Second Event Horse Dies in Europe; PETA Calls for End to Eventing

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Is eventing too hard on horses? The subject comes up once again as two horses in two weeks died on cross-country day at two European horse trials. (image by FlyingTiger)

A second event horse in Europe has died during a competition.

Houghton International Horse Trials in Norfolk, England has published a press statement after a Dutch rider’s horse died following cross-country on Saturday:

“It is with great sadness that we announce that Cavalor Telstar, number 23, owned and ridden by Raf Kooremans, collapsed and died shortly after jumping a good clear cross country round with just a few time penalties in the CICO*** while competing at The Houghton International Horse Trials in Norfolk at approx. 12:10 on 25th May 2013. The horse was experienced and had been jumping well.”

Telstar is the second horse in as many weeks to die on cross-country day at a European event. Less than ten days ago, King Artus, the German Holsteiner who was part of the 2012 London Olympic team gold medal team, died of what is being called an aortic tear at an event at Wiesbaden, Germany.

Telstar’s death may complicate negative publicity already circulating in Europe after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) launched a campaign critical of eventing in Germany last week.

Jennifer Kirchner, PETA spokesperson, has been quoted by the German Press Agency and St Georg magazine as saying that ”The tragic death of King Artus prove(s) that these events are too demanding for the horses. Horses are sensitive animals and to make them jump such dangerous obstacles under time pressure is animal abuse”.

On May 21, PETA called for an end to the sport of eventing. In an announcement on the organization’s PETA Germany web site, the group wrote: “PETA urges all riders to be aware of the dangers that await them and their beloved animals. Every horse owner should (hold) the welfare of his animals at heart, so we ask all eventers, to think carefully whether they want to risk the life of their own and their animals…In addition, we ask all spectators to refrain from visiting such events.”

PETA recently failed in an effort to charge the owners and rider of the dressage star Totilas with cruelty in the way the horse was trained and housed.

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is attacking horse sports on several fronts, notably racing and dressage, with the addition of eventing this week. (Eva Rinaldi Flickr photo)

Following the German star horse’s death, rider Dirk Schrade wrote on his web site: “We all are deeply shocked and speechless about the tragic loss of King today. At this stage it seems impossible to describe the pain that we all feel about having him no longer with us. There will never be the right words but the countless memories of this outstanding horse with this wonderful soul will remain forever.”

Schrade’s web site created a moving memorial page to King Artus, which details many of the quirks in the 17-year-old horse’s character and behavior at home and at events. King Artus had been with Schrade since 2008.

Kooremans told the Dutch Hoesflag web site that he had jumped off his horse after the finish of the cross-country phase at Houghton and was loosening the girth when the horse suddenly collapsed.

Nina Tuytelaers-Kooremans, wife of the Dutch rider, commented on the Dutch HorsUs web site that Telstar was the only horse she and her husband brought to England last week and that he had enjoyed their undivided attention for five days before his death. “Raf and Telstar never had a refusal together in their impressive career,” she wrote. She noted that the horse had been with her husband for the past 13 years.

–by Fran Jurga

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PETA “Blazes” a New Trail at the Kentucky Derby as Congress Receives Proposed Racing Medication Legislation

PETA at the Derby via THE JURGA REPORT

Blazing billboards! People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is bringing negative attention to Saturday's Kentucky Derby with this billboard. Some in Washington may agree; new anti-doping legislation has been proposed.

Mint juleps? Twin spires? Big hats? Those are hardly the images that this billboard designed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) evokes but that’s what you will see if you are in Louisville, Kentucky this week.

The outspoken media experts at PETA have created an image of a horse with a hypodermic needle for a blaze running down its face.

Visitors to Churchill Downs will see a stark reminder of the dark side of horse racing as PETA’s mobile billboard is driven up and down Central Avenue and Ninth Street in front of the racetrack’s entrance all day, every day, beginning on Thursday and extending through Saturday, the day of the Kentucky Derby, the organization promises.

The billboard was designed by Temple University graphic design student Dana Mulranen and bears the headline: “Drugs. Breakdowns. Death. Horse Racing Is a Bad Bet”. PETA hopes the billboard will draw attention to its continuing protest against the use of both therapeutic and illegal drugs that they say the racing industry uses to keep injured horses running.

“The biggest tradition in thoroughbred racing isn’t fancy hats or cocktails—it’s illegal drugs that cause countless tragic breakdowns and the deaths of dozens of horses on racetracks every week,” says PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo. “PETA’s message to people who care about animals is that when it comes to horse races, don’t attend ‘em, don’t watch ‘em, and don’t bet on ‘em.”

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A PETA protest in the winner’s circle at the 2012 Belmont Stakes (third leg of the Triple Crown, which begins with the Kentucky Derby), caught Bob Costas off-guard. A woman was holding aloft a sign reading “Ban Horse Dopers” with the PETA logo, just out of sight in this clip.

In a touch of classic irony, the US Congress may soon be deliberating new legislation to preclude drugs from racing. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act would provide the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) with authority to clean up the sport and enforce anti-doping standards in races with simulcast wagering.

USADA is a non-governmental organization that is designated as the official anti-doping agency for the U.S. Olympics and works with sports leagues to strengthen clean competition policies.

U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Ed Whitfield (R-Ken.) and Joe Pitts (R-Penn.) drafted the legislation, which they say would end doping in horseracing and kick cheaters out of the sport.

PETA and Congressional delegations on the same side of an issue? Don’t bet on it, but remember that when it comes to horse racing, anything can happen. And probably will.

To learn more: Check out the Water, Hay, Oats Alliance web site.

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Newsjacked! Rachel Alexandra Replaces Totilas as PETA’s Equine Welfare Target

The Jurga Report Newsjacked Rachel Alexandra and Totilas

In public relations seminars, they call it “newsjacking”. It’s the technique of taking a top story in the news and repurposing it to promote your product, service, book, political candidate or cause. You use publicity to insert yourself into the news stream surrounding an event, a celebrity, or a trend.

And guess what? It works. Just ask People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Here’s how you do it: Become a combination newshound/social media maven. Using every tool in the book, cultivate a motivated following by targeting people who will likely be sympathetic and eager to share. Don’t waste a lot of energy pushing the issue right now; be patient. You are waiting for your moment.

Sooner or later, something will happen in the news that brings an aspect–even a distant aspect–of your cause into the public eye. That’s when you pounce. You use the attention of the public on the celebrity to insert yourself into the news. People may or may not agree with you, but you have their attention, your name is steamed into the general mix of news about the celebrity or the story, and your fundraising coffers, web site stats, Facebook likes or name recognition ride the wave…until the next newsjack opportunity comes around.

If you’re good enough at it, you’ll be quoted by mainstream journalists who want to paint a balanced picture by tipping a hat to the opposition, you’ll be invited to appear on media panels and links to your website, followers on Twitter, and “likes” on Facebook will bloom. And the next time the issue comes up, you’ll be on a reporter’s speed dial.

I hate to say it, but this technique is not only widely taught to public relations firms and journalists–it’s used widely used, and successfully. In fact, it’s a motivated form at the very base of a public relations plan, although a professional will cultivate press relations throughout the slow periods, and provide backup or access to experts in the field.

So don’t throw too many stones at PETA when they pounce. They take their lessons from political activists, and from every other would-be persuader on the Internet who leap-frogs the traditional, respected process of public relations and issue-based advocacy.

Sometimes, when a news story breaks, I wonder how long it will take for the newsjackers to come on the scene. Inevitably, they do, although the horse world has been a little slow to catch on. And newsjacking has positive benefits as well as opportunistic ones, if you consider that the mainstream media is not always looking at the sensitive issues that often lie just beneath the surface of a news story. Newsjackers can sometimes add depth to a story that news producers and journalists haven’t even considered.

When triple world champion dressage star Totilas made his high-priced move from the Netherlands to Germany, his circle of fame widened, even as his number of competitions–and his success–shrank. There were training issues, rider illness, minor injuries and a long list of reasons why Totilas wasn’t at the shows. But, at the same time, he emerged as the poster boy for the elite Euro-equestrian lifestyle.

Photos and videos of the lavish stables where Totilas lived during training with rider Matthias Rath were not leaked. They were taken by professional photographers and videographers who were invited in by the horse’s owners; they believed they were doing the right thing in sharing access to the expert care they were giving the champion. I was even allowed to report on his corrective shoes; a change in hoofwear is not generally news that trainers want to share with the public.

But PETA saw the way that the public gobbled up any and all news about the horse. Where others saw a horse in the lap of luxury, PETA saw a horse caught in a tangled web of human greed that violated his welfare. Totilas couldn’t gallop in a field. He couldn’t cavort with pasturemates. His huge boxstall was more like a prison cell, in the eyes of PETA. And they showed photos of him training in what some would call the “rollkur” frame.

PETA newsjacked Totilas. Overlooking all the obvious horses in need in Germany and throughout the world, PETA knew what it was doing as it used a celebrity horse to question both how stallions are managed and how dressage horses are trained. Not only did PETA newsjack him, the organization filed a welfare-violation lawsuit against his owners in October.

In December, a Frankfurt prosecutor launched an official investigation of Matthias Rath, his father (and coach) Klaus-Martin Rath and the co-owners of the horse: Matthias Rath’s Olympian stepmother, Ann-Kathrin Linsenhoff, and German sport horse impressario Paul Schockemöhle.

The ink on the German newspaper hadn’t even dried before PETA’s
USA office turned its guns to the horse that shared the
top headlines with Totilas back in 2009-2010.

When Totilas was slightly injured earlier this week during a breeding collection, it showed up, in all places, on a vegan blog in Germany, and on the PETA Germany Facebook page.

PETA, by the way, has a USA Facebook page with 1.6 million “likes”. The highest-liked Facebook page I could find in the horse world was the American Quarter Horse Association, with less than half the “likes” of PETA.

But what PETA does not have today is the upper hand; the German newspaper Die Welt published news that no evidence of abuse had been found.

The ink on the German newspaper hadn’t even dried before PETA’s USA office turned its guns to the horse that shared the top headlines with Totilas back in 2009-2010. Rachel Alexandra was a three-year-old filly who beat both the colts her age and older, and earned the title of 2009 Horse of the Year. She and Totilas were the talk of horse sport fans on both sides of the Atlantic f0r the better part of two years.

For one special week, they shared the headlines: Rachel Alexandra’s retirement to Stonestreet Farms in Kentucky was announced the same week that Totilas, under then-rider Edward Gal of The Netherlands, was winning all three gold medals in dressage at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

Who knows? Their horse vans may have crossed paths on the interstate in Kentucky as Totilas left town, and Rachel returned to begin a breeding career. Now they are again sharing headlines as PETA dictates the mare’s future: “Thou shall not breed her again,” is the edict from PETA.

Meanwhile, Stonestreet hasn’t said that they have any intention of breeding her again. Nor have her veterinarians made a statement with their recommendations on her breeding future. It is entirely possible they will give her a green light to be bred again. Then again, they might not.

As soon as PETA filed the lawsuit, Matthias Rath’s web posts ended.

As someone whose blog requires a close monitoring of issues related to horse health–whether of celebrity horses or the forgotten, neglected ones–I can tell you what I have observed to be the effects of PETA’s newsjacking of Totilas. Before PETA came on the scene, Matthias Rath (or his PR team) published news about the rider, the horse, the campaign on a regular basis. Photographers and video teams, as mentioned before, showed us the inside of his stall, the riding arena, and his performances because they were invited in by the owners.

As soon as PETA filed suit, Matthias Rath’s web posts ended. The photos stopped. There were no more videos. Matthias’s last web share was on October 8th, just before PETA’s announcement that it was filing charges.

Fast forward to Valentine’s Day. When Rachel Alexandra was transferred to Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital to be treated for complications of giving birth to a filly, both the hospital and her owners, Stonestreet Farms, began an almost-unprecedented news blitz, sharing details and photos of her condition and care. In the beginning, the updates were daily; as her condition improved, they were spaced further apart. There was even a press conference.

The Jurga Report shared many of the updates, and the response of the mare’s fans and friends was tremendous. They loved being in on the news. Especially, they loved the photos, which allowed them to see the mare, and that went a long, long to inspire confidence.

Now what? Today’s announcement by PETA questioning Rachel Alexandra’s future as a broodmare could be ignored by Stonestreet Farms, or it could have compel them, like the Raths, to lock the gates and pack away the cameras.

If Stonestreet and Team Totilas had not been so open and generous with information, PETA wouldn’t even know that Rachel was hospitalized or that Totilas was “tormented” (PETA’s word) by his rider’s choice of training techniques.

PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo stated amicably in the press release, “PETA hopes that Stonestreet Farm will agree that Rachel Alexandra’s well-being is more important than her value as a broodmare.”  It’s not an edict, exactly; it’s a hope, but a shot across the bow to warn that PETA is watching.

They’re watching because Stonestreet Farms is allowing all of us to watch. PETA undercover agents don’t have to sneak into Rood + Riddle (as if they could!) and use concealed cameras to photograph her in her stall; last night Stonestreet provided a high-resolution image of the mare that they can scrutinize.

PETA picked a fight with Totilas, and didn’t win. Now they have chosen another famous horse to use as bait for publicity, and the Rachel Alexandra team is not playing along, so far. PETA may be newsjacking Rachel’s story as other horses suffer openly but they did win one battle: they were able to get me–and other writers–to write about them, yet again.

Credits: Photo of Rachel Alexandra courtesy of Stonestreet Farms; photo of Matthias Rath and Totilas courtesy of CHIO Aachen 2011.

Article and image © 2013 Fran Jurga.

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