In horse racing, bettors stake money on the outcome of a race. Bettors may bet to win, place, or show. Winning horses receive the highest prize money, second-place finishers receive the second largest amount of money, and third-place finishers receive the smallest amount of money. The rest of the money is divided among a number of other horses based on their finishing position in the race. This type of betting is known as handicapping.
Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred horse races lies a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. But growing awareness of this dark side has fueled some improvements in the sport.
During the days leading up to a race, Siena’s central square, Piazza del Campo, is transformed into a track for the thousands of spectators. A gritty mixture of clay and earth is packed onto the ancient cobblestones, protecting them from the horses’ hooves while providing a firm and level surface. Bleachers are erected for spectators and a series of barriers mark the perimeter of the course. The horses are dressed in the colors of city districts. Each has a jockey astride it, wielding a whip to encourage the horse and lash other riders. Then, with the sound of a starting gun, the horses roar into a minute and a half of ruthless battle.
The pounding, grinding, and kicking of the horses’ hooves against the hard tarmac can be extremely painful. Injuries are common, and many horses die from the exorbitant stress of racing or training. Eight Belles, who died in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, and Medina Spirit, who died a year later, are just two examples of this harrowing reality. Countless other horses have been lost to the sport due to its inability to address these issues.
A horse’s hooves are shaped like the bottom of a shoe, and are made from tough, strong material that supports the horse’s weight. Each hoof contains several parts, including a joint called the frog, which connects to the front leg and carries its weight. A hoof can be injured in a variety of ways, such as when a horse is knocked on the hock or jarred on the shoulder.
When a horse is bucked off its back and thrown to the ground, the injury can be very serious. Often the injury can cause spinal fractures, upper and lower extremity fractures, dislocations, and nerve damage resulting in paralysis and loss of feeling. Horses who are bucked off their backs can also be euthanized. This practice is especially dangerous for young, injured, or sick horses. This is why it’s important to follow equine laws and train horses carefully.