Former Exercise Rider on Why She Has Turned Against Horseracing

In a recent Guardian article, former exercise rider Elizabeth Banicki explains why she has turned against horseracing. Some of the highlights:

“I have come to a time in my life where I cannot watch a horse race. It evokes too much anxiety and fear, flashbacks of catastrophe, so I close my eyes and pray only for the horses to make it home safely.”

“I galloped thousands of horses and so many were battling damaged and otherwise malfunctioning legs that one of my strongest general recollections is of working from on top of their backs to actively help them from stumbling and falling. I galloped horses who moved so poorly it was as if every step was a new agony. Their chronic pain coupled with the unnatural way they are forced to live can lead to depression, frustration and listlessness. Some horses get so angry they charge, teeth bared and intent to hurt, anyone walking by their stall door.”

“Horses that are chronically injured but still in training, still running races, are called ‘cripples’ in racetrack slang, and a trainer who engages in the practice of treating their horses this way is called ‘a butcher.’ These are terms all racetrackers in America understand. The rigors of training and running ensure that virtually no horse finishes a career unscathed and most are done by five years old.”

“Eventually I made my way to Santa Anita in Los Angeles. At Santa Anita I landed a job with a prominent outfit galloping some of the best-bred horses in the world. Though I was working on the top string for a prestigious trainer, I was not exercising the stars. Instead I rode mostly the ‘sore’ horses, the ones who needed nursing through their gallops. Some warmed up and their stride softened and found a rhythmic safety. In those cases, I settled in as passenger staying out their way as they trained themselves. I was routinely reprimanded for not making my horses gallop fast enough, because in my barn overall fitness took priority above the quality of the legs. If the legs didn’t hold up there was a fresh set waiting to be shipped in.”

“…when a horse is hurt, aggressively medicated, and forced to train and race repeatedly at speeds that exceed their natural inclination, then it constitutes abuse. The current standard in American racing – lots of medication and extreme speeds on legs too young to endure it – is abusive and the horses have no choice in the matter whatsoever. It isn’t simply an issue of animal rights, it is one of ethics and morality.”

“I came to a time late in my career when I could no longer ignore inside of me what I was seeing outside. The tapping of ankles on a three-year-old that released a projectile stream of fluid followed by steroid injections. Horses hobbling to, around and from the track. Young horses breaking their legs in half. I justified doing my job by telling myself, and sometimes others, that these horses would have to train whether I was there or not, and if I could make it easier on them by being kind, letting them go slow and cutting the distance short when I wasn’t being watched, then I was helping in some way to combat the greater doom they faced.”

(full article)

36 Comments

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  1. Wow! Thank you Elizabeth. Powerful words.
    Patrick: May I share this in full or possibly an (space contraints) excerpt? Will of course credit source.

  2. Elizabeth, thanks so much for coming forward.
    I admire your courage, and your candidness.
    As you may know, I grew up in this business, later owned/trained, a short stint as a CHRB Associate Steward, and I now support the unequivocal, unapologetic stance to end horse racing.
    So my journey was a long one, but along the way I saw so many horrible things, that this business accepts as standard operating procedures, that I would rationalize these things in order to keep going.
    One of the biggest rationalization that all of us in this business makes is the one you stated:
    “I justified doing my job by telling myself, and sometimes others, that these horses would have to train whether I was there or not, and if I could make it easier on them by being kind, letting them go slow and cutting the distance short when I wasn’t being watched, then I was helping in some way to combat the greater doom they faced.”
    While I felt the same even spewing the common line …”there are good folks in horse racing” especially when I was defending this business to other people who were against it.
    Then there came a day when I could no longer rationalize what was going on all around me and I realized that the only way to be a true friend of the racehorse is to stop participating in and supporting this business.

  3. Never ever believed in horseracing. My gut level feeling always said its a cruel sport..ill be so happy whenever the day comes its ended for good like the greyhound races.

  4. Most if not all people involved with horses know that their musculoskeletal system is not mature until 4 or 5 years of age. This is why you see so many horses breaking legs during races, or damaging tendons/muscles and winding up permanently damaged or even having to be euthanized. Remember Ruffian? Champion filly that broke leg during a race and had to b put down. Why is this happening? It all comes down to the he almighty dollar. Owners/trainers routinely race 2 and 3 year olds- years before they are mature!! Why? So they don’t have to feed them until they are four years old and mature, better able to stand the strain!! It ALL comes down to money!! 26 horses dead at Santa Anita racetrack in the last few months? Oh well, we’ll just bring in more
    Immature 2 and 3 year olds and put them through the grinder! Who cares right? And think about it, if they’re racing 2 year olds, they were likely in training even younger than age 2! Shame on the racing industry! I do not go to horse races anymore.

    • The purses are biggest for the 2 and 3 yall ear olds, which promotes and encourages getting them into races early.

      And the weights on the horses have risen in the US. To accomodate the jockeys who couldn’t make the weight. It used to be only the biggest, strongest, fastest horses carried heavy weights, sometimes 20 30 pounds over the competition (and those horses were injured). Now the weights on all horses average 120, plus or minus 4-5 pounds…plus another 4 pounds not counted for jockey safety gear.

      There are only a few studies that have proven that fully mature horses ridden lightly should not carry more than 10-15 percent of their body weight for more than 30 minutes, or lameness is guaranteed…. so what is the weight limit for a thoroughbred at top speed?

  5. It’s been a long time since I’ve been close to horses but so much is common sense and I read a lot. I’ve heard/read of all the points she made and all fit in the category of animal abuse that we’re seeing too much of. Horse legs are so slender, it’s easy to figure they’ll break easily. To learn the owners, jockeys willing, want so badly to win, using drugs is OK, sickening to risk so much. A shame, we’re a greedy nation.

  6. It is unbelievable that this sport is still in existence and that it is legal to exploit any animal in such a cruel way. Why do we treat this animal, the horse, so poorly? Is it the majestic beauty of a horse in full flight that we enjoy seeing and just can’t get enough of? Is it the excitement and huge amounts of money that can be made and lost in the betting? Is it the ease of training a large animal who easily gives itself in full trust to the human? Horses are the most trusting and willing creatures and therefore exploiting them with cruel behavior including death at such young ages, by training and encouraging them that everything is going to be ok if they run at irresponsible speeds for their undeveloped body and bones to handle. The horse does not understand that this is not ok and dangerous for them, but we as humans do have the smarter mental capacity and their trust in us to meet their needs and keep them safe is all they desire and in return they are willing to do anything for us, we should be ashamed of ourselves! Where is the responsibility and accountability for providing and caring for the horse, as we would for any other animal.

    • Michael, your comment is so exceptionally well said. Why do we “humans” treat obedient, trusting, loving, loyal and companions of us so cruely. Horse racing is and always will be the demise of any horse who is put in such a hell hole. All the deaths of those horses at Santa Anita I don’t believe was from the “track”. The more I read about behind the track the more I pray for abolishing horse racing.

  7. Thankyou so much for openly sharing this. People need to be aware of what really goes on! It’s cruelty and selfishness for greed of money at it’s best! It shouldn’t be allowed to continue!

  8. At last, someone from the inside willing to give the horses a voice.
    This is a sport only meant to line the pockets of owners $$$…nothing good comes out of it for the horses they are just disposable, I once talked to the driver of a rig who was stopped at a service station on the Fl. Turnpike it waspacked full of mares and a few foals and yearlings …the advertisement on the rig was for Ocala Fl and Kentucky I asked if he was heading to Kentucky, he rep,ied no, the kill yard.
    How many more of these poor animals will have to endure this horrific treatment ???
    Thank you for speaking out!

  9. god bless you for bringing this to light. I too was guilty of thinking that race horses had the best life but how wrong I was once I realised what went on behind the doors. its disgusting and should stop but that’s a big ask but we must never give up like greyhound racing which is slowly closing down due to public awareness and strong people like u.

  10. The more these stories come to light the more people will understand just how vile & abusive Racing is and it must end. Bless you Elizabeth for stepping up

  11. It’s a relief to read that my long term instincts have been right. I know nothing of horses although always concerned for animal welfare generally. I believe in questioning anything you’re not comfortable with, just because it’s always been like that it doesn’t mean it’s right. Ive watched horses being raced and felt they were always being pushed to their extreme in an unatural way because they had no choice. Once again exploitation to benefit someone’s greed. Since thinking outside of the box I have voiced my doubts and concerns and will never bet on the likes of the Grand National. I know I’m seen as a killjoy but am true to my conscience and will continue to speak out loud.

  12. Thank you for telling your story. It means a lot when it comes from someone who was there to witness it. For the rest of us, we are dismissed as not knowing what we are talking about.

  13. Please, please, please read about these accounts, first hand. Then please don’t bet your money on these horrendous races, the only people that get anything out of the races are the owners.

  14. Totally agree with you 30 years in the game and it’s just a factory now on the flat and then they are sold to go jumping soto many horses are braking let’s it’s get to stop.
    Two old racing should be band this will help horses to grow more and get stronger in their bones and tandings

  15. This is animal abuse and needs to be stopped! It is a crime to do that to a horse or any other animal. Shame on the owners that do this to their horse. The owners need to be charged as a criminal offense, animal abuse and charge them a tremendous amount of money for this crime, jail time and take the horse away from them. You can find great homes for these race horses. I used to have horses and one of my horses was admitted to the Equine hospital for a colic surgery. I noticed a truck load of race horses that pulled up to the hospital. I saw each and every one get out of that truck. Their legs scuffed up, their eyes did not look good, I really felt for these horses. STOP THIS CRIME!

  16. Thank you for telling your story and being their voice. I pray millions read and hearts change. We have a long way to go but your story will hopefully lend courage to others to tell theirs.
    God bless you for your courage and the kindness you gave to those who were shown none.
    Allison

  17. Thank you, Elizabeth, for your courage and morality. You are the voices of these poor horses who cannot defend or speak for themselves. Hopefully more people will come forward and see the animal abuse inflicted upon these beautiful creatures all for the money. Horses have feelings just as we do. They feel pain, anxiety, fear and like any other animal, love us unconditionally. They deserve our love, respect and tender loving care. Thanks again, Elizabeth, you are our hero.

  18. As the former owner of a beautiful well bred Thoroughbred horse retired from the track at age 4, I know firsthand what the issues are. I stand behind Elizabeth in her beliefs, and experiences. After losing one of my horses to a hit and run DUI, I went to the track and worked my way up from hot-walker to exercising. I also worked doing commercials for them as an entertainer. The horse I was given had shin splints, had been over-medicated, was down more than up. This abuse resulted in major injuries to keep it moving which brought its “glory” to a complete halt. We should reconsider what we are doing with these beautifully bred animals and find a better way to show off their amazing talents and abilities. Kudos to you Elizabeth. I totally relate. Happy to say I help at an equine rescue that has five retired beauties who show their talents to me in different ways. They require tender, loving care, the same as we wish for ourselves.

  19. I have owned and enjoyed riding Thoroughbreds for most of my life. These horses love to run and it is an indescribable feeling to ride one at full speed. However, I agree 100% with Elizabeth that today’s horse racing industry is a criminal enterprise full of unconscionable abuse to the horses. More Thoroughbreds go to slaughter than any other breed – many of which are perfectly healthy animals that just “weren’t fast enough.” The racing industry is a business that has no concern that its “main product” is a living, sentient creature that deserves to be treated with respect. Training and racing equine babies with immature bone structures and muscles is a recipe for disaster – as evidenced by the horrors Elizabeth described. Much as I would hate to see horse racing disappear, I would hope that true horse lovers would be willing to police the industry, clean up the corruption and implement rules that prevent young horses from being trained and raced before they are physically capable of enduring such strenuous activity.

  20. Horses belong in green grass pastures where they can run when they feel like it, be with other horses, roll in the grass in the summer sun; they need excellent feed, love, attention, grooming, trail rides with their owner; they do not need to be in a prison stall 24/.7 and only get out to be whipped to run on their injuries, race tracks are a horse concentration camp. I pray to end horse racing, horse tracks and horse abuse.!

  21. THANK YOU, Elizabeth Banicki — Another brutally cruel, depravedly indifferent day at the races — but only for the HORSES and those of us who respect & love them — SHAME ON ALL WHO TURN A BLIND EYE to the suffering of these magnificent animals from Day #1 to their premature deaths — WHERE are our standards? — WHERE is our sanity? — WHERE is our compassion? — WHERE is our morality? — Is all this solely for the bottom line? — something’s VERY WRONG here.

  22. Horse racing every where must be ban for good. After years of reading about how these horses are trained, usually at too young an age, and that they are mostly treated like machines rather than feeling sentient beings with feelings, who have limits on what they can safely do, I am disgusted, infuriated, and appalled at the inhumanity involved. They are simply used as money makers, and for entertainment giving onlookers their adrenaline rushes. The horses do not enjoy anything about racing, They are forced to run so fast that many actually bleed internally. No. Horse Racing is not a sport, it is pure Animal abuse.

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