Can we stop romanticizing horse racing and see it for what it really is: Normalized animal cruelty carried out prodigiously by the industry and intentionally ignored by the public.
Like many of you, I grew up occasionally watching horse racing. Every year when the Kentucky Derby rolled around, I would spend that entire Saturday watching the lead up to the event, culminating in the “most exciting 2 minutes in sports.” The sheer majesty of the horses combined with the thrill of the race was exhilarating. I “loved” horses, or so I thought.
The racing industry actually does a pretty good job of hiding the extensive and pervasive barbarity that underlies its very existence. It took many years for me to discover the truth (and come to terms with it) and realize that to truly love horses meant the romanticized view of horse racing from my childhood had to come tumbling down.
Animals are not here for our entertainment, and our desire to watch a thrilling race doesn’t outweigh their suffering.
Listed below are just a few of the reasons why you should re-think your support of horse racing.
DEATH ON THE TRACK
There are over 400 deaths per year on race tracks in North America. FOUR HUNDRED. And some years there are many more, like in 2009 when there were 790.1
Their bodies just are not built to do what we want them to. As Barry Petchesky wrote: “Our horses are sick. Our thoroughbreds are thoroughly inbred. They are locomotives sitting atop toothpicks.” As long as there is horse racing, they will keep dying on the track. This is just an unavoidable fact.
DEATH OFF THE TRACK
The thoroughbred racing industry breeds some 20,000 foals each year and sends an estimated 10,000 of them to slaughter2. Only the very best ever see a track and the others are disposed of like garbage. Even most horses that make it to the track are disposed of after their racing days are over. Nancy Perry, senior vice president of the ASPCA said “It is well-documented that many racehorses end up at slaughter within a week of their last race.”3
The occasional glimpse of a horse breaking down and being euthanized on the track is always heartbreaking. But for every horse you see die on a racetrack, there are a vast number of invisible counterparts who die a much more private death, but for the same reason: People want to spend a Saturday afternoon at the track betting, drinking and being entertained. The absurdity, selfishness and willful ignorance is mind boggling. We put it out of our minds and believe the lies told by the racing industry because it suits our self-interests.
DRUGS, DRUGS, DRUGS
An undercover investigation in 2014 exposed another dark side of horse racing. Following two prominent trainers, undercover videos showed rampant use of drugs for performance enhancement and pain masking. The video is shocking and also reveals the sad truth about how the trainers, who pretend to love their horses, actually act toward them in private.4
NURSE MARE FOALS
Breeding is one of the most profitable parts of the racing industry. For prized mares, that means they need to produce as many babies as they can. Shortly after giving birth, they are shipped off to breed again, leaving their foal behind. Since the foal needs to be nursed, the industry brings in a lesser mare to give milk. But to produce milk, she has to have a baby of her own. And since her baby is not of value to the industry, it can be discarded or sent off to live as an orphan, or eventually slaughtered.
This is one of the most hideous and heartbreaking sides to the racing industry. In an attempt to mislead, the industry claims that the numbers of nurse mare foals is much lower than have been reported. Even the CEO of the Kentucky Humane Society, Lori Redmon, would not speak out against the nurse mare industry, saying “We’re in Kentucky. Vilifying the thoroughbred industry would not bode well for us.”6 (Author’s note: If you are the leader of an organization whose mission is to protect animals and you won’t be truthful about abuse due to pressure from an industry, maybe you’re in the wrong profession.)
WHAT YOU CAN DO
All this pain, misery and death…for what? We trade their lives for two minutes of entertainment. It doesn’t have to be this way. This is what you can do to help:
Stop supporting the racing industry. The awareness of the immense cruelty should be enough for anyone to make the choice to stop supporting the industry. We are not monsters and we are not heartless, we have just been misled.
Share with your friends. Many people willfully ignore information about the cruelty of racing because they simply don’t want to change, but others probably don’t know the extent of the cruelty. Either way, the more we speak up, the faster things can change. Very few people would be okay with the awful things we discussed in this article, it’s just a matter of aligning their actions with what they already think.
- Curious Derby: Can Animal Lovers Make Peace With Horse Racing www.wfpl.org/curious-derby-can-animals-lovers-make-peace-with-horse-racing/
- Racing Industry Silent About Slaughtered Thoroughbreds, Forbes www.forbes.com/sites/vickeryeckhoff/2011/11/29/racing-industry-silent-about-slaughtered-thoroughbreds/#2d57813e1bd6
- Life After Racing: From Stud to Slaughter www.nbcmiami.com/news/sports/NATL-Where-Horses-Go-When-the-Racing-is-Over-206630691.html
- The Atlantic – The Ugly Truth About Horse Racing www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/03/the-ugly-truth-about-horse-racing/284594/
- Milk of Death: The dark side of the nurse mare industry www.tuesdayshorse.wordpress.com/2010/08/19/milk-of-death-the-dark-side-of-the-nurse-mare-industry/
- Medium.com – Nurse Foals: The Throwaway Horses www.medium.com/@ryantbell/nurse-foals-the-throwaway-horses-e7ad3b6bd8fb