Hollywood has made horses look powerful and heroic, but the recent equine deaths behind the scenes of HBO's racehorse drama "Luck" underscore their fragility.
Three accidents have resulted in euthanasia. The latest injury didn't involve any cameras -- a horse reared up as it was being led back to the stable and injured itself. The state racing board's medical director told the Associated Press that stable accidents are actually common, but the production company has agreed to stop filming during an investigation.
Reactions from animal rights groups like PETA and online readers have verged on outrage. Yet a goodly number of Web reactions come from empathetic horse wranglers, who know how easily a horse can be distressed and damaged. But, despite critical affection for the drama, ratings for "Luck" have been low. Protests might affect its already minimal audience, although one commenter cynically speculated that the suspensions might be a bid for attention.
Outrage, understanding: Web reaction
As with any incident involving animal deaths, some call for the show's total shutdown. "HBO halts production of Luck. They should shut it down for good. #animalabuse #HBO huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/14/luc…," came one tweet. Commenter EJ echoed that sentiment: "I will not watch this show since I feel that horse racing is cruel punishment for these beautiful creatures," wrote EJ. "I hope they shut the show down for good."
Other comments to the news report blamed Hollywood's working conditions overall. "Hollywood has a long and very awful history of mistreatment of animals," BobbyM wrote. "[T]he business is run by a lot of ruthless business people; they treat most of the real people who work for the studios badly (big stars are not real people BTW), and they treat animals worse. I know people who work in production and it is common to see animals struck if they fail to hit a mark (in plain speak an acting dog will often be hit if it messes up a scene - think of all the times an actor blows a scene and imagine someone coming over and braining them with a club as incentive to get the text take right)." BobbyM gave the example of Michael Cimino's "Heaven's Gate" (1980), famed for its excesses which included animal abuse accusations.
Horse wranglers, though, see the risks as all too familiar. "Injuries like this are common," commented Pat of Phoenix, Ariz. "Horses can be very high strung especially race horses. A friend of mine had a very young colt that flipped over playing and broke its neck. I had horses for over forty years and honestly they are much more fragile than they look."
Tira of Westborough, Mass agreed: "Having worked w/ thoroughbreds for many years I can attest to their fragility. it's a great shame to lose yet another animal, but sadly, that it is the third to die durring [sic] shooting isn't out of the norm. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't take much to hurt or kill one of the most beautiful creatures on this planet. I'm pretty sure nothing outside of not removing this animal from her stall would have prevented this from happening. What a shame. As for PETA, they will never understand."
Publicity attempt or learning moment
Rand March of Jersey City called the shutdown a bid for attention. "If the accident didn't happen during filming, rehearsal or racing, but when the horse was simply being walked, calling for the suspension of filming is really a call for publicity. Horses need to be exercized [sic] daily and sometimes accidents do happen. It's always a tragedy when a beautiful animal dies, but not filming isn't going to prevent an accident not caused by filming."
Daniel of Livingston, N.J., pointed out the incident would be a good opportunity to learn about animals: "I wonder, considering all of the criticism of cruelty to horses, do any of the complainers actually ride or know anything about horses, other that what they see on TV. Horses are beautiful, strong animals, and are subject to many outside distractions that cause a reaction, sometimes resulting in injury or death to rider or horse,' he wrote. "Still, these are rare occurrences and are considered accidents. We learn from them and go on. I personally have lost two animals in 40 years, due to accidents, which were totally unexpected and unpreventable, but occurred due to the horses reaction. So instead of complaining about cruelty I suggest you all at least volunteer at a local track or farm and learn about them first.Just my opinion."
Dalton of Des Moines, Iowa pointed out, "Thoroughbreds are genetically prone to injury given their build. They carry a thousand pounds or more on a leg bones quite a bit smaller than ours. I love racing, hate the injuries, but they are a part of it. And plenty of horses get injured in the pasture, too."
Another commenter noted common racing practices. "I lived in Kentucky and learn about racing. Breeders take the foals from their mothers and pin their legs to straighten them if it looks like they can run so they look better for auction. It has become a sport for profit instead of character which is why it is declining in popularity. There are beautiful horse farms for sale everywhere there. So much for the days of great racing with hopes of a triple crown with horses like Secretariat and Affirmed."
Can deaths change "Luck"?
At least one lauded "Luck" for its focus on the racetrack mainstays. "I'm upset this show has been put on hold, as it captured how delicate and powerful these creatures are," writes Leftyalways. "Horses can't stand still for long periods of time and are 'wild' by nature, so it's not surprising this accident happened."
The behind-the-scenes drama should translate into a storyline shift onscreen, according Californiagirl of San Diego: "Maybe HBO should just change the plot of the movie and have Dustin Hoffman play a good guy trying to gain control of a racetrack so he can save all the horses being killed."