Why Are Horses Jumping off a Cliff?!

Perhaps no other animal exemplifies the American West more than the horse. These noble equines played an integral role in the development and expansion of our country as we know it today. Yet nearly 250 years after its founding, horses are still being used, abused and exploited by humans in ways that should have gone the way of the Pony Express.

An event that exemplifies horse exploitation is the “World Famous Suicide Race,” a deadly display that is part of the annual Omak Stampede held in Washington state. The race sends horses careening downhill in an almost vertical 210-foot drop to the Okanogan River. Horses frequently end up falling down the steep slope after losing their footing or colliding with another horse. Some have had to be euthanized after sustaining catastrophic injuries, and others have even drowned.

But the ordeal isn’t over for those who manage to make it to the bottom of the cliff still standing. The frightened horses must next swim about 100 yards across the river to reach the other side and then make a final sprint to the finish line.

Groups of horses are forced to participate in this sadistic spectacle every day—for four days.

Defended as a rite of passage for young Native Americans from the nearby Colville Reservation, the Suicide Race has little to do with Native culture or tradition. The vast majority of Native tribes foster a deep reverence for nature and animals. Putting horses at risk of fatal injuries is the antithesis of that. The race’s origin wasn’t based on Native culture; it was nothing more than a promotion to attract visitors to the stampede and, more pragmatically, to increase revenue to the town of Omak.

The race has been condemned by animal protection organizations and caring people around the world. The Wall Street Journal called it “The Race Where Horses Die.” Yet local officials, who apparently are indifferent to animal suffering, remain unmoved. The article revealed that former Omak Mayor Dale Sparber brazenly admitted to setting up his inbox so that any e-mail messages containing the words “suicide race” were automatically sent to his delete folder. He said that he received 15 to 20 messages a day from people opposed to the race.

Horses are sensitive animals who tend to be skittish. They naturally congregate in large numbers, graze together in meadows, and trot great distances. When forced to participate in egregiously cruel and frightening events like the Suicide Race, horses can break their legs or backs and lose their lives. There can be no defending this abusive madness.

Although humans have long made demands on them, horses are not here to serve us. They have needs, wants and interests that are entirely independent of our expectations of them. They deserve to be left in peace.

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