Our stance on horse racing.
Though it may seem like a bit of harmless fun, beneath the dazzling façade of horse racing there exists a dark reality for the horses involved.
Thoroughbred horses used for racing often begin rigorous training early in life and may launch their racing career upon reaching the age of two. Each race is demanding on a horse’s body and, unfortunately, this intense exercise leads to injury and death for many horses every year. One report found that between 2017 and 2021 there were over 4,000 racehorse deaths. Fatalities may be the result of broken limbs, cardiac failure, or pulmonary hemorrhaging. Horses who are not fatally injured, but are no longer able to be used for racing, may be sold to slaughter (they are exported to Canada or Mexico; horse meat for human consumption is not legal in the U.S.).
While there’s no doubt that there are many horse lovers involved in racing, the unfortunate truth is that horse racing is not good for horses. Racing horses are seen as a commodity. Their purpose is to run fast and win races, thus winning money for their owners. The time has come to remember horse racing as an American pastime, but to put it out to pasture for the future.
The making of racehorses
Thoroughbreds (the most commonly used horses in racing) have strict breeding requirements (artificial insemination is not allowed) and owners can make a lot of money studding out their stallion. A stud horse could travel throughout the country to breed and may mate with as many as 140 mares in a season. The mating process will involve a mare being restrained in a stall with her hind legs tied down so she can’t kick the stallion. (Info and image here)
Buyers of thoroughbred foals are looking for potential champions; the more that are bred, the more likely they will find a winner. This leads to an overbreeding of thoroughbreds. There are approximately 55,000 foals registered in the United States each year. The foals that are not used for racing or as future studs (the majority) are considered “wastage.” Wastage horses are generally sent out for slaughter.
Foals that are chosen as future racers are generally separated from their mothers and herds at a young age. Often horses will begin intensive training for racing before their bodies have fully developed. This can lead to horses dying from conditions like degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis as young as 2-4 years of age (lifespan for a thoroughbred should be 25-30 years).
Whips are common tools used in the horse racing industry. The whip is sometimes touted by jockeys as necessary tool for making corrections and steering a horse, but it is often used simply used to prod horses to run faster. Whipping undoubtedly inflicts pain and can even lead to injuries.
Tongue ties are also sometimes used in races. Tongue ties are pieces of nylon or elastic that are used to hold a horse’s tongue in place while running to prevent the tongue from obstructing their airway. Tongue tied horses have often shown signs of pain and distress. Their use can lead to damage to the tongue and mouth as well as difficulty swallowing.
Horses are social animals who typically spend time roaming and grazing with their herd. Sadly, racing horses are often kept confined and isolated up to 23 hours each day. Isolation and confinement can lead to stereotypic behavior in horses such as crib-biting, pacing and bobbing.
Doping is a regular and reoccurring problem in horse racing. Drugs given to race horses include performance-enhancing drugs, such as the addictive Lasix, and anti-inflammatory and pain medications that can mask injuries. Fatal injuries on the racetrack are frequently the result of a horse who pushes their injured body too hard because they do not feel warning pain.
Injuries to muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons are commonplace in racing horses and, unfortunately, are often a death sentence. Some injuries are so severe (broken neck or legs) that they require immediate euthanasia. Other injuries may be minor to begin with but can lead to fatal injuries later. Because horses that aren’t racing aren’t earning, horses are frequently made to race even with injuries. This practice can have catastrophic results for the horses. Between 700-800 racehorses suffer injuries and die every year.
Killing on track
Horses who experience catastrophic injury on the racetrack need to be euthanized quickly to prevent further suffering. Pulmonary hemorrhaging (bleeding lungs), shattered bones, and broken necks all necessitate immediate euthanasia. Racetrack staff will usually pull out a screen to shield the audience from watching. The website Horseracing Wrongs has documented more than 5,000 racehorse deaths in the United States in the last five years.
Exportation and slaughter
While it is often claimed that racehorses are well-loved by their owners and those at the high end of the racing industry are pampered (if just to protect an expensive financial investment), it is undeniable that the life of a racehorse is filled with injury and trauma and when they lose the ability to make money their lives are ended prematurely in the most miserable of ways.
Horses that are not useful for racing are most often exported to be slaughtered for food (horse meat is not legal for human consumption in the United States but is a thriving industry in other countries). Even past racing winners have been subject to exportation and slaughter when they were no longer making money for their owners. “Kill buyers,” who purchase horses to sell to slaughterhouses have been known to make millions of dollars.
Transport to the slaughterhouse is nightmare-inducing. Horses are frequently cramped in trailers and forced to travel many miles without access to food or water. The USDA only requires breaks every 28 hours for horses being transported to slaughter. Injuries during transport are common. One report found that out of 306 horses, 60 suffered injuries during transport.
It is also said that meat from horses can be a healthy option for human consumption, however, meat made from racehorses is filled with antibiotics, antiparasitic pesticides, painkillers, hormones, and other performance-enhancing drugs.
[Photo by Jamison Riley on Unsplash]