What’s Wrong With Horseracing?

So what, you ask, is wrong with horseracing? Well, there’s this:

Forced Separation
Would-be racehorses are forever torn from their mothers, families, 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
The typical horse does 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. The typical racehorse is thrust into intensive training at 18 months, and raced at two – on the maturation chart, the rough equivalent of a first-grader. In the FOIA documents, 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.

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. At a 2019 NYS Senate hearing, prominent equine veterinarian 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 – things like cribbing, wind-sucking, bobbing, weaving, pacing, 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 through the tools of their trade: cribbing collars, nose chains, lip chains, tongue ties, eye blinders, mouth bits, and 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 all just 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 out 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 almost all active racehorses suffer from chronic ulcers.

Horseracing Wrongs has documented – with names, dates, locations, and details – over 8,000 deaths at U.S. tracks just since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 racehorses are killed across America every year. Over 2,000 – that’s about six every single 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 puberty. 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 at the track 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; or, as we often see in the FOIA documents, they’re simply “found dead in the morning.”

The prevailing wisdom, backed by two independent studies and industry admissions, is that most – some 10,000-15,000 annually – spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are brutally bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end.

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 merits preservation? Fact is, stripped to its core, horseracing is nothing but an archaic, mostly non-self-sufficient (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.

Patrick Battuello