A Horse Race Is Not Just A Spectator Sport

Horse racing is not just a spectator sport; it’s a dangerous, risky and traumatic affair. Horses suffer catastrophic heart attacks, broken limbs and other injuries while being compelled by humans perched on their backs to run at exorbitant physical stresses in tight quarters. In nature, they know their own limits and are inclined toward self-preservation. In racing, they are pushed to the breaking point by a whip that is not in their best interest and often makes them hurt even more. The deaths of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit prompted a long-overdue reckoning with the for-profit sport’s ethics and integrity. Unfortunately, it seems that little has changed.

The sun was just beginning to set when the horses began lining up in their paddock. They paraded past a team of stewards and patrol judges who check for proper weight and look for rule infractions. Saliva and urine samples are also taken. If they are declared eligible for the race, a special camera snaps their finish. Countless things can go wrong before the results are finalized, but the process is designed to protect human and equine safety and integrity.

As the race got under way, War of Will led from the inside, with Mongolian Groom and McKinzie in close pursuit. The pack moved with huge strides and hypnotic smoothness under the pinkish light. At the far turn, you could see that War of Will was tiring. He had a narrow lead on the outside, but he couldn’t hold it as McKinzie and Mongolian Groom surged ahead.

A big part of the problem is that most races are a bit more like sprints than a marathon. Because of that, horsemen have incentives to push a horse beyond its limits. Also, because many races are funded by taxpayer perks like gambling revenue, they’re more lucrative for the track than a traditional, dirt-and-mud race. This has led to a proliferation of races that are too short and too fast, with the result being that fewer horses are bred and trained to do them right.

To change this, a major reckoning is needed at the macro business and industry level as well as within the minds of horsemen. This would include a complete restructuring of the industry from breeding to training to aftercare, with a clear priority placed on the welfare of racehorses. It would also involve a complete overhaul of the rules and regulations, incorporating caps on the number of times a horse can be raced and its age limit as well as a return to a more natural lifestyle. This would be a costly and complex endeavor, but it is what’s needed to keep the lives of horses safe. That is, if the humans in racing actually care about them.