Last Updated on February 22, 2022 by Allison Price
Horse racing is a controversial topic within the equestrian community and animal rights community. Protests around the world have been sparked by racehorse treatment issues. Horse racing is cruel in a world where animal welfare is becoming more important.
Horse racing crosses the line between cruel and humane. Some racehorses have a happy life, but many suffer unnecessary pain and suffering during their career.
Many stakeholders and horse racing governing bodies believe that horses are treated fairly and enjoy luxurious lives. British Horse Racing describes how jockeys and trainers can build strong relationships with horses by working with them.
The general public, scientists, and welfare organizations are opposed to horse racing in all aspects. PETA, an American non-profit organization that advocates ethical treatment of animals, is one of the most vocal opponents.
PETA’s fight against horse racing cruelty emphasizes the high death rate of horses and the fact that the animals are sometimes forced to race even if they are mentally or physically unfit.
Do Racehorses Suffer?
There are many articles and opinions written every day about the life of racehorses. Larry Smith is one of the many professionals who are involved in horse breeding and training. He believes that horses have a good life. Some others claim that racehorses have been abused and profited from every day, pushing them to their limits.
Although not all racehorses are affected by suffering, it is a common occurrence in the racing industry. Horse racing at high speeds involves intense training and carries high risks of injury, trauma, or death.
Many welfare activists and equestrians oppose the practice of racing racehorses as young as one-year-olds. This is done to train horses to race as two-year olds the next year. Horses usually start riding at three or four years old in other equestrian sports, such as leisure riding.gabriel12 / Shutterstock.com
Professionals argue that Thoroughbred horses are more mature than those who are most commonly used for racing. This is true for horse height but the horse’s skeleton will not be fully mature until 6-9 years of age, according to a study published in the Practical Anatomy & Propaedeutics of the Horse.10 Horse Racing Facts That You Didn’t Know Play Video
Other methods that can cause pain in racehorses include whipping, placing horses in stables with low turnout and giving them high doses of concentrate feed. World Animal Protection cited a study done in Victoria, Australia that showed a horse death rate of 1/1,000 horses.
The Dark Side of Horse Racing
Horse racing is not all glamour and success. This dark side of horse racing is often overlooked. To make a difference in the near future, it is important to increase awareness about welfare issues that affect horses.
Doping is the practice of using prohibited drugs to improve the performance of horses in a race. Doping is unfair to others and can pose serious risks to horses’ health. Horse racing has had a problem with doping for a long time. Some trainers continue to use illegal drugs, despite severe penalties.
Some drugs mask pain in order to keep horses running. This removes the body’s natural defense against injury. Some can have dangerous side effects for horses. Random testing is done at all race tracks. However, there are stricter regulations and more severe penalties to stop illegal drug use.
Many controversial medications remain legal in the racing industry, which makes matters even more complicated. Furosemide (Lasix) is a prime example. It is administered 4 hours before racing in order to prevent pulmonary hemorhage. This artificially allows horses with EIPH (Exercise Induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage), to race. It is banned in most countries.
Unnatural Living Conditions
Although the lifestyle of racehorses at a top-quality training facility may seem luxurious, it is not. Horses in the wild roam large open spaces with their herd and graze for 16-18 hours per day. Racehorses, on the other hand, live in stalls and have limited access to fields because they are at risk of injury.Mick Atkins/Shutterstock.com
Although there may be exceptions, this practice is widespread in the racing industry. Many horses experience “stereotypical” behaviors due to confinement. These include crib-biting and weaving, as well as stall walking. These repetitive, abnormal behaviors can cause stress and frustration which can lead to injury for the horse.
Racehorses require a lot of concentrate feed because of their energy needs. Concentrate feed can cause stomach ulcers in racehorses, as their natural diet is high-fiber forage. Numerous studies have shown that gastric ulcers are common in racehorses.
Racing of Immature Horses
Racehorses begin training under saddle at the age of one year. Unfortunately, yearlings don’t have the maturity to handle such intense work and most won’t make their first race.
The RSPCA states that flat racing significantly increases the chance of injury and lameness in young racehorses. The counter argument is that conditioning of immature bones can reduce the chance of injury later in a horse’s life. However, this should only be done lightly.
Horse racing is an extreme sport, and there are many fatalities. The New York Times reported in 2018 that around 10 racehorses were killed each week at US track tracks. Jump racing is more dangerous than flat racing.
Horses can trip and fall in races. A misstep at high speeds can result in catastrophic consequences for jockey and horse. Injury that causes distress or pain to the animal and has a low chance of recovery will result in immediate euthanasia.Mick Atkins/Shutterstock.com
Horses may also become unsteady during races due to EIPH or heart failure. It’s hard to know how far a horse can go before it becomes overexerted, so this is something every jockey should be aware of.
Ex-racehorses: What happens next?
The RSPCA stated that breeding must have a large number of racehorses each year to increase the chance of finding a winner. Only a small percentage of these horses will race, and those that are too slow are considered “wastage”.
Forbes estimates that over 10,000 racehorses leave the United States each year to be sold as meat. This staggering number includes yearlings, unsuccessful runner and even winners who don’t make it as breeding animals.
This is a clear indication of how the racing industry views horses that earn billions of dollars. Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, was awarded the title of Horse-of-the Year in 1987. The horse ended up likely at a Japanese slaughterhouse, BloodHorse reports.
Some racehorses find loving homes after their racing career ends. Many rehoming programs are available to retrain ex-racehorses and give them a second chance at life. These shelters are dependent on donations and can’t guarantee a happy ending for every racehorse.
Painful Racing Aids
Horse racing whips are already controversial. However, other racing aids can cause pain to horses. To prevent horses from chewing on the bit or placing their tongue over it, some trainers use tongue tie. These can be either nylon or elastic straps that attach the tongue to the lower jaw to hold it in place.
To enhance horses’ performance, tongue ties are a common practice that is not regulated. It can cause distress and pain to horses, as well as bruising, swelling and lacerations.Dziurek / Shutterstock.com
Horse racing also allows for the use of spurs, but jockeys don’t usually wear them because their heels barely touch the horse’s side. Horse racing has been banned from one particular device that provided an electric shock to horses. Although it is illegal, some jockeys still use the “jigger”, to jump horses out of the starting gate.
Are Horses Attracted to Racing?
Horse racing practices may be questionable. But do horses enjoy the act of racing? Horse trainers and jockeys often claim they do because it is a natural activity, and racehorses can continue to run without a rider.
Some horses may enjoy winning and racing. Horses are just like people. Some horses will be more competitive than other.
British Horse Racing believes that horses should not race if they don’t wish to. Horses may refuse to enter the starting gate, or race with others at the gate. It is also true that horses sometimes refuse to go into the starting gate. This suggests that the horse is being forced to race.
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Are They able to whip horses in racing?
Horses are whipped by jockeys during racing to improve their performance and increase their chances of winning. In many countries, there are rules about how many times a jockey may whip a horse in a race.
Whips are a controversial topic in horse racing. Many organizations want to ban them from the sport. The RSPCA claims that whips have a minimal effect on horses’ performance compared to genetics, training and jockey skill.Cheryl Ann Quigley / Shutterstock.com
This statement is supported by an Australian study that was conducted by Paul McGreevy and Dr. Kirrilly Thomson. This study compared whip races and found no differences in rider safety and race times.
Do you think horse racing should ban whips forever? Please share your views in the comments section below!
How Many Times Can Jockeys Whip?
Jockeys cannot whip horses during races in Australia, the United Kingdom, Ireland and France. There is a limit on how many times they can do so. Jockeys in the United Kingdom can whip a horse without their hands 7 times in flat races and 8 times for jump races.
However, there is no limit to the number of strikes that can be made on the shoulder during horse racing. The majority of the United States has yet to set a limit on the number of whips. If a jockey’s behavior is abusive, the committee will examine the race tape and issue an appropriate penalty.
Six ways horse racing could improve
Horse racing does not have to be an abandoned sport. There are many ways that the horse racing industry can improve its image and make it more acceptable to the public.
1. Regulated by an independent body
The RSPCA explains that horse racing has had its own rules since inception. They have defined what is permissible and what isn’t. This can make it difficult to monitor and enforce rules. Independent inspectors are needed to identify when horses’ welfare has been compromised.
2. Interdiction of the use of dangerous devices and medications
It would be a great step in improving the welfare of racehorses by banning whips and spurs as well as tongue ties and other pain-inducing equipment. It is also important that veterinarians agree not to prescribe pain-masking medication for horses.
3. Two-year-old races banned
Racing immature horses should be banned. A year more for horses to mature would improve their working lives and reduce their suffering. Before a young horse can start training, he or she should have a veterinary examination.
4. Standards for legal welfare
The RSPCA states that there are no welfare standards for horses involved in racing. However, welfare regulations are in place for horses used in other areas like research and farming. To end harmful practices, the government must issue legal welfare standards to racehorses.
5. Retired racehorses can follow a clearly defined path
It is unacceptable that many ex-racehorses will face a terrible fate. Racing must take responsibility for providing alternative lives for horses not fit for racing. To improve animal welfare, the industry must reduce the number of racehorses that are bred each year.
The RSPCA called for greater transparency in the racing industry. Publicly available statistics on injuries, deaths, and the life span of each racehorse must be collected. This would encourage the racing industry to improve the welfare and condition of its horses.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!