The World of Horse Racing

Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing lies a world of drug abuse, injuries, and slaughter. As spectators don their finery and sip mint juleps, horses are forced to sprint–often under the threat of whips–to speeds so fast that they often break down or hemorrhage from their lungs. Then they are put on trucks and sent to slaughter in Mexico and Canada, where they are often subjected to horrific conditions.

A storied event that is often described as the most exciting sport on earth, a steeplechase race features a series of ten hurdles and ditches over muddy, hilly terrain. The name stems from contests over natural terrain in which church steeples acted as landmarks. The arduous and dangerous sport, which is considered the most difficult of all horse races, dates to ancient times.

Before the race begins, horses and riders weigh in and report to the paddock, where an official verifies that they are carrying the proper weight and examines them for any rule infractions. Saliva and urine are also tested for prohibited substances, and jockeys are screened to ensure that they don’t have an illegal substance in their system. X-rays and thermal imaging scanners are used to check for serious injuries. If the stewards suspect that a horse has taken drugs, they will disqualify it.

On the backstretch, War of Will took an early lead, hugging the rail. But on the far turn, it became clear that he was tiring. His comrades Mongolian Groom and McKinzie were gaining on him, with Vino Rosso a nose back. The crowd switched from cheering to shrieking.

Horses are prey animals, and they instinctively prefer to be near the middle of the pack where it’s safer. Running up close to the front puts them at more risk of getting kicked in the face, stepped on, or otherwise injured. Moreover, they must run quickly to avoid falling behind their rivals, and they are whipped with long whips to encourage them. This pounding takes a terrible toll on the horses’ lower legs, straining their ligaments, tendons, and joints. Adding insult to injury, a horse must be trained to outrun rivals despite its own fatigue, so it will not slow down.

Despite the best efforts of trainers and owners, many horses are unable to complete the race and must be retired with serious injuries or sickness. The sport’s abysmal record on animal welfare has not deterred millions of people from betting on horse races and watching them on TV. However, if the industry is to survive, it must address its brutal treatment of horses and provide an adequately funded wraparound aftercare solution for all ex-racehorses. Otherwise, horses like Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, and Creative Plan will continue to suffer. And the countless younger racehorses yet to come will face a similarly harrowing fate.