The Dark Side of Horse Racing

Horse racing is an industry that thrives on the public’s affection for the noble steeds that carry them through a sport that can be both exciting and lucrative. Yet it’s a sports industry that suffers from an insidious dark side: an overwhelming number of horses die every year on the racetrack, or soon thereafter, as they are pushed past their limits. Many of the deaths could have been prevented by implementing a system similar to what exists in other major sports leagues, where consistent safety protocols and transparency are in place to prevent the exploitation of animals.

In order to win a race, a horse and rider must finish before all other competitors. This is decided by a photo finish, where stewards or officials examine an image of the winning horse and determine which one broke the plane (crossed the line first). In cases where no clear winner can be determined, a dead heat is declared.

A horse’s odds are calculated based on its past performance and its likelihood of finishing in the top three. The higher the odds, the more money a player can win on a bet. Odds are posted in decimal form, such as 4/1 or 1/5, and players can place bets on individual horses or the entire field of runners.

Since its inception, horse racing has operated under a patchwork of rules governing the use of whips, the types of medications that can be given to horses, and so on. These rules differ by state, unlike other major sports leagues in the U.S., and violations are not consistently penalized. Consequently, trainers and owners can often violate rules in one state and participate in another shortly thereafter.

As horse races have expanded globally, the prestige and wealth associated with success has inspired breeders to develop faster equines. British soldiers returning home from desert war fronts praised their opponents’ amazing horses for sprinting across the sand, prompting the development of a leaner, faster breed known as the Thoroughbred. New oval tracks gave spectators a better view, further increasing interest in the sport.

To be competitive, most horses must be bred and trained to endure long distances at high speeds in close confinement for prolonged periods of time. Injuries are inevitable, and at times catastrophic. Those that don’t make it to the racetrack and aren’t adopted by a private owner or rescued by nonprofits may end up in slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada, where they will be killed for meat consumption. Fortunately, for these horses, there is a small community of independent nonprofit horse rescue groups that network, fundraise, and work tirelessly to save them. But even these dedicated individuals and organizations rely on donations from industry folks and gamblers, who are helping to fuel the ongoing, often deadly, exploitation of younger running horses. A comprehensive overhaul of the sport is desperately needed to protect horses’ health, welfare and safety.