When a horse race ends, the winner is declared based on whose horse crosses the finish line first. To qualify to be included in a race, a horse must have a pedigree that contains a sire and dam who are purebred members of the same breed. For flat races, including steeplechases, the horse must also meet other requirements based on age, weight and health.
The sport is regulated in the United States through a patchwork of state laws, allowing different standards for whip use, type of medication and punishments for trainers or owners who violate rules. This is in stark contrast to other major sports, such as the NBA, which has one set of standard and rules for its entire league.
During a horse race, the horses are forced to sprint-often under the threat of whips or illegal electric-shocking devices-at speeds so high that they often sustain injuries and hemorrhage from their lungs. They break bones and have a high risk of heart attacks. Death is common at the track, and it’s often caused by cardiovascular collapse or a failed heart, or by broken limbs. Sometimes horses are so broken down that they die from pulmonary hemorrhage or bleeding out of their lungs.
Many horses are pushed beyond their physical limits, and they are often doped with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask the pain from injuries, enhance performance and artificially inflate their blood counts. The resulting exhaustion breaks down the horse’s body, and they are then drugged again to mask the side effects of their over-medication. The vicious cycle of abuse and overtraining eventually leads to a breakdown in performance and, for many horses, death, either through euthanasia or slaughter.
While the public has turned away from horse racing in droves in recent years, it’s hard to know exactly how many fans remain. The sport has become a spectacle involving large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and immense sums of money. But, at its core, it remains the same primitive contest of speed and stamina.
The 2008 deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit sparked a reckoning about horse racing’s ethics and integrity. Sadly, nothing has changed since then.
It’s time for the industry to change its relationship with horses and end the violence. The horses that are bred, trained and pushed to the brink of death at the tracks deserve more than to be treated like disposable commodities. They deserve to live their golden years in a place where they are safe and happy and can enjoy all that life has to offer, not just the promise of winning a few bucks. They deserve to be able to graze peacefully, play and run free in the open. They deserve better than the life that was stolen from them by what they were made to do. They are the horses that were made to race. The least we can do is give them their freedom.