“I have personally snapped the legs off of two separate horses” – Longtime Exercise Rider Tells All

The following essay was submitted by a longtime industry exercise-rider. For various reasons, this person has asked to remain anonymous.

Please allow me to start off by saying that I am not any level of bleeding heart activist. I enjoy eating meat and I fully believe in using horses for work and recreation. I have a job to earn my keep and I see no reason why most horses can’t earn their keep as well. With all that being said, it is my observation that horseracing practices are senseless mental and physical abuse. They are a near perfectly measured formula for destroying the animal mentally and rendering it useless even in the unlikely event that he survives the relentless physical pounding that kills the majority of his peers.

Everything that is standard practice in this industry, from the tiny boxes they are kept in, the high protein diets they are fed, the hormones they are injected with, down to their daily training regimens is a no-fail recipe for the absolute destruction of this delicate animal. We mass produce these nervous and frail animals with absolutely no regulations or standards and we discard them just as quickly.

There are no rules that regulate how long a horse can remain “in training” without a break. “In training” entails being locked in a 12 by 12 box for 23 hours a day, coming out only to jog and canter in circles around a racetrack for 15 to 20 minutes. This is followed by being walked, either by hand or on a walking machine, for about 30 minutes and then it’s back to the box until tomorrow.

In order to understand how damaging this is to a horse’s psychological (as well as physical) being, it is essential to understand the nature of a grazing herd-animal. A horse is very much like a deer, designed to live in large families, constantly ambling around and ingesting small bits of grass and roughage. They seek comfort in large, close-knit herds where they, as prey animals, keep watch over one another and provide physical affection and companionship. Deprivation of this natural state brings on a host of stress and anxiety induced behaviors.

Have you ever been around or seen footage of young children in an orphanage? Being deprived of a mother’s affection, they often rock themselves for comfort, sometimes violently. Some tap their heads against walls or their bed boards. Some even develop unusual, compulsory vocal or breathing ticks. Walk down the shedrow of any barn and you will see horses displaying all of the aforementioned symptoms. Most commonly they weave back and forth in their doorways; some find room to actually pace back and forth or even tread little circles around the inside of their tiny boxes. Often the horses weave and pace so incessantly and aggressively that it causes lameness issues in the animal and digs deep holes in their stall floor. Not only does this make for a very uncomfortable bed to lie down in, it also churns all their urine and feces into their costly “bedding.”

I have observed desperate trainers try all sorts of tactics to stop these counterproductive behaviors. They “decorate” the stalls with old car tires, orange road cones and giant beach balls to avert the circling and pacing, usually to no avail. I have seen horses bloody up their ankles frantically pacing and weaving over the top of the tires as though they weren’t even there.

Another common habit they develop, called “cribbing” or “sucking wind,” is when the horse bites down on the stall door or the edge of the feed bucket and loudly sucks air into his belly. Some “cribbers” do so because they are not being provided with adequate roughage (grazing animals are designed to constantly digest small bits of roughage) and filling their belly with air can simulate the feeling of being full. Others crib purely from boredom and anxiety. This compulsory habit can cause a plethora of health problems and the solution is a rigid, leather choke collar that fastens tightly around the horse’s throat and jabs painfully into his esophagus whenever he moves his head or neck a certain way. This is often effective and a majority of trainers leave this apparatus on for the full 23 hours that the horse is stalled.

One horse I encountered years ago (at a very prestigious track) had been “in training” for seven straight years. He had not been allowed outside in a pasture or even a small paddock for over seven years. He was nine now and his career was coming to an end. Whenever turned outside in a paddock he would run, panicked and screaming wildly until he was bathed in sweat. Having a quiet and calm horse in the next paddock over or even in the same paddock with him offered no comfort.

I turned that poor gelding outside every single day that winter. I even tried two different kinds of tranquilizers, but he never once stopped frantically running and screaming – not until you brought him back to his box. I never left him outside for more than a hour for fear that he would explode his heart or break a leg off. Before I left at the end of the season the owner/trainer swore to me that he would keep the gelding as a pony or a barn ornament. I just try not to think about it.

In general, horses are affectionate and deeply sensitive animals. When removed from their natural environment, they become like dogs and thrive on attention. Walking down a racehorse shedrow can often feel like visiting a city animal-shelter where all the dogs stare at you longingly, begging for your attention and interaction. But because of the stress of track life, many horses grow bitter and afraid of humans. Can you blame them? They pin their ears and gnash their teeth at everyone who passes their stall. In turn, trainers and grooms slap at them, call them awful names and handle them with anger and aggression.

You see, aside from the starry-eyed young girls who run away to join the “circus” because they genuinely love horses, the racetrack is a catch-all for drug addicts, alcoholics, criminals, and other undesirables. These horses who develop poor attitudes will likely be handled by short-tempered drunks. You can certainly imagine what happens when a suffering, frightened filly aims a well-deserved kick at a hung-over ex-con for hurriedly raking too stiff of a brush across her sensitive belly. I’ve seen “cranky” horses slapped, kicked and punched. Sometimes this cycle continues until a horse becomes labeled as “savage.” “Savages” will not only bite and kick but will run at anyone who comes near their stall. Some will throw themselves on the ground whenever they’re tethered up for grooming. And the cycle continues.

Do you realize that there is no one appointed to go around the barns at night and just check on the horses? No one checks to make sure the horses have water, food and bedding. That job doesn’t exist, at least at the tracks I have worked at. Horses go all night standing in a box with no water or hay. Maybe because the owner/trainer is down on his luck and can’t afford any bedding this week or has to ration his hay. Maybe the trainer in the next barn got drunk and passed out early, before he topped off water buckets for the night, and now all ten of his horses have no water until morning. Oftentimes that same trainer will send those horses out to gallop the next morning still without having given them a drink. Just imagine what kind of horrors are being ignored at the cheaper tracks. No need for me to imagine, I have seen it.

Then there is the whipping. In general, when a racehorse turns for home he gets the living shit whipped out of him. Whether he is in first or last, limping or sailing on air, he gets whipped. In recent years, they have added an extra 1/4″ of foam to the “business end” in order to make it more “humane.” This is total bullshit and here’s why: a whip is usually 2 1/2′-3 1/2′ sections of fiberglass fishing-poles (wrapped in colorful plastic string or leather) and a 1/2″ thick foam-popper on the end that is covered in patent leather – for the comfort of the horse, I’m sure. Is it possible that part of the reason racehorses become sour – rearing up, flipping over and sometimes even killing themselves in avoidance – is because they anticipate the whipping? For an animal of flight, a prey animal, having a rider on your back continuously whipping or spurring even through you’re already running as fast as you can – in a stampede, in front of a screaming audience – certainly must seem like punishment.

In my 20 years in this industry, I have been licensed in eight different states; I have rode at training facilities in most of these and in four others as well. I have “broke” (got them ready to ride) over 100 yearlings and have personally snapped the legs off of two separate horses by galloping them whilst they were knowingly unsound. Both were euthanized on the spot. I am aware of a few other horses whom I have mortally injured. One horse whom I killed particularly haunts my memory.

We were out galloping and I felt something pop and he began to limp. He was a really kind and gentle guy. I hopped off and led him back to the barn. I watched that horse stand in his tiny, hard stall with no feed or bedding for nearly a week before the “meat man” came through on his weekly run. At which point, this gentle, trusting animal was loaded, limping, onto the trailer where he was shuffled around hungry, afraid, and in pain for another week before being shipped to the slaughterhouse.

There is nothing glamorous about this “sport,” no matter what country you’re in. Any time you mass-produce animals as commodities, there is going to be cruelty and death. That’s a fact, and to focus on just the drugging is a total cop-out. Actually, if you saw how these horses lived you would advocate them having more drugs. Taking away Lasix and pain-killers is increasing their suffering and worsening their already horrible quality of life. Having seen and lived this for 20 years, it is my opinion that horseracing simply needs to go away.

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  1. In tears….I barely have words. :’-(( All I can say is thank you to this person for speaking out. I have a hard time giving that “thank you”, however deserved, to someone who willingly participated in such abuse for apparently a very long time. I also find it notable that he makes a big point to say that he enjoys eating meat and then moments later declares: “any time you mass produce animals as commodities there’s going to be cruelty and death.” Why is the notion of being “a bleeding heart activist” so abhorrent? God forbid someone show compassion or dare to speak out about it. Well at least this person finally had the guts to speak out and I thank them for that. What he divulged about the treatment and reality of the horses is beyond tragic.

    • So wisely said. He was a part of the problem and even though he comes out now, there is still that stain of condoning abuse for many years. I commended him for coming forward however. More need to come forward and his words need to be published nationally. This has got to end. Thanks for your comments.

    • Beautifully written. Thank you, Dina. I love all animals, do not eat meat, and gladly wear the label bleeding heart. It’s always puzzling that people always try to placate those who scoff at or insult those of us who have compassion and empathy for all animals, and who try to get it stopped.
      Horseracing needs to be abolished. Let these people find another way to be entertained that doesn’t involve the brutality, cruelty and deaths of animals..

  2. While I applaud this person for telling the truth about this vile industry, I have to wonder how any person with a shred of decency can stay in that industry for years, witnessing and even participating in the atrocities. Why aren’t more people like this sacking up and coming forward? ( I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the number of illegals at the racetracks – a point which nullifies the “taking away jobs” angle because these people shouldn’t even be here.)

  3. I sm sick to my stomach reading this commentary on abuse of racing horses. This is how US horses are treated until they do to slaughter which is one of the most horrific ways to die. I can only imagine the feelings of the author who is trying to relate the horrors he has experienced and been a part of. He is tying to make people understand that racing horses lives are unhealthy, not regarded and merely trash to owners, trainers and others who see what is happening but promote it because of greed and do nothing to stop it This commentary should be published nationally in prominent news media so there will be a national initiative to stop this torture of racing horses. The time is now to rid these despicable practices out of existence and make racing horses a thing of the past because no owner, trainer or breeder will step up to do the right thing. These are horrific practices that need to be wiped out. Let us all keep the pressure on and support any exposure we can to be a part of ethical rendering of magnificent horses. I commend the author for writing this expose. It is vastly powerful!

  4. Sad. A Very Hard Read. I’ve Never Gambled on Horse Racing ,and i Think it is a Cruel “Sport” ,If You can Call it a SPORT. 🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬

  5. This very simply put – NEEDS TO JUST GO AWAY – as stated! Full STOP.

  6. Anyone with a shred of decency SOMEWHERE has his/her breaking point, and I am grateful that this person spoke out, as he obviously reached his. It doesn’t absolve him of this participation for so many years, but at least he may have stayed to try to help rather than abandon those poor horses to people who cared less.

    It is clear that those who turn a blind eye and think nothing of these animals beyond the money they make are missing a heart and a conscience. The attitude toward horses (and indeed, to most animals), that they all exist to serve human whims is repulsive and unevolved. It shows that there is a black core to most of humanity and at some point, these people will reduce the earth to an ugly, inhospitable, money-grubbing shell with no natural beauty left. I hope to God (if there is one, and I wonder where He is with so much evil going on) that those of us with decency and compassion can prevent that, starting with ending this racing horror.

  7. Thank-you for speaking out.
    I know all too well what happens to an insider who exposes the daily grind that these racehorses are forced to endure.
    While I know that everything you say is true I take issue with you advocating for dope suggesting that it will somehow bring them comfort.
    Just as their daily living regime is completely counter-intuitive to their natural being so is the dope.
    I think that everything combined, including Lasix, is a death sentence for the most part or, if they make it out alive, they are usually too maimed for a home.
    In short, racehorses are mere gambling chips, disposable commodities that get tossed when they are done with them.
    The more our politicians continue to financially support these hell holes, via taxpayers/casino money, the more the massive suffering will continue, and I predict it will only get worse.
    It’s no secret that there are a shortage of horses to fill races and it will be the racehorses who pay the price with less rest, increased doping to subdue their pain and/or chronic issues, and beatings to perform.
    We know that all of this goes on so now it’s time for us to end this.
    There are no more excuses, no changes that will end the dying, and an industry stacked with pro-horse racing entities that enable the cruelty and dying.
    This is blatant, widespread racehorse cruelty and it needs to end.

  8. You don’t have to be a ‘bleeding heart’ or a vegetarian to know that they treat the horses horrifically, and don’t even blink an eye. The owners, trainers, jockeys, other hired help, and the Horse Racing Commission (both state and national), are not held accountable for their actions. I use to think it could possibly be cleaned up (maybe with National Commission in charge and all states had to follow), but the more I find out about the abuse/murder of these beautiful animals the more I know the only answer is to get rid of them …..and prosecute those responsible with lengthy sentences and major fines. The money to be used for rehab/sanctuaries for the horses (maybe the land currently owned for the destruction of these majestic animals can be confiscated as part of the sentencing). People need to write/call their representatives/senators to change the laws, but until then people have to stop betting at the tracks or off, so the industry will be ruined. No, it doesn’t take a bleeding heart or a vegetarian to save these animals, just each one of us doing what we can in their honor.

  9. Horses are not and should not be treated as commodities. They are wonderful animals who should be treated with decency and respect. Horse racing is an atrocity for all the heartbreaking reasons mentioned in the article, and it should be banned. Reading this piece made me sick to my stomach–and like some other responders I, too,wondered how someone could have worked in the industry as long as they did, seeing the daily cruelties. I just hope this person showed the horses he dealt with some affection and compassion along the way.

  10. Way past time for this “sport” to join dog fighting, rooster fighting and bull fighting as a stain on our society.
    Thank you for being one of the whistleblowers.
    I’m certain the memories will haunt you, but you’ve done right by speaking out!


  12. I have trained appaloosa show horses and have always treated my horses with the utmost kindness. They would have done anything for me because they trusted me. However, I have seen my competitors do horrible things to their hrses when they were hired to win. The horses would shake vigorously with fear. I understand. I am a true horse lover and would do whatever I can to bring justice to these magnificent wonderful animals. I love them dearly.

  13. What an awful scenario – why is man so cruel to these innocent animals – just for money? probably. Horse racing should be done away with permanently.

  14. If everyone in this world could and willingly read this article and not turn a blind eye, or harden their heart or even dismiss his narrative as an opinion, every horse would be free of cruelty and horse racing would be a thing of the past. These terrible people need to go, but what will happen to them. Will they wreak havoc on another event in life. Where do we locate these vile humans when racing is outlawed for good. I really do not want them in my vicinity. I pray for all comfort for these poor horses going through this cruelty. Shame on these money greedy people. They make me sick.

  15. Thank you for your honest experience, and not sugar coating any of the bullshit.
    Rd very sad and very sickening.

  16. I can’t help but wonder if the only reason these people are coming forward now is because they don’t want to be caught up in the backlash when the racing industry finally implodes. I mean, how could you stomach the abuse for 20 plus years and only now say something about it? I’m sorry, but your apology is too little, too late. I hope you see those dead horses every time you close your eyes.

    • Agreed, Rebecca! This whole post strikes me as less about true contrition and concern for equine welfare than a sudden need to declare the writer’s perceived superiority to his/her colleagues in the whole, corrupt, scum-infested business.

      To the writer: you are every bit as complicit in these horses’ suffering and deaths as the worst of the worst in the entire non-sport of horse racing. Just because you are able to write and publish what the informed among us have known for a long time doesn’t absolve you of your responsibility in perpetuating this whole sickening debacle.
      Further, I see nothing in this essay indicating you have taken actual steps to distance yourself from these atrocities in any meaningful way. Anyone can take an anonymous stand against their employer. True character in the face of such evil requires that one REMOVE ONE’S SELF from the offending associations, then use his/her knowledge and experience to combat the evil.

  17. Some of you wonder why more people don’t come forward, read all the hateful comments and judgments I just received . Some of you wonder how Iv stayed in the industry for so long (and I’m still in it) well, off the race track I’m worth $10 an hour. What will then happen to the horses and other animals Iv rescued when I can no longer provide a home and food for them? In life we all have to turn a blind eye sometimes to the way our friends and neighbors treat their animals and children because if you go around yelling at people or calling authorities all the time your putting your own animals and children at risk. Risk of retaliation and risk of being homeless and hungry when you alienate yourself from your job and community. I planned on continuing to work with Patrick and share with him more stories, videos and pictures because having someone who remains on the “inside” would be most valuable to this movement. But after reading all the ignorance, judgment and hate, I just don’t know

    • Anonymous Writer, please continue to work with Patrick because the horses need your voice. I, too, have anonymous sources that funnel information to me about the horrors in racing even though I have also witnessed some of those horrors firsthand. If asked not to divulge names, then, being a woman of my word, I keep those sources confidential. There is no doubt in my mind that retaliation is commonplace in the horseracing industry and being “blackballed” is not uncommon.

      Thank you for speaking out because I know how difficult that was for you to do. I have no fear of speaking out against the atrocities since I don’t make my living in an industry that cripples, maims, and kills, daily but I do understand where you are coming from. As far as name calling, I have been called every name in the book by those who support this industry. The hateful rhetoric is rampant. Although I know it is difficult, please continue to share the atrocities with Patrick. Remember….you are doing it FOR the horses.

    • This is not ignorance, judgment, and hate. This is outrage at an industry that torments, tortures, abuses and kills living sentient beings. If a child abuser came forward with a confession, even if he was feeling truly contrite about what he had done, people would still hold him accountable for the atrocities he had committed. You have just admitted your part in a horror story; there will not be instantaneous understanding: you personally snapped the legs off two babies – what did you think the reaction would be?
      I’m sorry you didn’t get the sympathy and understanding you felt you should have for coming forward. I’m sure you felt conflicted and scared. But doing the right thing should never be about getting the approval of others.

    • I think a dose of humility is in order here. None of us, myself included, is pure. We all have done things we’re not proud about. But what matters – all that matters – is what we do going forward. The writer is helping horses simply by virtue of this piece. That, and other more-quiet advocacy, deserves commendation, not condemnation.

      • You said it. I’m thankful Writer is educating us and NO LONGER in this psycho-deplorable business as an Exercise-Rider.

    • That`s why we have quit commenting here as well. We have a wealth of experiences in the industry, mostly bad.We like you are are worthless to the world of the non-system of employment! Despite having a university degree we have NEVER made more than $5 hourly. We have little or no short term memory, just try to find an employer who let you work around that birth defect! With our present farm we provide good tempered sound horses to the young families who desire a horse for their youth to ride and train.On the track we were able to earn 2 or 3 times what was ever possible in the outside general economy. so we know exactly where you`re coming from. Oh and by the way MANY learning disabled who want to work and have some semblance of self worth end up earning way less than the so called minimum wage under the table as we did for most of our working life.

    • If its truly about the horses, then peoples ignorance, judgement, and hate should not matter. I assure you just about every person on here has received the same treatment by the pro racing crowd in one way or another. I cant tell you how many times i’ve been called a snowflake, bleeding heart liberal, misinformed, ignorant, am unaware of how well these horses are treated, that if i care so much go save them myself, i mean it just goes on and on when you speak the truth and bring the realities to light. I can tell you this i will not cower, i will not turn tide and shut my mouth regardless of the consequence, all for the simple fact of i know what the horses are going through and will not stand for it. I thank you for coming forward and speaking out, and hope you will continue to be a voice for the horses, they need it desperately. Just consider the horses and what they are going through before you let peoples words affect your goals.

    • It is true that in life when you are surrounded by right and wrong and you choose to stand up for what is right, you will suffer the consequencesBut take heart and stand strong because we are here with you. You are the voice of the horses they can’t see us they can see you please continue to do what is right.

  18. If I’m not in there, being empathetic to these horses and rescuing as many as I am able, who is???

    • AW: don’t convince yourself that you need to be there.
      Your much better off leaving.
      You can do a lot of good for the racehorses, be a stronger voice not worrying about repercussions, and you can educate people.
      I suffered blowback from this industry, yes they have a goon squad, but I would have it no other way.
      My suffering doesn’t come close to the suffering that the racehorses endure every single day.
      If you haven’t seen BLACKFISH I suggest you watch it because the former SeaWorld trainers felt exactly the same way you did only to realize that working there was, inadvertently, supporting the abuse/dying and the only option was to leave.
      Furthermore, they could no longer tolerate watching Tillikum and the whales suffer in confinement including hiding daily dope in his food to calm him, forcing him to perform, masturbating him for his sperm etc etc.
      All of these things go on in horse racing as well.
      It’s all the same: exploiting a voiceless animal for profit only the victim is different.

  19. Anonymous – I can understand where you are. But for the grace of god – I never had one break down with me on them, but it certainly could have happened. The trainers I worked for were knowlingly Raced horses with knee fractures, a demolished hock, and sesamoid fractures. One was retired with a fracture somewhere in the front leg, AFTER he raced that day. He retired only being sound enough to be a pasture buddy. Like the others. A few broke down on the track – they were euthanized. Definitely a disregard for both human and equine lives.

  20. I haven’t words to express how much I hate these people. I hope karma comes for them.

    • Thank you for writing the truth in such a straightforward manner. Your direct and detailed description of the horse racing industry and the savage treatment of these sensitive animals will, hopefully, get a wide read!

  21. Many years ago my first riding instructor had show horses and taught me to ride on a retired mare. This particular mare was so used to be in her small stall that after grooming all her owner had to do was release her from the cross ties and she would turn and enter her stall on her own. She preferred that to any turnout. Forget about riding outside, she was only comfortable in a fenced in arena. After she was put down, for no good reason, the next horse would stand with his head in a corner and flip his lower lip to make noises. He had no human contact except to be told to move over.

  22. I had to work at a horse farm years ago where they had trotters as well as thoroughbreds. I personally saw horses being abused and I lashed out at the perpetrators. I was not employed there very long, but, while I was there, I worked from seven at night until seven in the morning after the races were over. I stayed in that barn in the freezing cold all night with those horses and gave them as much love as I possibly could. Some of the horses the guys told me were nasty and ill tempered were the sweetest, gentlest horses I had ever encountered. One in particular would wait for me to come to his stall every evening and lay his head on my shoulder and I would just stroke him gently and talk to him to calm him down. I love those horses like they were my children. It broke my heart when that operation left Pennsylvania and moved up to New York . I think about each and everyone of them every single day and pray that they all ended up in a good place but I know better. I cannot stand people who use horses as commodities for the sole purpose of making money. Those horses are intelligent, loving, sensitive, beautiful creatures that deserve our love and respect-not be forced into doing something that they have no desire to do for man’s profit . As much as I like to watch them run, I know that the majority of them are not there willingly and it breaks my heart. Some horses love to run and they love competition, but, most of them do not. Horseracing is nearing the end of its road I believe. It’s a barbaric sport . There really is no other way to describe it. As much as I love to see horses race, my main concern now is making sure that they all come home safe and healthy to a loving forever home. In a way, I wouldn’t care if they stop horse racing forever. It really is a brutal sport.

    • Thank you so much for your sensitive and compassionate comments. Also thank you for loving the horses when they returned from the tract. Let’s keep the pressure on to stop the systematic abuse of these magnificent horses.

  23. I am in tears. I had no idea that this is what happens to these beautiful souls. I have watched harness racing for years and have taken in 2 retired geldings. One was 13 and retired. He was such an amazing guy. So gentle and sweet. The other was what the prior owner called a “rolling atm”. This guy would be shot up with pain killer and allowed to race. When I took him I was told that he had a simple hock injury and with stall rest would improve and he would be able to ridden. After a couple of months of having him his limping came back. I called a vet in and was told that it was a stifle injury and there was no guarantee that it could be fixed or that he would ever be riden. It was at that time, because of cost and uncertainty, we had him humanely put down. It was so heartbreaking to think that this big beautiful boy had been made to continue to race in the amount of pain that he was in and constantly causing more damage to his already tired body.

  24. “There is nothing glamorous about this “sport,” no matter what country you’re in. Any time you mass-produce animals as commodities, there is going to be cruelty and death. ” That’s a strange thing for a man who admitted to eating meat to say.

    • I find your comment about AW eating meat, judgmental and an unnecessary and unkind criticism.
      Further, you haven’t been walking in Anonymous Writer’s shoes. You do not know him nor do you know what his life has been like for him. But one thing we do know is that he is speaking up for the horses based on his first hand experience in the racing industry and that is to be highly commended and respected. And I, for one, am grateful that he has done this. I come from a racing family and I’ve worked hands on with the horses and saw for my own eyes as to what goes on.
      Sadly, it appears that you didn’t appreciate him sharing the facts, thoughts and views conveyed in his informative and thought provoking comment.

  25. This is beyond PSYCHO — going on for years — and no one KNEW — when my mind wraps around each visual, it kills me — how can WE ALLOW this brutality to continue! — HORSE-RACING MUST be OBLITERATED off the FACE of the EARTH.

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