Brutality behind The Sport of Kings: Horse Racing
Established in 4500 BC, horse racing has made a name for itself as the sport of kings. When one pictures horse racing, images of glamorous days out filled with the elite and famous socialising and cheering on their chosen horse from the luxury of a private box, usually wearing some extravagant form of a hat. But has the emphasis on wealth and profit turned the sport into a harsh industry in which horses are no longer seen as animals, but rather money-making machines? Beneath the glamour, there is more cruelty than one would ever expect.
Throughout the history of the sport, there has been evidence of legal and illegal drugs being used on the horses within the racing industry. Racehorses usually hit the peak of their racing career at the age of 3 years old, which is before most horses are even broken in. Riding and training horses before their bodies have finished growing prevents them from developing properly, leading to injuries and ailments in later life.
High doses of painkillers are often given to injured horses so that they are still able to run, despite it exacerbating the injury and causing even more harm. Additionally, drugs are given to horses to allow them to run faster and for longer periods of time than their bodies would usually allow, which results in injuries which could end a horse’s career, simply for the potential of them being able to win one race.
Just a few months ago over two dozen racing officials, including vets and trainers, were arrested for their involvement in an international scheme to use drugs to get horses to race faster. Widely-respected trainer Jason Servis is one of the many who have been arrested and has been charged with administering performance-enhancing drugs to multiple horses, in spite of the drugs having been proven to cause horses to overexert themselves, which often leads to injury. Unfortunately, incidents like these are by no means isolated and often fly under the radar, putting more horses at risk.
In addition, racing horses are kept inside their stables for the majority of their lives, with many horses being lucky to see the outside world for anything other than their training. Most racehorses are kept inside their stables for up to 22 hours per day, which can cause additional physical health issues, as well as behavioural abnormalities. Horses naturally opt to move around and graze throughout the day, which is commonly believed to help their digestion of food and prevent colic – a life-threatening issue.
Moreover, confinement can trigger health issues such as stomach ulcers or respiratory conditions, on top of the physical injuries they can sustain whilst race. With the inability to socialise or exhibit normal behaviours, horses will develop behavioural abnormalities, such as wood-biting, wind-sucking, box walking and weaving, which are all signs of distress in horses.
Not only does horse racing put physical and emotional stress on horses, but it also is not uncommon for these horses to sacrifice their lives for the sport. In 2018, there were 493 Thoroughbred horse deaths from the racing industry in the US alone, 15 of which were in the single month of July. Horses are often forced to run past the point of exhaustion, resulting in death. In racing where jumps are included, exhausted horses will often be unable to jump with the correct form, or their legs will collapse under the weight of themselves and their jockey when they land, resulting in falls which usually lead to death.
Exhausted horses are at greater risk of injury, including broken legs, which are hard to recover from and will typically cause the horse to be euthanized. Unfortunately, it is conventionally the most dangerous horse racing tracks that attract the most spectators. The most celebrated race in America, the Kentucky Derby, is held at the Churchill Downs which is widely regarded as the deadliest race track in America and draws in approximately 150,000 attendees each year. With the more dangerous tracks being the more popular, many locations may be tempted to make their courses more difficult and be more lenient with safety precautions, resulting in even more horse deaths.
After being forced to devote their lives to this ‘sport’, along with the money that is spent on these horses, it is often assumed that racehorses have a blissful retirement. However, the opposite is more representative of the typical horse. Although selling horses to the glue industry is illegal in the UK, many retired racehorses are sold to foreign buyers and shipped to France where they are used to produce glue or are sold into the meat industry.
Successful horses who retire young will usually become stud horses on a stud farm and will continue to generate income for their owners by mating with mares and hopefully impregnating them. These horses are lucky, as they will typically be treated well and kept healthy. However, this practice dramatically reduces the gene pool for racehorses, which can lead to inbreeding and cause even more health issues than racing alone. The luckiest horses will be sold as pets, into homes where they will be cherished and loved, although most will have trouble adjusting to social life with other horses, moreover many will never lose their behavioural abnormalities.
When comparing horse racing with greyhound racing, there are many similarities, most regarding the mistreatment and risk that the animals are subjected to. Greyhound racing is now widely regarded as barbaric, so hopefully, it is only a matter of time before horse racing is also outlawed in the UK, and these beautiful animals can finally be free from the cruelty of an industry more focused on money than on the wellbeing of its competitors.
Authored by: Carlotta Clare