Grieving for Barbaro makes no horse sense


T hey shoot horses, don’t they?

It was time to load the gun a long time ago, but I refrained from saying so for fear Barbaro might’ve read it, or had someone tell him how I felt.

By now you’ve probably heard Barbaro bought the farm Monday, or as Vic the Brick put it on 570, Barbaro lost his “eight-month courageous battle.”

I checked out “courageous” on for its meaning: “Possessing or characterized by courage,” and then looked up “courage.”


“The quality of mind of spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”

I’m not surprised, of course, that Vic the Brick thinks of Barbaro as “a person,” because over the last few months, he’s had lots of company.

“Goodbye, brave and beautiful boy,” wrote Adela Henninger, 47, of Rathdrum, Idaho, on the Penn Veterinary Medicine message board. “Go back to the wind, and nevermore have to tolerate the weakness and ignorance of mortal man. You’re finally running in endless fields.... Run on, Barbaro.”

Tell me the difference right now between the furry bump in the road that once was a squirrel, and Barbaro today. Courage? You don’t think it takes courage to try and run across eight lanes of the I-5 only to get flattened three lanes shy.

Just what is the difference between a squirrel and a horse -- discounting the fact you might’ve won money on the horse? How about a bunny and a horse?

“My dearest Barbaro,” wrote Barbara, 49, of Fairfax, Va. “I will remember your brilliance at the Derby all the days of my life. Happy grazing in horse heaven. Long may you gallop.”


I just wonder if squirrel heaven is located anywhere near horse heaven.

“Barbaro: You will live in my heart forever,” wrote Abby Petrone, 47, of Chicago. “Your beauty and courage set an example for all of us. Heaven holds a special place for angels like you.”

Now there’s an idea for you, a remake of “It’s a Wonderful Life” with a horse playing the role of Clarence the angel wannabe, and Zuzu Bailey saying, “Teacher says, every time a bell rings, a horse avoids getting sent to the glue factory.” There won’t be a dry eye in the theater.


OF THE first 50 messages left on the Penn Veterinary Medicine message board when I checked around noon, 48 were from women. What is it about women and dead horses?

You pick almost any day of the week and go to the track, and it’s hard to find a woman out there looking to place a bet on a live one. You go to the track these days, and it’s usually just old men hoping the jockey will whip their pick home.

From what I can tell, most women just want to stand there and look at horses, or draw them. I’m telling you, there’s a better chance of the woman in your life drawing a horse than a sketch of you, which makes me wonder if man made a mistake when he chose to walk upright.


I THINK by now it’s pretty obvious I just don’t get this blubbering fascination with Barbaro. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to horses, I’ve cried too -- one big lug coming to mind that went off at odds of 3 to 5, the fifth leg in a pick six and all going well, only to finish last. You want to talk about sad stories.


But come on, it’s just a horse. And according to an Associated Press story in June, Dr. David Nunamaker, who was working at the center where Barbaro had been recovering, said there are about 700 horses killed each year in the United States and Canada while racing, which does not take into account those put down after training accidents.

That’s almost two horses dying a day after breaking from the starting gate, and yet everyone is all worked up about Barbaro, who was receiving get-well cards, apples, carrots and homemade pies from people -- Chargers fans, I presume, with nothing much to do these days.

Like a dead deer on the side of the road, too bad for Barbaro, I guess, but how many people can name two horses other than Barbaro to die in the last year?

Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby, though, which made him popular, and then he got injured on national TV, which made him a reality TV star. Most horse experts said another horse -- suffering the same injury as Barbaro -- would have been destroyed on the track, but Barbaro alive was worth a lot of money in the breeding shed.

In thoroughbred racing, unlike quarter horse racing, there is no such thing as artificial insemination. Barbaro had to be kept alive if he was going to make good on his name, but rather than dwell on that, the horse racing industry did a great job of shifting the focus on Barbaro’s “heroic” struggle to stay alive.

How many think Barbaro was heroic, or just doing what his human handlers wanted him to do? Or, had no choice what he was doing after being anesthetized? If we’re going to start looking upon horses as if they have human qualities, then shouldn’t we stop sticking a bit in their mouths, tying their tongues in place before races, gelding or loading them with steroids?


There is no question some people began to look upon this animal, though, as a creature with human qualities, but all indications are he went to his grave withholding comment about what he was trying to accomplish the last few months.

Just about every other day last summer at Del Mar, another horse was being euthanized. But apparently those were just animals, while Barbaro has rated a different kind of attention.

“To my dearest Barbaro, rest in peace angel face,” wrote Carole, 45, of Queensbury, N.Y., on the Penn message board. “You are pain free now. You fought bravely. Now your spirit will run free. I will love you forever.”

Tell me now you’re not beginning to feel sorry for that neglected little fur ball in the road that once was a smiling squirrel. Somebody should.


T.J. Simers can be reached at To read previous columns by Simers,

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