A horse race is an event in which a group of horses compete against each other to win a prize. A jockey is attached to each horse and must navigate them over a course, jumping any required hurdles or fences, and cross the finishing line before any of the other horses to win the prize. In addition, bets are placed on the outcome of the race and winners can earn a significant amount of money depending on how well they place.
Horse racing is an old sport dating back to the Greek Olympic Games in 700 to 40 B.C. It has since become a popular pastime with the public and is a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide. The sport has also benefited from technological advances including thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners, and 3D printing to produce casts, splints, and prosthetics for injured horses.
However, the most important thing that horse racing can do to help itself is address its inherent problems with equine welfare. The problems are not just with the trainers or jockeys; they are in the core of the business model. The industry can start by addressing the lack of an adequately funded wraparound aftercare solution for all ex-racehorses.
The Kentucky Derby will be run this Saturday, just over a year after the death of Eight Belles and over a decade after that of the beloved but troubled Medina Spirit. These two champions of America’s most famous race died from the intense physical stress and exhaustion that are a hallmark of the sport.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. While spectators adorn themselves with fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, horses are forced to sprint—often under the threat of whips and even illegal electric shocking devices—at speeds so fast that they frequently sustain horrific injuries and hemorrhage from their lungs.
Despite attempts by racing to improve safety, horses still die from injuries and breakdowns in the midst of their performances. The most famous examples are Seabiscuit and Man o’ War, who both died from severe injuries in their final races, but there have been many others.
Injuries are common and often undiagnosed, particularly among younger horses. The most common causes are abrasions, lacerations, fractures, and joint damage. Other common problems include heart attacks, respiratory issues, and colic. Some injuries are more serious, requiring surgery and resulting in long recovery periods, including extended time away from training. This is particularly common in jumps racing, which has been banned in some countries for being too dangerous. Sadly, the sport has never evolved to incorporate the best interests of its animals into its operations. Instead, it continues to ignore the concerns of animal rights activists and the public at large. Until it does, the deaths of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, and the thousands of other horses will continue to occur.