The Cruelty of Horse Racing

Horse racing is one of the oldest sports and while it has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina to a multibillion dollar public-entertainment enterprise, its fundamental concept remains unchanged. It is a sport in which humans perched on horses’ backs compel them — sometimes with a whip — to race at breakneck speeds over miles of dirt, where they are subjected to tremendous physical stress and a constant threat of injury or death.

When the harrowing deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit rocked the industry, it was because these two champion horses died in ways that are all too common among America’s top racing runners. Both horses were just three years old and both were killed during a race or in training.

Their deaths were a wake-up call that horse lovers need to get involved with the issue and support reforms. But a quick fix to the problems that plague racing is not in the cards, and in fact, even as racing continues to lose fans, race days and revenues, cruelty persists at all levels of the industry.

In order to increase the chances of a particular horse winning, weight is placed on each competing horse to make them as equal as possible, a process known as handicapping. This practice is not in the best interest of horses, as it encourages horsemen to push their horses too far and past the limits of their natural ability. The result is a high rate of death in the sport.

It is also worth noting that the vast majority of horse races are sponsored by commercial corporations. The purses in these races are often jacked up by taxpayer subsidies in the form of casino money and paid to individual tracks. This creates an incentive for track owners to entice gamblers by offering big prizes, and it gives horseman an additional financial incentive to run horses that have no business being on the racetrack.

Moreover, when an injured horse is forced to race on a shattered leg or suffers an internal hemorrhage, it’s not unusual for that horse to be given up for dead by the racing establishment. This is especially true in cases of horses that do not finish well, or are unable to compete at the highest level.

Despite the best efforts of a small number of independent nonprofit horse rescues, who network and fundraise tirelessly to keep them alive, many ex-racehorses hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline. If these horses are lucky, they will be “bailed” by a wealthy fan or an opportunistic racehorse owner and saved from the worst of this hellish existence. But even so, these horses will never live a life free of exploitation, injury or death at the hands of those who control and profit from them. The same cannot be said for the next generation of young horses who will follow in their footsteps.