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 herds as mere babies. 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 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. A 2-year-old horse is the rough equivalent of a 6-year-old child. This early, incessant grinding leaves many with chronic conditions like arthritis – while still pubescents.

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 heartrending 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. The ensuing suffering, one expert says, is akin to that experienced by humans in solitary confinement.

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, bobbing, weaving, pacing, digging, kicking, even self-mutilation. To combat this aberrant behavior, the racing people turn to drugs and medieval devices like cribbing collars.

Control and Subjugation
The racers thoroughly control every moment of their assets’ lives – control effected through, among other means, lip tattoos, nose chains, lip chains, tongue ties, blinkers, metal mouth bits, the aforementioned cribbing collars, and, of course, whips. On the last, the very public whipping a racehorse absorbs would land an owner in jail if done to his dog in the park. But in horseracing, it’s 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: keep ’em earning, by any means necessary.

By law, racehorses are literal chattel – things to be bought, sold, traded, and dumped whenever and however their people decide. To make matters worse, they are not even afforded the protections of animal-cruelty statutes, meaning a trainer or owner 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. (Studies show up to 90% of active racehorses suffer from ulcers.)

Horseracing Wrongs has documented over 7,000 deaths at U.S. tracks just since 2014; we estimate that over 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. Cardiovascular collapse, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt-force head trauma, broken necks, severed spines, ruptured ligaments, shattered legs. Over 2,000. Every year. In addition, hundreds more die back in their stalls from colic, laminitis, etc.

Two independent studies indicate that most – some 10,000-20,000 annually – spent or simply no-longer-wanted racehorses are mercilessly bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end. In truth, horseracing needs slaughter. In 2019, HorseRace Insider admitted the following: “The Jockey Club will not support a slaughter-free industry because it will cost $120 million per year to fund the care of the 20,000+ horses bred each year.” Again, The Jockey Club, the most prominent and powerful organization in U.S. Racing, will not support a slaughter-free industry – and for proof we need look no further than its refusal to endorse the SAFE Act, a bill that would forever prohibit the slaughter of American horses – because of cost. Imagine that.

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. In other words, it cannot be fixed or reformed. In other words, horseracing is wrong from the start.

Patrick Battuello