings, that they are going to review what happened and see what they can do. Save your breath. We can tell you right now what you are going to do — nothing.

“This is as upsetting to us as it is to our community, and is challenging for us. The Stampede’s commitment to the safety of animals and the conditions of their participation in our events is paramount to our values and brand integrity,” the statement said.

Not a great time to be talking about your brand and your values.

If the Calgary Stampede had an ounce of integrity, they would put an end to chuckwagon racing. What’s stopping them?  Business, baby. Business.

In 2018, the CBC did an in depth look at the Stampede’s business operations.

The Calgary Stampede makes and spends $150M per year, says a 2018 CBC article.

In common speech, the phrase “Calgary Stampede” can mean a lot of things but within the organization it refers primarily to the non-profit entity at the centre of all the various operations.

But the non-profit organization is just one part of the broader operation. It’s the hub around which everything else turns, including for-profit enterprises and a charitable arm. Read more »

Money talks, bullshit walks, the saying goes. Or cheap talk will get you nowhere, while money will persuade people to do as they like.