The Cruelty of Confinement; The Lie of “Enrichments”

Among the many wrongs of horseracing – the drugging and doping; the whipping; the buying, selling, trading, and dumping; the killing, of course – perhaps the worst of it is the everyday, unremitting cruelty of confinement and isolation. Dr. Richard Ryder, British psychologist and one of animal rights’ true giants, once wrote: “Pain [suffering] is the one and only true evil.” Yes, even worse than death. That horses – naturally social, innately mobile animals – are kept locked, alone, in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day is, in a word, evil. Prominent equine vet Kraig Kulikowski has likened this evil to locking a child in a 4×4 closet for over 23 hours a day. Imagine that.

The racing people, of course, know this. That’s why some add what they call “enrichments” to their horses’ stalls – “a mirror, a hanging ball, a bell, a window, more feed, straw bedding.” Turns out, says a French research team, that the windows and the rest are in truth just window dressing. One of the scientists, Dr. Léa Lansade, told The Horse: “There’s this idea that adding toys and brushes and windows and different bedding can make stalled horses’ life dramatically better, but that’s clearly a myth.”

The “enrichment” efforts were studied against the unmistakable signs of distress – “stereotypies (crib-biting, wind-sucking, and weaving, primarily), aggression toward humans (biting and threats), a ‘depressed state’ bodily posture (neck and back at about the same level, with low ears and poor response to any kind of stimulus), and stress-related behaviors such as ‘acting nervous’ with a high neck and excessive alertness or frequent defecation” – and the result: “enrichment had little effect on signs of poor welfare.” Lansade: “Our results with these horses showed that these little ‘improvements’ we do in stalls just aren’t sufficient. Removing some window bars, adding an extra meal of concentrated feed—these don’t really serve much purpose…”

Furthermore, says the article – and again, this should be obvious – “the older the horses were, the more signs of poor welfare they showed…over time, the horses’ welfare worsened.” Lansade sums it thus: “The horse, which has lived in open spaces for the last several millennia with unrestricted access to forage and especially while establishing strong and complex social relationships with other horses, just isn’t made for living alone, isolated in a box, regardless of how well-set-up it is.” Put another way, forcing any sentient being to “live alone, isolated in a box” is evil. Simply evil.

(The Horse article)
(full study here)

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  1. Everything mentioned here is so wrong! These wonderful animals run their hearts out so why can’t anyone stop all this abuse! It’s all because of greed and the horses suffer!

  2. I’ve seen stalled horses standing with their heads in a corner just banging their forehead into the wall, and horses who resort to self-mutilation. My off the track Arabian is a horrible wood chewer from being confined to a stall. Isn’t one of the punishments in human society to be confined in a prison cell? And a more severe form of punishment is solitary confinement. Why do people think that life in a box is any different for an intelligent social animal? Except it’s punishment they don’t understand and don’t deserve.

    • My OTTB is perfect in those regards, but ONLY because he was so “unsuccessful” at racing — only four starts as a 2-year-old, all losses, with stewards notes stating things like, “not a factor” — before he was plucked from that wretched, cruel world of the track.
      Too bad they all aren’t so “bad” at racing; more might have the faintest hope of living a full, contented life.

    • The anxiety and sensory deprivation of solitary confinement is the quickest way to drive a person insane and we don’t even need to run around outside in a herd.

  3. Rebecca,one of the reasons,among many,I don’t trust trump is his record on Animal Rights and Protections. Please don’t assume I haven’t done my homework and thorough reading. The environment and climate change has consequences on All sentient beings. I think you should look into the Protections and rights of animals he has STRIPPED. I respect the fact you’ll have your own likes, but don’t assume I haven’t done my OWN research.

    • I stated my views and I refuse to argue the point. This site is about horse racing, not politics. Let’s leave it that way.

  4. What crap! Is that why during a fire a horse will run back to its own stall? I trained them in the morning and walked or rode them all over the backside. My horses were always happy and healthy. TBs move to different tracks throughout the year. They are horses but also they are athletes,they have their minds on business, if not they become dessage horses,jumpers,kids riding ponies.

    • Horses will run back to their stall simply because that’s all they know. I’ve read about horses confined to stalls for years who will only walk a 12 x 12 path in an open field when they are finally given freedom. The fact that you work in the racing industry gives you an instantaneous bias as far as how you think horses should be treated. They have their minds on business? They’re horses for the love of God! You honestly think a horse spends a life locked in a stall thinking about winning races? Worrying about stud fees? The only things your horses are focused on is the isolation and confinement of a stall, the ache in his muscles and joints from being pushed too hard, too young, and the pain of the shocking devices and whips that he feels every time he steps on that track. Your horses are not athletes, they’re slaves. Denied a life beyond the track because you destroy them so completely within the first few years of their lives. Look at the photos of horses lying shattered in the dirt and tell me they’re healthy and happy.

      • Patty – your comment is a perfect example of the lies racing industry insiders tell themselves and others in an attempt to rationalize the cruelty and abuse heaped on their horses. Animal behavior experts, veterinarians, nutritionists, and experienced horse people will tell you horses are happier, healthier and saner when given turn out and contact with other other. We confine them because it suits our needs, not theirs. They run back into their burning stalls because we train them not to run from danger. It’s an example of “learned helplessness”, not love for confinement. The very high rate of ulcers, 80% or more, according to some vets, is proof positive the racing life is harmful. Being busy and traveling is what humans enjoy so please stop trying to convince us that your horses are happy. You should be ashamed of yourself!

  5. Prisoners in high security prisons are confined to their cells 23 hours a day. This is punishment. The cons will say this, the legal system says this, and the general public would most certainly agree. When prisoners act out, they are placed in solitary. This is punishment. But everyone involved in the racing industry seems not to think that keeping a horse in solitary confinement in a 12′ by 12′ box for 23 hours a day is punishment. I think we can safely surmise that the welfare of the animals in their care is not high on their list of concerns.

  6. This all why Horse Racing is Vedimantly Cruel and Inhumane! Think how we would feel if every day we couldn’t go outside for walk in the sunshine and just enjoy the weather and run and frolick with their friends. Horse Racing needs to be abolished forever, these magnificent animals deserve to live like horses should live, free, taken care of and have turn outs, pasture time and riding with their loving owner and given love forever!!!!!!

  7. So wrong on every level, horses are such social animals, perhaps these people responsible should be put in solitary confinement for months on end, see how they feel, hateful people.

  8. Thank you for this article, Patrick exposing the pure evil of confinement for the racehorse. When I worked at the coalface, this was the suffering that really got to me. I watched horses get very depressed, in fact they were mostly in a depressed state 24/7 except feed time and when they did trackwork (when they were out in the fresh air, sunshine and exercising their bodies). One had a hard time adjusting to the light when taken out of the box, a jerk of a rider said the horse was crazy when he couldn’t handle him. In no uncertain terms I soon put him straight. Years ago I forwarded a submission to Racing Australia in relation to the welfare of the racehorse. Exactly as you’ve stated here, I put to them that as horrible and utterly unacceptable all the other wrongs the horse suffers are, the worst for the horse are the living conditions – the cruel confinement. These horses are living like this day after day, week after week, month after month over a period of years with the occasional spell. Some horses go insane.

  9. Horses, we all know, are herd animals. They are as social an animal, as humans.
    We’ve also learned, they are very intelligent. So, big deal, some one hangs a ball in the corner of the stall, for a horse to bop with its nose. For a day, maybe this helps with boredom, but for an intelligent animal, it gets old, very fast, and it’s back to total boredom.
    These animals need to be let out in a pasture they need more socialization than looking out an open stall door. Little wonder you see so many fractious racehorses. Isolation has left them with no social skills with their own kind, so little wonder they go crazy at the starting gate.
    WOW!!! More horses, just like me! Hey! How are you?! What’s your name?! If I could only get away from this jerk on my back, and these idiots trying to force me into this starting gate, we could run off and graze, groom each other, run around and play, or just stand quiet together. What a life we’re trapped in!

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