So what, you ask, is wrong with horseracing? Well, there’s this:
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.
Grinding of Unformed Bodies
Horses do not reach full musculoskeletal maturity – bones not done growing, plates not done fusing – till around the age of six. And the higher up, the slower the process, so that the bones in the spine and neck, of all places, are the last to finish. Racehorses, typically, are thrust into intensive training at 18 months, and raced at two – the rough equivalent of a first-grader. In the necropsies, 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 unformed bodies are forced to absorb.
Confinement and Isolation
In perhaps the worst of it, racehorses are kept locked – alone – in tiny 12×12 stalls for over 23 hours a day, making a mockery of the industry claim that horses are “born to run, love to run,” and a cruelty all the worse for being inflicted on naturally social, herd-animals like horses. Prominent equine veterinarian Dr. Kraig Kulikowski likens 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, digging, kicking, even self-mutilation.
Control and Subjugation
The racing people thoroughly control every moment of their assets’ lives – control that is often effected through force and intimidation: pushing, shoving, pulling, yanking, yelling, screaming; and through the tools of the trade: nose chains, lip chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth “bits” – which, says Dr. Robert Cook, an expert in equine physiology, make the horses feel like they’re suffocating when being forced to run at breakneck speeds – and, of course, whips. On that, the 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.
Drugging and Doping
Racehorses are injected, legally and otherwise, with myriad performance-enhancing, injury-masking, and pain-numbing chemicals. The horsemen’s credo is really quite simple: keep ’em on the track, keep ’em earning, by whatever means necessary.
By law, racehorses are literal chattel – pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide. To make matters worse, they are not even afforded the protections, woefully inadequate as most are, of animal-cruelty statutes, meaning an owner or trainer can run his horse into the ground – yes, even to death – with virtual impunity. What’s more, the average racehorse will change hands multiple times over the course of his so-called career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious, stressful existence. This near-constant shuffling among trainers, grooms, vets, barns, tracks, and states is a primary reason why some 90% of active racehorses suffer from chronic ulcers.
Horseracing Wrongs has documented – with names, dates, locations, and details – almost 10,000 kills on our website just since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses die at U.S. tracks every year. Over 2,000 – that’s about six per day.
And to be clear, death at the track is neither clean nor tranquil. Death at the track is cardiovascular collapse – this, mind you, to animals who are mostly still in adolescence. Death at the track is pulmonary hemorrhage – or bleeding out from the lungs. Death at the track is blunt-force head trauma from collisions with other horses or the track itself. Death at the track is broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments, and shattered legs – occasionally shattered so severely that the limb remains attached to the rest of the body by skin or tendons only.
Death also comes back in the stalls with things like colic, a painful, terrifying abdominal affliction; laminitis, excruciating inflammation in the feet; respiratory infections; neurological disorders; parasitic infestations, etc. Sometimes, the necropsy simply reads, “found dead in the morning.”
Two independent studies (as well as industry admissions) reveal that the end for most racehorses comes, mercilessly and violently, at the abattoir. From “athlete” to meat – often in a matter of days.
So the real question is why, in the 21st Century, do we still countenance this horror? Why is this viewed as some inviolable tradition (“The Sport of Kings”), an institution that warrants preservation? Fact is, stripped to its core, horseracing is but a failing (see subsidies) gambling business that exploits, abuses, and kills sentient beings, inherently, and inevitably. In other words, it cannot be fixed or reformed. In other words, horseracing is wrong from the start.
If horseracing is a sport, then that word must be redefined, for “The Sport of Kings” resembles no other accepted sport on the planet. In what other sport are the athletes:
condemned to a life as literal chattel?
kept in intensive, solitary confinement?
led around by lip chains and controlled with chunks of metal in their mouths?
whipped – beaten – for motivation?
afflicted with osteoarthritis as adolescents?
routinely dying on the playing field?
bled-out and butchered upon retirement?
A sport? If not for the gravity involved, ‘twould be absurd. No, horseracing is but exploitation of a weaker species for among the most shameful of reasons – $2 bets. To those who sustain this sordid business, we say: Slake those gambling urges with decidedly inanimate slots and scratch-offs; leave the horses out of it. To those who trade in equines in the pursuit of cash and fleeting glory, we say: Find a commodity that doesn’t bleed; take up a hobby that can’t cry out in pain. Enough. Enough.
To those who wager on horseracing, we implore you to reconsider. And ultimately, you hold all the cards: no more bets, no more races; no more races, no more kills. And: no more abusing unformed bodies; no more extreme, relentless confinement; no more whipping; no more drugging; no more buying and selling and trading and dumping; no more auctions; no more kill-buyers; no more transport trucks; no more abattoirs. No more maiming and destroying. No more pain and suffering. No more.
In a landscape that abounds with other gambling options – casinos, lotteries, real sports involving autonomous human beings – has not the time at long last arrived to let these poor animals be? You, the bettor, have within the capacity for mercy. We ask only that you exercise it. Please, for the horses.