HBO's 'Luck' Faces New Equine Welfare Complaints

Equine welfare during the filming of the television series "Luck" is the subject of complaints recently filed with two California agencies by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

An original series of the premium television network HBO, "Luck" depicted some aspects of the horse racing industry. During filming of the series in 2010 and 2011 two horses were injured and subsequently euthanized. A third horse died in March 2012, Production of the series was subsequently suspended and eventually cancelled.

On May 3, PETA announced it had filed complaints with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and the California Veterinary Medical Board. The complaints allege that horses used in the series were underfed to reduce production costs, that sick horses were used in filming, that some of those horses disappeared from the set without explanation, and that the horses' trainer was warned of potential equine neglect charges. The complaints also allege that improperly trained and unprepared horses were used in racing sequences and that horses were regularly tranquilized to keep them docile.

Wendy Wegner, PETA spokeswoman, said that information provided by a whistle-blower, including emails and memos from the American Humane Association (AHA), prompted the filing of the two complaints. The AHA, an organization that establishes animal welfare guidelines for animals used in film and entertainment, monitored treatment of the animals used in the "Luck" production.

HBO responded to the PETA complaints with a written statement.

"The safety and welfare of the horses was always of paramount concern," the statement said. "While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, working closely on an ongoing basis with AHA to review and improve protocols, it was impossible to guarantee no further accidents would occur. Accordingly, we reached the difficult decision to cease production."

In a separate written statement the AHA disputed assertions contained in the PETA announcement about the complaints.

"American Humane Association went to great lengths to prevent sick, unfit, and drugged horses from being used on set, and in fact internal documents showcase the extraordinary dedication and vigilant advocacy of American Humane Association staff in protecting the welfare of the horses on the 'Luck' set," the AHA statement said. According to the statement, an AHA review of documents written by the 12 certified Safety Representatives and California-licensed humane officer that placed on the "Luck" set by the organization during the series' filming, "unequivocally demonstrate the integrity, dedication, and unswerving commitment to animal welfare as they went about their mission, proactively identifying potential health and safety issues with the animals used in ‘Luck,’ pulling horses that appeared sick, medicated or unable to participate safely."

In its statement, the AHA said that PETA’s claims that sick horses were regularly used in the filming of "Luck" were "simply untrue."

"Every animal presented for consideration in filming each day underwent a veterinary check in the presence of experienced AHA representatives," the statement said. "Horses who displayed signs of illness or injury were pulled and their use in filming prohibited. Animals displaying signs of being medicated or drugged were pulled and their use in filming prohibited. When a severely underweight horse was spotted by our safety representatives, it was pulled and its use prohibited until such time it was healthy. American Humane Association also asked that the lead animal coordinator be an experienced movie trainer."

Jane Robison, news secretary for the Los Angles District Attorney’s Office said that the PETA complaint was forwarded to the Arcadia, Calif. Police Department, to the Pasadena, Calif. Humane Society and to SPCA LA for investigation.

"Those are the lead agencies in the investigation," Robison said.

Russ Heimerich, spokesman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs which contains the California Veterinary Medical Board said he could not confirm the agency’s receipt of the complaint.

"What I can say is that the California Veterinary Medical Board investigates every complaint it receives," Heimerich said.

He declined further comment.

Meanwhile, AHA statement said the organization is working with HBO to find "good, safe, loving homes for the horses of 'Luck.' "

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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