BOOKS: Saving Baby: How a woman’s love for a racehorse leads to her redemption

From Animal People May-June 2013—

Saving Baby:  How a woman’s love for a racehorse leads to her redemption by JoAnne Normile with Larry Lindner  Powder Point Publishing (P.O. Box 530,  Hingham,  MA 02043),  2013.    263 pages,  paperback.  $15.00.

JoAnne Normile entered horse racing relatively late in life,  at age 43,  seven years after convincing her husband to move from urban Detroit to rural Michigan,  where they could keep horses.  

By the end of the 1980s they had two horses.  They entered the racing circuit in 1992 with Normile’s beloved Baby.  

The realities of horse racing soon became apparent.  Leaving Baby at a track for training made Normile uneasy. “The exercise rider was in the process of dismounting (another horse) and she was shaking from head to toe,” recalls Normile.  Excessive force caused welts on the horse.  Normile watched the trainer apply a topical anti-inflammatory called DMSO (dimethyl sufoxide) to the open wounds,  not advised because it causes pain. “She was out of her mind with pain,” Normile says. 

“Look at that bitch go,” sneered the trainer.

That was only the beginning.  Normile learned other tough realities. Injured horses unable to compete were often sold to “meat buyers.”  Normile did not realize at first that this meant a trip to be slaughtered.  Racehorse adoption programs were scarce then.  Some horses were neglected in filthy stalls.  Others were improperly fed.

Then there were illegal drugs administered to race horses.  

“This guy comes around and takes your order, and then he makes the drug run to Canada,”  a trainer told Normile,  urging her to use the drug,  which allegedly helped horses to breathe better during races.  The state racing board at that time did not test for it. 

Baby did well in competition until he suffered an irreparably broken leg while leading a race on a track that was in questionable condition.  After Baby was euthanized,  Normile dedicated her life to saving race horses and campaigning against horse slaughter,  as founder of CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network for Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses),  now a national horse advocacy organization with chapters in 10 states.  The last 104 pages of Saving Baby focus on the early years of CANTER.

Life is better for some race horses and former race horses because of JoAnne Normile,  but thousands are still confined to cramped stalls for much of their lives.  Most are still sold for slaughter when their careers are over,  but are slaughtered in Mexico or Canada now,  after even longer truck rides than they endured when Normile was involved in racing,  when nine horse slaughterhouses were still operating in the U.S.  

Horses can still be killed right where they are,  if their carcasses are to be used as animal feed,  but rendering companies do not pay for dead horses,  and often must be paid to collect them. 

Saving Baby is a compelling story of a woman’s dedication to ex-race horses.  Learn about the industry from someone who has been involved in both racing and rescue.        

–Debra J. White

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