At the risk of beating a dead horse, I've got something to say about this whole chariot-racing thing.
The 2011 Cutter and Chariot Racing World Championships were held last month at the Golden Spike Event Center in Ogden, and apparently the Standard-Examiner's coverage of the event caused a bit of an uproar.
Standard-Examiner photographer Erin Hooley shot photographs of the competition and incorporated 20 of those images into a slideshow on the newspaper's website at www.standard.net.
Well, you'd have thought she ran nude pix of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.
Two of the images in particular angered a group of chariot racers here at the Top of Utah. One of the photos was of a horse that had, for some tragic reason, collapsed. The other showed a circle of people tending to the fallen animal.
Reaction was swift; a number of comments were left on the S-E's website, asking or demanding that the offending images be removed. Here's a sampling of those unedited comments:
- "Erin Hooley, I hope you never have a loved one, human or animal hurt and their pictures placed all over the web."
- "... how would you like it if it was one of your family members and we were taking photos and placing them in here, you would not like it at all would you ..."
- "I sure hope to god nothing happens in you family like this that someone can go and post these types of pics about your tragedy ..."
- "These horses are like family members and need to be shown some respect. Let them grieve in peace without being exploited by your newspaper. These horses are loved and cared for just like any other family member. Can't you just offer your condolences at this time of loss?"
- "... how would you like it if someone posted somthing horribale that your family member went through."
Anyone detecting a common theme here?
Most of the comments ran along two primary lines of thought:
1. These horses are, basically, members of the family.
2. How would you like it if this had happened to one of YOUR family members?
Hmmm ... So then, you're telling me you would take a family member, put a bit in his mouth, hitch a chariot to him and make him drag your ample arse around a muddy track? Seriously? This is how you treat family?
Where's that phone number for child protective services?
As for the part about hoping this kind of thing never happens in Erin Hooley's family? Yeah. I don't think you'll have to worry about that one. Not knowing Erin all that well, mostly just from seeing her around the office, I doubt she'll be hitching a niece or nephew to a chariot anytime soon.
And if Grandma Hooley did happen to fall and break a hip, I can say with a fair degree of certainty that Erin probably would not shoot her.
Look, I've got no beef with the sport of chariot racing. But I am a bit perplexed by the intense reaction to the two photos in question, and I'm just trying to understand the motivation behind it. I don't know any chariot racers, but I have been around quite a few rodeo folks and other rural/rancher/farmer types. And, in general, they don't tend to be particularly squeamish about the life and death cycles of livestock. At least, not to the point where an online news photo would cause them untold anguish and grief. These aren't pets we're talking about here. These are working animals.
So there's got to be another reason these images upset the chariot folks so much. Wanna hear my theory?
What I suspect is that chariot racers are worried the photos will draw the attention of PETA and other animal-rights organizations, giving these groups ammunition to attack their sport. And THAT'S why they wanted the photos taken down. And THAT'S why I'm busting these chariot racers' chops now, in this column.
Look, you wanna race chariots behind horses? Knock yourselves out. I mean, I know people who get together at city parks to do battle with foam light sabers. Not exactly my cup o' herbal tea, but hey, it's a big ol' goofy world out there, and it certainly takes all kinds.
But let's not pretend that chariot racing is a sport without a certain amount of danger -- to both consenting rider and not-so-consenting animal. And don't expect your local newspaper to help you whitewash the sport to keep the public from seeing both the good and bad in it.
If anything, photos like Erin's remind us that, for all the precautions chariot racers may take to make their sport as safe as possible, this ain't no darn daisy farm, people. Accidents happen. Animals get hurt. And sometimes they die.
So if you're really all that concerned for your "family members," here's a thought:
QUIT RACING THEM AROUND A TRACK AT HIGH SPEEDS!
Either that, or be willing to accept that you're going to take a certain amount of heat whenever you lose another cherished member of the family.
Wanna horse around? Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.