How to Save a Horse Race Horse From Harmful Injuries
Horse racing is a sport with a long and distinguished history. It has been part of human culture since ancient times, when archeological records show that it took place in societies as diverse as Egypt, Babylon, Rome, Syria, and Arabia. Today, it is a multibillion-dollar industry that includes the Triple Crown of American racing—the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes, and Kentucky Derby—and races in scores of countries around the world.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racing, however, is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. While spectators show off their fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, horses are forced to sprint—often at breakneck speeds that can cause them to suffer serious injuries and even hemorrhage from their lungs. In nature, horses understand self-preservation; if they are injured, they stop and rest until they heal. But on the racetrack, horses are compelled to keep going by humans perched on their backs, urging them forward with whips that often leave marks and bruises.
The death toll from racing is in the thousands every year, a number that is likely much higher, given a lack of race-day transparency, industry regulation, and willingness to address animal welfare concerns. It is a tragic toll that can include heart failure, pulmonary hemorrhage, broken bones and severed limbs, mangled spines, ruptured ligaments, and head trauma so serious that it causes brain damage.
Breeding 1,000-pound thoroughbreds with spindly legs and fragile torsos is a recipe for disaster. They don’t reach full maturity—meaning their growth plates have fused and they have fully developed joints and tendons—until age 6. Then, they are rushed into intensive training and racing. Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan, and Laoban were all racehorses who died at the track; they would be 17 now if they had lived a full life—a future stolen from them by an industry that treats animals as mere commodities for its own financial gain.
The good news is that a handful of independent nonprofit rescues and individuals network, fundraise, and work tirelessly to save ex-racehorses from the slaughter pipeline. But the horse racing industry needs to start with a comprehensive wraparound aftercare solution for all horses leaving the tracks. It should also stop breeding horses for racing, and instead focus on improving the quality of its existing stock. Only then will it be possible to truly give its athletes the best of both worlds: an exciting and profitable sport, and a safe and secure life after retirement. The first step is addressing the many problems that have plagued the industry for too long, including abuse in training and on the racetrack, overbreeding, and the plight of thousands of equine refugees en route to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.