> Bless Their Hearts Mom: Book Review: Saving Baby by Jo Anne Normile and Lawrence Lindner
Friday, December 5, 2014

Book Review: Saving Baby by Jo Anne Normile and Lawrence Lindner

Disclosure / Disclaimer: I received this book, free of charge, from St Martin's Press,for review purposes on this blog. No other compensation, monetary or in kind, has been received or implied for this post. Nor was I told how to post about it

christmas reindeer scary

Continuing our 'nature' day, I have a horse book for the adults!

saving baby cover


"If we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop, and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt." --Anna Sewell, author of Black Beauty
Jo Anne Normile was not supposed to keep the foal, an exuberant Thoroughbred with only a few white hairs on his reddish-brown forehead. But she fell in love with the young horse, who had literally been born into her arms. The breeder finally said she could keep the colt, whom she nicknamed "Baby" – but only if she raced him.
It was difficult to take Baby away from the safety of his pasture. But Normile had made a promise. Besides, horseracing had always come across as a glamorous blend of mint juleps and celebrity, of equine grace and speed. It was a vision she found appealing.

And she fell hard for it, this "Sport of Kings." She experienced a thrill every time Baby sprinted around the track, edging out other horses. But the magic that enchants is a veneer. For every Seabiscuit, there are tens of thousands of racehorses whose lives end in pain and despair, with indifference and corruption that runs rampant through the world of horse racing.

Normile knew none of this. Not until an accident on a poorly maintained track. That’s when everything changed. That’s when Normile founded the most successful horse rescue in the country, an organization that would go on to save more horses than anyone else ever had. That’s when she knew she had no other choice.
Saving Baby is Jo Anne Normile’s story of perseverance and passion. A heartbreaking and ultimately life-affirming book, it testifies to the transcending power of hope, and the unshakeable bond of love.


Do not start reading this book unless you have a box of Kleenex handy. Even if you aren't 'into' horses, all it takes is a little empathy and you'll be crying for Jo Anne and Baby both. Much has changed in horse racing and as it has become more and more of a 'money' sport, less investment is made in the well being of the horses. They are mere pieces of a money making puzzle.Check these facts:
  •  Racehorses are usually forced to stand alone in their stalls for up to 23 hours a day as part of a strict training regimen; on their own, they are social, herd-bound animals who spend up to 18 hours daily grazing and keeping each other company
  • Horses are generally forced to start racing before they are 2 years old – still young “children.” A horse does not reach adulthood until age 5 – the point by which most Thoroughbreds are dead from racing or slaughtered even though a horse’s natural lifespan is 20 to 30 years.
  • Thoroughbreds are routinely injected with all manner of steroids and other drugs to mask pain and enhance performance, but they’re often forced to run in agony despite the medication administered. Imagine a quarterback having to throw despite a severely disabled shoulder or a tennis player having to run back and forth across the court with a torn meniscus.
  • An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 Thoroughbred racehorses are sent to slaughter annually, then sold as meat in France, Belgium, Canada, Japan, and other countries where horsemeat is considered food for people. 
  •  Racing is the only unregulated gambling industry. If, say, a trainer gets caught having given a winning horse a performance-enhancing drug that is “not allowed,” the horse is disqualified, but those who bet on the horse that came in second do not now receive their rightful share of the winnings. The incident “goes away.”
Scary isn't it? I knew about Jo Anne's rescue group, CANTER, but had never heard how it really got started, to I was intrigued to read the book. For those who are not aware of the behind the scenes machinations, some of the chapters may be disturbing reading. But Jo Ann has made a difference and her tale is a truly uplifting one, that is perfect for the holiday season! Plus the proceeds to to help the Saving Baby Equine Charity, so it is a book that keeps giving back!

Q&A with Jo Ann

How would you characterize this book? 
I consider it a love story. It is my homage to Baby, who came into my life unexpectedly but turned out to be the horse of my dreams, the horse who changed my life.

Is that why you wrote it, to express your love for him?
Anything I said about Baby  would show my love for him. But actually, I wrote it out of frustration.

What do you mean?
I was trying to change horseracing, to change the way people think of it. There’s much wrong in the industry with drugging horses and putting them through other abuses, which I learned when I had Baby at the track, and I kept trying to change the system through traditional channels. I would write letters and then e-mails to those in the top echelons of racing, I met with government officials, submitted materials to a watershed Congressional hearing in Washington. I even took a track to court for how it treated my horse and came away with a sum I found meaningful. But the status quo in racing has remained the same, with horses’ well-being too often sacrificed for the bottom line. I couldn’t deal with the frustration anymore, so I decided to take the truth directly to the public – to change the industry from without because I wasn’t able to effect change from within. 

How do you want to change people’s perception of racing?
Racing is seen as a rich man’s pastime, as a combination of beauty and brawn. The well-heeled owner holds the shiny trophy while the Thoroughbred, gleaming and sinewy, is covered with a blanket of red roses. I know the allure all too well. When I used to stand at the rail while the horses trained, the ground literally shook as they ran by, a breeze stirring up and hooves sounding like strengthening thunder as they came closer. It mesmerized me. It’s hard not to be moved when the earth literally trembles.

But the reality is that the racing industry treats horses like dice or decks of cards. When they are used up, they are discarded, treated as harshly as you can imagine. Even during their racing careers they are generally thought of as investments rather than sentient beings.

Many people have dogs or cats, and it’s easy for them to understand that each one has his or her own personality, his own likes and dislikes, his own quirks. They have no trouble getting the concept of falling in love with a particular house pet. But what many don’t realize is that it’s the exact same thing with horses
. Each one is unique. Each one knows what it’s like to love and feel loved, to bond.Horses are extremely intelligent, too. They have extraordinary memories and an extraordinary capacity for learning. So for them to be treated like investments – inanimate objects to be bet on rather than the thinking, feeling creatures they are – makes their plight unimaginably difficult. They are fully aware of what they are being put through.

But isn’t racing a sport? Don’t the horses like to run? You keep calling horseracing an industry. 
Horseracing is no more a sport than greyhound dog racing, or cock fighting. It is a $40 billion gambling industry. And money and animals never mix.  People may sometimes win, but the animal always loses. Furthermore, horses like to run only the way dogs do. If you see a horse out in a pasture, he might run if he was just let out or something startled him, graze a bit, stand still for a while, then maybe scratch the back of a fellow horse with his teeth. He would never choose to run around as fast as he could in a circle. He has no concept of a finish line, or of competing to reach it. 

What do you hope to accomplish with this book?
Well, first, I want people to fall in love with Baby  the way I did, to inform them about the kind of animal a horse really is so they can understand at a gut level why it is wrong to mistreat horses at the track. This is a true story. It happened, and it is still happening to many, many other horses, and I am so frustrated that people aren’t aware. They tune in to watch a race like the Kentucky Derby, and they have Derby parties to celebrate the horses. And the animals are gleaming; they are magnificently beautiful.

But people need to see the other side, the hidden side of the backstretch that racing keeps from them – not just from the public in general but also from the bettors. Would you walk into a casino if you knew the cards were marked and the dice were loaded? No, you would not. The casino would get a reputation and lose all its business. Well, along with horses

 being abused, people are betting on what amount to fixed races. No one in the grandstand knows which horse has a nerve to his foot severed so he won’t feel an injury and will be able to run faster. No one knows which horses have been given illegal performance enhancers or even legal drugs – except people on the backstretch who ordered those drugs, and who are also allowed to bet. The bettor in the stands has to be told whether the horse is wearing blinkers, but if he has received 17 injections within a week of a race, that’s not disclosed. It’s hard to know that racing operates like this and not feel angry.  These abuses are not allowed anywhere in the UK or other European countries, South Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, Dubai and many other places wherehorses race. And every time I hear about them and know that the industry has gotten away with it, I feel they’re abusing Baby all over again.

But can reading a book help to change an industry?
Absolutely. I don’t think people in the main mean harm. I think they simply don’t know. But if even a few people read it, and they can change a few more people’s minds, and save a few more >horses
…well, that builds to a groundswell. We have a compassionate society, and we’re on the threshold of a decision. Do we continue to exploit horses or any animal for financial gain? Or are we going to make a change, view things in a new light? Once people are aware, it will be easy for them to go where their conscience leads them, like mine did. Together we can make it happen.

About the Authors:

JO ANNE NORMILE founded two hugely successful horse rescue organizations and has been featured in The New York TimesThe Chicago Tribune among numerous other publications. In addition, she has appeared on CNN and many local television broadcasts.

LAWRENCE LINDNER is a New York Times best-selling co-author who has also written for many publications including the Washington Post,the Los Angeles Times, and O, the Oprah Magazine

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