The Horse Race Is a Cruel Sport

horse race

Horse racing is an unnatural act, a spectacle that turns beautiful, majestic animals into for-profit contestants that compete to be the fastest. They’re born to run and play in the open field, not to be pushed into a chariot or urged by human riders to breakneck speed by a whip. And it’s a cruel sport, where horses are routinely injured, broken and killed by the demands of the business.

It’s hard to say when and where organized horse racing began, though we know it existed in the Greek Olympic Games from 700 to 40 B.C., when four-hitched chariot and mounted bareback races were held. It is presumed that it later spread to China, Persia, Arabia and North Africa, where highly developed horsemanship was established.

The sport is regulated by the rules of each country, and in most jurisdictions horses must meet certain specifications to race. A standardized weight for racehorses and the use of a whip are two of the most important safety measures. However, a race’s outcome is mostly determined by the skill and judgment of the rider, who uses the whip to steer his mount and nudge him to speed up at critical moments. And even with the best of care, a horse’s body can be pushed past its limits and injuries are common.

Despite this, horse racing’s leaders continue to promote the myth that horses are born to run and love to compete, and this explains why they’re so reluctant to adopt meaningful reforms. Changing the way horses are treated will require a profound ideological reckoning at both the macro business level and within the hearts of those who work in it. This would mean a complete restructuring of the industry, from breeding and training to retirement and aftercare, with an eye toward prioritizing the horses. It would also mean addressing the issues of cruelty, including abusive training practices, drug use and the transportation of thousands of American racehorses to foreign slaughterhouses.

While donations by racing insiders and gamblers are necessary for the welfare of older horses, they cannot cancel out participation in the ongoing, deadly exploitation of younger runners. Until this changes, we will have to watch as Eight Belles and Medina Spirit and Keepthename and Creative Plan and Laoban disappear into the shadows of the sport’s dark past. Their lives mattered, and their deaths should not have been in vain.

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