Horse Racing’s Uncomfortable Truth

Horse Racing, the act of racing horses to win money, has been a controversial topic since the sport began in 1665 in Long Island NY.  Horse racing is a form of entertainment for people all over the globe in countries such as the United States of America, England, Japan, Australia, and Italy. Many people gamble or place bets on which horse is going to win and profit from their winnings. The question at hand is; “is the treatment of racehorse ethical?”  The controversy is divided into two sides, The first view being the treatment of racehorses is unethical due to horses being abused, drugged, fatally injured and many horses face illegal slaughter after their career is finished. The ethical view is that the guidelines in place protect the racehorse from abuse and there is also retirement programs available after their racing career is finished .

I have a close connection with this topic, because I own an OTTB or Off the Track Thoroughbred. When I purchased him, he was full of scars from being abused and was very skittish. He was not a good racehorse and was shipped back to the USA from Canada. He was going to be sent to slaughter before I purchased him.   

Before going into detail about the two sides of this argument I must first define a few unfamiliar terms. First, horse racing as defined by Cambridge Dictionary, (a highly well known dictionary for the learners and speakers of english) “a sport in which people race on horses, usually to win money for the horses’ owners”. Jockey as defined by Merriam-Webster,  (America’s most trusted online dictionary for the english language) “a person who rides or drives a horse especially as a professional in a race”. Crop as defined by Macmillan Dictionary, “a short straight whip with a piece of leather at the end, used for hitting a horse to make it go faster”.

Exercise-induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage AKA “bleeders” as defined by Merck Manual Veterinary Manual,(the most comprehensive, reliable reference for veterinary professionals.Trusted for more than 50 years by veterinarians) ” high pulmonary vascular pressures during maximal exercise, with resultant thickening of pulmonary vein walls and decreased luminal diameter and increased intravascular pressure at the level of the pulmonary capillaries.”. 

The treatment of racehorses on the track is said to be highly unethical, racehorses are reportedly abused, stressed out, and filled with harmful drugs to hide injuries. Horses on the track can be abused in many ways, such as being hit with an illegal device that causes pain and forces them to run faster, or even being forced to race while injured. It’s considered abuse to fill a horse with drugs to get them to race, because it can deplete the quality of life for the horse (Cohen). Once they are done with their time on the race track, a few lucky horses go to a retirement farm and gain a new career.

For most though, they face a horrible death at a slaughterhouse. According to David Mcneill (an irish Tokyo based writer ,who is also a professor of political science at Sophia University), “About 90 percent of former racehorses in Japan end up in slaughterhouses every year”. This means that only 10 percent of Japan’s racehorses are not send to slaughter.

On the racetrack there are a significant amount of racehorse being abuse with unethical devices. One example of an illegal device used on the racetrack is a buzzer, a pocket size device  that produces an electrical shock. A rider will place the device on the horses neck, which will then send an electrical current through the horse to make them run faster, electrocuting the horse. This is prohibited on United States race tracks (Drape). Electrocuting a horse is highly unethical and abusive. Another illegal abusive tool used by jockeys to make racehorses run faster is a nail. Nails are used to stab horses on the shoulder causing pain and make the horses run faster, this is considered cruel. An example of this abuse would be the jockey named Roman Chaps has so far been caught using two illegal devices, both a nail and a buzzer (PETA). 

Racing a young horse can have very serious effects to their body. According to Animals Australia, (an animal protection organisations based in Australia, with an aim to investigate and expose animal cruelty) ”Racing as young as the age of two can be dangerous for the horses health both physically and mentally. Their skeletal system is still very immature and this could severely impact their health , racing is also very stressful and have mental impacts.”  A young horses body hasn’t finished growing yet. So the physical stress on the body can cause a horse to have stunted growth and even perently damage their bones.

The food given to racehorses can cause damage to digestive system.The foods that racehorses are given to maintain their energy levels is also harmful to them, the horses on the racetrack are fed very high in energy diets; the more energy they have the faster they will go . Horses bodies are not made to digest this, they are made for eating grass and hay. A study was done and it showed that 89% of racehorses have stomach ulcers.(Animals Australia).

Drugs are a major problem on the racetrack, with trainers pumping horses full of drugs to hide injuries such as Exercise-induced Pulmonary Hemorrhage AKA  “bleeders” and to enhance performance, According to Kevin Blake(a lawyer in California who specializes in wrongful deaths), “Lasix…While they are a perfectly legitimate medication when used responsibly, there are widespread fears that they are being used far more liberally than is recommended in a bid to keep unsound horses training and racing….likely to lead to those physical problems worsening, it can also lead to catastrophic breakdowns.” The medication is not the problem, but the way in which the trainers uses the medication is.

Racing horses can also be considered a form of mental abuse to the animal. Besides when they are being ridden, racehorses are kept in their stall, which is a 12 by 12 box, and can begin to go stir crazy. This causes them lot of mental harm and can cause them to start cribbing and self-mutilation on themselves.(Animals Australia). This means that they will start to form bad habits as a result of stress from confinement. Horses are meant to roam and around not be locked in a tiny box. 

In the United States, some retired racehorses will enter “the retired racehorse project”, unfortunately, most of them face an untimely demise. According to Michael Day,”In Italy the economy is dropping and the racing industry is fading. There are many Racehorses who are out of work since the racing industry is gone. Many horses are being illegal slaughtered since their owners not longer want them since they can no longer make money off of the profit of racing them”. After a horse is considered no longer useful or the owner cannot make money off it anymore, the owner will usually make one more profit off the horse by sending it to slaughter in Mexico or Canada. Its estimated that around 10,000 horses are shipped to slaughter each year (PETA). A weakness of the sources is that they are bias since they tend to make information seem worse than it is. 

In contrast, some say that the treatment of racehorses is ethical. They receive the best care of any horses in the world. As for abuse, such as excessive whip use, there have been special guidelines put into place to prevent this.  According to the  NHRA, Welfare Guidelines for Horse Racing, (This is an organization that aims to regulate and promote horse racing in South Africa) “Rule 58.10.1 No rider shall misuse a crop or use a crop in an unnecessary or excessive manner or use a crop on any part of a horse’s head… inappropriate use of the crop, or use that would be considered abuse of the horse”.

Whips if used correctly aren’t abusive. Using a whip on a horse doesn’t cause them pain . The piece of leather that is used to hit the horse absorbs most of the shock and energy. The whip is just used to stimulate the horse and doesn’t cause pain when used properly (Morris). Racehorses receive the best veterinary care to maintain their health during the races; vets are constantly doing blood work and physical exams to ensure their health and wellbeing.

According to Liam Hyslop, “horses who are running in the Melbourne cup had to undergo a mandatory vet examination to look for things such as pain and signs of the horse being doped before they are allowed to run. No matter if they have any problems or not. This is to prevent cheating.” Race Horses are always under the supervision of vets to make sure they are in good health.

Racehorses wear a lot of protection to insure their safety while racing, According to the spruce pet, (An online website that offers professional trips and tricks on animal care ) “Boots are an important piece of gear needed for race horses when in training or when on the track. They help support tendons and ligaments in the horses legs. They have no padding in their lower legs so a boot helps protect them from very harmful injuries.”

Racehorses also wear something called blinkers used to make them calm and relieve stress. According to Simon Earl, “For a racehorse, the track can be very distracting to them and cause them to lose focus. Whether it be a bystanders standing too close to the rail or the other racehorses.” Blinkers is a cloth shield that blocks out what may be on the side of the horses body and forces them to look forward.

Some may say that it is abusive to make a horse race in a circle surrounded by other horses, but According to Nina Mandell, “When horses are in the middle of a race, they’re likely viewing it as being part of a herd of horses in motion and it’s in their natural instinct to run, whether it’s on a racetrack or just when they’re let out into pasture.” Running is a horse’s natural instinct and racing just allows them to do so while also benefit humans 

While Racehorses do die while on the track, the number is not as many as people think it is. The organization Coalition for the Protection of Racehorse states that in Australia 15,000 racehorse are killed each year. This is a small amount considering  how many racehorses are born each year, It’s stated that 95 percent of retired racehorses live happy healthy lives as riding horses, breeding horses or live happily on a farm (McManus). To add to this, for many horses after the track means the slaughter house. For a few lucky ones they are given to programs such as the retired racehorse project. The RRP mission to take OTTB’s and each them a new career path.(Pittman). There are others options for racehorses after the track other than the slaughterhouse

I have concluded that the treatment of racehorses is not ethical. The unethical facts surrounding the treatment on the track and after the racehorses career has ended outweigh the ethical information I was able to find. To me it doesn’t seem ethical to fill a horse with drugs and high energy diets and put them in a 12 by 12 stall for the majority of their day, causing them to go stir crazy. The use of buzzers and nails to inflict pain on a horse is unimaginable. Therefore,

after research my views on the treatment of racehorses has not changed, I still believe that the treatment if racehorses is not ethical. 

Further research needs to be done on how the racehorses are fed, drugged and stabled and new guidelines to be put into place to relieve that stress that these animals are put through. Also more horses should be sent to retirement farms where they can be rehomed and gain a new career, rather then being sent to slaughter to be killed.

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