I was reflecting the other day—in the context of the "debate" over evolution—that it's too bad that the word "ignorant" has become merely another insulting epithet that's exactly equivalent to "stupid" or any of the other perjoratives meaning, or implying, mental deficiency. Because of course a great many people are "ignorant" without being stupid. One could even say, without fear of refutation, that everyone is ignorant of something.
When Maarten B. says, in the comments to the previous post, "I don't understand why they didn't do more to save the horse," he's literally confessing, perfectly rightly, to ignorance. Yet if I were to call him ignorant in reply, it would be taken as a calumny. And that would be unjust, as Martin, if he is a typical T.O.P. reader, is most probably thoughtful and well-educated and quite possibly an expert in his own field, whatever that might be—the opposite of someone who is "stupid" or mentally deficient in any way.
Maarten: a horse with two broken front ankles literally cannot be saved. All the money in the world and state-of-the-art veterinary medical science cannot do it.
Two years ago, a racehorse named Barbaro won the Derby in a brilliant accomplishment that you can see here. Two weeks later, at the 2006 Preakness, he broke down after false starting. His owners, Roy and Gretchen Jackson, decided to spare no expense in attempting his recovery, even though horses can seldom survive a serious leg injury and the odds were slim. (Even if the one leg can be effectively treated, problems develop in the other legs; three legs are not enough to support a thoroughbred. And, unlike many other animals, horses cannot lie down for any length of time.) They almost pulled it off. Barbaro's medical team at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, headed by Dr. Dean Richardson, gave Barbaro the kind of no-holds-barred medical care that all but a tiny fraction of the world's humans never see; the total expenses ran into the millions of dollars (which some people condemned as being inappropriate, since it could have been spent on humans—you can't win for losing). Barbaro survived for more than eight months but finally succumbed to his injury. The story has been the subject of books and documentaries. If you're new to all this, I recommend the NBC Sports documentary "Barbaro: A Nation's Horse." It's played for sentiment in parts, but it's a gripping story and it illustrates the very real difficulties of equine medicine. There was also an HBO documentary, although I haven't seen it.
If you care to follow the story, there will be lots of coverage of Eight Belles in the weeks to come. But you should know a couple of things—first, that (however dangerous and inhumane you think horse racing is or is not) this was truly freakish: track veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage called it "unheard of" for a horse to be galloping out well past the wire and break down on the far turn. "I've never seen this before," Bramlage said, and he should have seen everything by now. And second, that no horse can survive serious injuries to two legs, most especially if both are hind or fore. There was literally no way to get Eight Belles into the equine ambulance right next to her on the track, much less to save her life. Eight Belles was put down immediately (rather than later in the day, out of sight of the—ahem—ignorant public) simply because the injuries are very painful. But regardless of the timing, euthanasia was not a choice, given her injuries. It was absolutely the only option.
It is indeed very sad, and people are right to be troubled by it. I still haven't gotten over Ruffian completely, and I probably never will.