A horse race is an event in which horses compete against each other over a set distance of several miles. It has been part of human culture for thousands of years, with its origins in the Greek and Roman chariot races and the Bedouin endurance races in the desert. Horses have been bred for racing since ancient times, and modern horse races are still held around the world.
Many people think that a horse race is a sport of skill, but it is actually a contest of stamina and speed. A horse’s endurance is determined by its skeletal system, and it must be strong enough to handle the strain of running on a hard track at high speeds. Injuries are common in horse racing, and many horses don’t live long enough to complete a full career.
The sport is also in trouble with animal rights activists. Activists point out that the industry’s business model relies on horses, and the welfare of these animals is not always put first. In response, racing aficionados often dismiss the concerns of animal rights activists and large segments of the general public.
Despite these problems, horse racing is still popular in some parts of the country. Its customers tend to be older, and new would-be fans are turned off by the sport’s safety record and doping scandals. Many people have also found other ways to gamble, and the industry has been struggling financially.
In 2020, Congress decided that it was unwilling to see horses die to entertain racing enthusiasts, and passed laws requiring the application of stricter safety standards. The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority, which oversees these rules, began enforcing them last July. They have already had an impact, and in 2022 the Equine Injury Database reported a lower rate of fatal injuries than ever before.
Although the rules are better, racing remains a dangerous sport for horses. Injuries to the tendons, ligaments and muscles are common, and horses are forced to run at breakneck speeds. Injuries can be devastating, and the sport is in urgent need of reform.
Among the most common injuries are lameness, an inflammation of the front limb that can be caused by running too fast or by landing heavily after jumping. Other serious injuries include a pulled suspensory ligament (suspenory desmitis), which is the rupture of the ligament that connects the back of the hock to the lower leg, and cracked pedal bone, a condition resulting from repeated contact with hard surfaces.
A recent study in PLOS ONE analyzed data from racetracks across the United States, and found that horses that had a slow start had a much higher likelihood of finishing well. The results, if true, might surprise jockeys who hold their horses back early in hopes of bursts of energy at the finish line. But it could also provide an opportunity for trainers to develop custom training strategies, based on a horse’s unique aerobic capacity.