A horse race is a competition between a number of horses, either ridden by jockeys or pulled by drivers in sulkies. The winner of the race wins a certain amount of money, depending on the type of race. These races may be flat, steeplechase, or jump races. Some are handicap races, in which the horses are assigned weights to carry for fairness. Other factors affect a horse’s performance, such as age, sex, training, and track conditions.
The equine industry has long operated under a patchwork of rules across the dozens of states that host horse racing. This means that horses are subjected to different standards and punishments for breaking rules, despite the fact that they are often moved between state-to-state as part of their training regimen. For example, some trainers or owners who violate the use of whips in one state may still be able to participate in races with different standards and penalties in other states.
Moreover, the industry’s profit motive drives it to push horses beyond their limits in pursuit of the biggest purses and highest rankings on the leader board. The for-profit business model also gives the horseman an incentive to run a horse past its limits when its chances of winning are low, because it is more profitable than taking a risk on a lesser-known or unproven horse.
These are all significant issues that must be addressed if horse racing is to survive and thrive in the future. The industry needs to fundamentally change its business model with the welfare of its horses as its top priority. That would include a massive overhaul, from breeding to aftercare, including caps on the number of times a horse can be run and incorporating a more natural and equine-friendly lifestyle.
A horse’s skeleton doesn’t fully mature until around the age of 6, yet they are often bred as babies and forced into intensive training at 18 months, or as young as 2. They then begin racing at an age when their skeletal system is not yet ready for the demands of running on hard tracks at high speeds. This combination of immaturity and the extreme physical demands of racing is a recipe for breakdowns.
This is why it’s so upsetting when a horse loses its life on the racetrack, in training, or in a paddock. The death of a young racehorse should have the same impact on the public as the loss of a celebrity. When people witness a horse die catastrophically in a race, or even in training and simply move on with no sense of empathy, they are contributing to the demise of this wonderful sport. Let us not forget the tragic deaths of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan and Laoban. They deserve a much better fate. This will require a profound ideological reckoning on the macro business and industry level, as well as within the hearts of horsemen and women.