We had an op-ed published in the Albany Times Union this morning: “There’s no getting around it: Horse racing is immoral.” (While I have provided the text below, please click on the link to support the paper.)
Recent stories, including right here in the Times Union, on the massive subsidization of the American horseracing industry have laid bare the economic unsustainability of racing in the 21st Century. Lost in all this talk of money, however, is the giant moral elephant in the room: How can we, a supposedly evolved society, continue to justify the abuse and killing of horses in the name of entertainment, and worse, for $2 bets?
Through our unprecedented FOIA reporting, Horseracing Wrongs has documented over 8,000 deaths at U.S. tracks just since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. Over 2,000 – that’s almost six every single day. Aortic rupture, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma, broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments, shattered legs. In addition, hundreds more die back in their stalls, and worse still, two separate studies indicate that most – some 10,000-15,000 annually – spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are mercilessly bled-out and butchered (slaughtered, that is) at “career’s” end.
Here in New York, since 2009, when the Gaming Commission began releasing data, over 1,600 horses have perished at the 11 commercial racetracks (this figure does not account for deaths at private training facilities). Saratoga Race Course, perhaps the crown jewel in American racing, averages almost 15 kills per summer; Belmont Park, the site of the third leg of the Triple Crown, can boast over 100 deaths in just the past two years, easily among the highest totals in the nation.
But the killing is but a part of the story. There is, too, the everyday cruelty. To wit:
– Would-be racehorses are forever torn from their mothers and herds as mere babies. Sold, usually, at the tender age of one, broken, an industry term meaning to be made pliant and submissive, alone and terrified, their servitude begins.
– The typical horse does not reach full musculoskeletal maturity till around the age of six. The typical racehorse is thrust into intensive training at 18 months, and raced at two. On the maturation chart, a 2-year-old horse is the rough equivalent of a 6-year-old child. In our reporting, we see time and again 4-, 3-, even 2-year-old horses dying with chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease – clear evidence of the incessant pounding these pubescent bodies are forced to absorb.
– In perhaps the worst of it, racehorses are kept locked – alone – in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day, a cruelty all the worse for being inflicted on naturally social, herd-animals like horses. At a 2019 NYS Senate hearing, prominent equine vet Dr. Kraig Kulikowski likened this cruelty to keeping a child locked in a 4×4 closet for over 23 hours a day. Imagine that. Relatedly, practically all the horse’s natural instincts and desires are thwarted, creating an emotional and mental suffering that is brought home with crystal clarity in the stereotypies commonly seen in confined racehorses: cribbing, wind-sucking, bobbing, weaving, pacing, digging, even self-mutilation.
– Racehorses are controlled and subjugated through, among other means, cribbing collars, nose/lip chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth bits, and, of course, whips. On that, the very public flogging administered to racehorses would land a person in jail if done to his dog in the park. But at the track, it’s simply part of the tradition.
– By law, racehorses are literal chattel – pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide. In fact, the average racehorse will change hands multiple times during his so-called career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious, stressful existence (almost all active racehorses suffer from ulcers).
Fact is, in regard to how the relative animals are treated, horseracing is dogracing (one could even argue that, because of slaughter, horseracing is that much worse). But while the latter is all but dead – by the end of this year, there will be but two tracks left in the entire country; dogracing is outright prohibited on moral grounds in 41 states – horseracing is allowed to persist under the cover of sport (indeed, “The Sport of Kings”). Please don’t let this brilliant yet specious marketing cloud your better judgment. If it looks like animal cruelty, sounds like animal cruelty, and feels like animal cruelty, then that’s exactly what it is.