The Cruelty of a Horse Race

Unless you’re an animal rights activist, the last time you saw a horse race was probably an exciting spectacle. It’s one of the few sports where a large audience can stand together and cheer for a single contestant-one man or woman against another. Then the crowd goes home and returns to their normal lives. For the horses, however, the excitement is short-lived. Whether it’s a sudden death or the wear and tear of constant pounding, horses are routinely injured or killed in racing and training. It’s not a matter of if they will die, but when. The first horse races in America were match races, usually between two horses over four-mile heats. They were a popular pastime throughout the colonies, especially in Virginia, which became the center of racing in America. After the Civil War, match races began to be replaced by standardized flat racing in which a winner was determined by a combination of speed and stamina. The American Thoroughbred was bred for this style of racing, which was based on the British system. As a result, the horses became shorter and lighter. They were also drugged and whipped to make them more competitive. By the early 1900s, American racing was a nationwide sport. The sport grew rapidly, with new tracks being built in major cities across the country. By the 1920s, a hundred racetracks were in operation. Despite its popularity, the game was plagued by corruption and dishonesty. The use of illegal drugs to enhance performance and mask pain was common, as well as a lack of oversight. In addition, the fact that horses were raced while injured or sick was not only dangerous to them but also a detriment to their health. When the acclaimed racehorses Eight Belles and Medina Spirit died in 2008, they caused a national uproar that forced the industry to take stock of its ethics. But, as the 2019 Kentucky Derby approaches, it is clear that the sport has not evolved in any meaningful way to put the best interests of the horses first. A lot of people like to watch horse races, but not everyone knows or cares about the cruel realities that go on behind the scenes. For a long time, many in the racing industry have ignored the concerns of horse welfare advocates and the general public while continuing to push horses beyond their limits. Until this changes, the industry will continue to hemorrhage its horses into the slaughter pipeline. It’s a tragedy for the animals and a blight on the reputation of a great American sport.