PAWS Magazine


Issue 46, Summer 2000


Suicide Race returns to Omak

The infamous Suicide Race returns to Omak this year. PAWS has actively opposed the deadly horse race which has killed 13 horses in the last 17 years that the race has been run.

The Suicide Race is a featured part of the Omak Stampede, a rodeo held yearly in the northern Washington town. The race was cancelled last year after a dispute between the Colville Confederated tribes, who supply many of the horses and riders, and the Omak Stampede, Inc., could not be resolved.

The race is a short one minute sprint at full speed down a hill that is as steep as a staircase, a swim into the Okanogan River and across the slippery rocks of the riverbed (that also serves as a spawning bed for salmon) and then a run for the surviving horses into the rodeo arena. “When the horses take their fifty-yard start, they must leap airborne onto the steep hill,” said PAWS Advocacy Director Will Anderson, “but because of the way in which a horse’s eyes are placed on their head, they are unable to see the ground where their feet are to land.” According to Anderson it is the tons of pressure on the horses’ legs, the unevenness of the sand, soil and rock-strewn hill and the careless recklessness of the riders that cause the catastrophic injuries that kill and maim the horses.

PAWS has been following the race since 1983. PAWS advocates have recorded 13 horse deaths in the 17 years that they have been following the race. Each year’s race is comprised of three preliminary races and one final race, which means that a horse is killed almost every fourth race. This death toll makes the Omak Suicide Race the deadliest horse race in North America. On a deaths-per-race basis, local racetrack Emerald Downs would have to have more than 150 horses killed on its tracks each season to equal the death rate in Omak.

The deaths are often horrific to watch. PAWS advocates have witnessed horses drowning as they try to cross the Okanogan River in darkness. Others are euthanized by veterinarians to relieve the immense suffering caused by broken bones of all descriptions.

PAWS has helped bring national recognition to the race, with PAWS advocates appearing on several national talk shows and in national newspapers. Letters of protest to city leaders in Omak have come in from around the world thanks to PAWS efforts.

Anderson encourages people interested in ending the Omak Suicide Race to sign up for the seasonal Suicide Erasers e-mail action list. "We will have many specific actions for concerned people to take to end this anachronism of death that passes for moneymaking family entertainment."

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