Horse racing today is not what it was in the old days. No longer the sport of kings, it has fallen into state of total disgrace full of corruption, bribery, fraud, vice, greed, lack of ethics and immorality. There is lax oversight and massive indifference to the health and safety of the horse, along with minimal federal and state regulations, and what little there is—is ignored, violated and swept under the carpet to hide the ugly truth that is happening to horses today. Horse racing is heavily associated with corruption, gambling, doping, drugs and vice.
Today there is rampant abuse of horses that is quietly and secretly sanctioned behind closed doors from owners and trainers—to racetracks and veterinarians. There is corruption and greed on every level. Owners, veterinarians and race officials lack accountability, responsibility and integrity and it is reflected at all levels of racing today. Racehorses are subjected to deep suffering—they must endure chronic pain, run while injured, are shot full of drugs to mask injury, and suffer from drug overdose and addiction, then are killed when they fall, are injured, can no longer run, or don’t win. They are simply disposed of.
Winning and big purse money is the priority today for racehorse owners—not the horse’s health, safety and well being. Owners, trainers and jockeys enter horses in races that are mildly to severely injured and sick to squeeze every last drop out of them—just hoping to get through one more race, until they drop dead. The animal is viewed as a means to an end—a prop, an object—exploited for the owner’s quest and lust for money, fame and winning. Horses’ lives are sacrificed every day as if the horse was a disposable item.
Today’s thoroughbred farms are literally breeding horses to death. For the 5-10 percent that hit the track, the other 90 percent born are killed—disposed of at the slaughterhouse. This has contributed to the “unwanted” horse epidemic in the U.S., causing horses across the country to be abandoned and killed. Horses that are too young to race are being trained prematurely, with undeveloped and still-growing skeletal systems. Horses are being bred today for speed, not power, endurance and strength as in the old days. This breeding for speed is causing catastrophic leg injuries and rampant falls on every racetrack. Horses that are injured are simply put down, rarely rehabilitated or allowed to live or retire out to pasture. That costs too much. And owners kill their horses to collect large insurance payments, often much greater than the horse was actually worth—then they get another horse, and dispose of them when they fail, and the heartless cycle just continues. Owners and trainers don’t care, they have their eye on the purse money. And catastrophic injuries increase with the overuse and abuse of medications injected into the horse, causing more frequent fatal accidents. All driven by pure greed.
When owners and trainers force injured racehorses to run with chronic and acute tendonitis, early osteoarthritis, strained tendons, hairline fractures—they just pump them full of drugs to run—illegal painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs days before or the day of the race. These are unsound, injured horses that should not be racing, and often whose racing careers are over anyway, but owners push them to the end. Racing drugged and injured horses has significantly increased the number of horses dying on U.S. racetracks every week.
Today, the slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico are full of discarded, disposed of racehorses from the U.S., whose owners thanklessly and selfishly squeeze the last dollar out of them by selling them to kill-buyers for a mere pittance. And thoroughbred horse owners will often kill their horse, if not on the track, then in the barn or on the farm, to collect their precious insurance money—this is common.
These intelligent, beautiful animals deserve far more than being objectified by entitled, heartless, callous and inhumane owners, who see and treat their horses as objects of their desire—money and greed.
(Note: These lists of 1,000+ deaths every year, could be doubled to 2,000+ due to lack of reporting, on-site deaths only (not done at farms, stables, off-track), some states did not comply, many tracks don’t keep records or disclose them.)
What You Can Do
- Don’t patronize horse racing. Don’t attend horse racing. Don’t watch it on TV.
- Support the reform of existing horse racing laws to make them safer and legally enforced – banning the use of drugs on horses, banning whipping, racing only on grass tracks, requiring the minimum age to start competitive racing at 3-4 years old, and lobbying against the construction of new race tracks
- Write Steve Koch, Executive Director, National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance about the cruelty of horse racing
- Write to the editor of your local newspaper or the city the track is located, and send copies to the state Attorney General, the mayor of the city the racetrack is, the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- Educate your friends and family members about the tragic lives that racehorses lead, share on social media – ask your friends and family not to attend the track and not to support the abuse of racehorses
Problems Associated With Horse Racing
- 90% of newborn thoroughbred foals are slaughtered – Thousands of thoroughbreds are bred for racing every year, but only 5-10% see the track. What happens to all the other newborns or young horses? They are disposed of like garbage, and sent to slaughterhouses
- Breeding lower quality racehorses – Today’s breeders are breeding lower quality horses with thinner bones and more fragile legs for speed, but not power, stamina and endurance, as horses in the past were bred for. Injuries and accident rates have increased significantly in part because of breeding
- Strained tendons, inflamed joints, and hairline fractures – Symptoms of running horses too young, too much, or repeatedly on injured legs, can sometimes be unseen and left undiagnosed, or masked by medication, causing irreversible damage at the next race or workout
- Bleeding lungs from racing – Bleeding lungs happens to racehorses, from pushing so much oxygen through so fast. It’s unnatural and abnormal, normally. To prevent horses’ lungs from bleeding due to racing, they pump them with Lasix and other drugs that control the bleeding
- Injured and sick horses are forced to race – Trainers, veterinarians and owners force injured and sick racehorses to race when they should be recovering, healing, or flat-out retired. Horses are forced to race with degenerative joint disease, sever or chronic osteoarthritis, pneumonia, tendonitis, hairbone fractures, lung inflammation, broken bones from previous accidents, and even stomach ulcers. One horse ran with one eye and one with 50 stomach ulcers. Instead they are given illegal and powerful painkillers, synthetic joint fluids, and anti-inflammatory drugs, that mask the injuries and weaken their legs and endurance. Veterinarians are noticing the significant increase in injuries, due to the use of illegal and illicit drugs, and illegal levels of medications, the outright abuse of drugs, running injured horses, and running exhausted horses
- Rampant use of illegal and banned drugs – Trainers and owners drug their horses to run faster, to mask pain and injury, and to enhance their performance with a variety of drugs and drug cocktails used at often dangerous levels, causing injury. The levels can be so high, that veterinarians claim the horses are often drugged on race day to get them through the race, which is illegal and forbidden. (Common are the use of anabolic steroids, corticosteroids, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, blood doping agents, pain killers, stimulants, Viagra, cancer drugs, Lasix for lungs, etc.)
- Trainers subject horses to cruel and injurious treatment – Some trainers use illegal electric devices to shock horses into running faster, they whip them relentlessly, drugged, forced to run with serious known injuries—horses are treated purely like commodities and objects, not sentient, respected animals
- Fatal horse breakdown rate – More horses die on U.S. racetracks than anywhere in the world due to improper breeding, injuries, rampant use of drugs, and pushing exhausted horses – all for greed and the big purse at the end of the race. The lower tier races, called claiming races, are where most of the accidents happen. These horses are not the highest quality, are more vulnerable, and the tracks have the least regulations, most violations, and the worst records
- Lack of fines for violators – Owners, jockeys and veterinarians that illegally pump injured horses with painkillers and drugs in order to run them, are often not fined or suspended and keep their winnings
- Horse tracks avoid tracking accidents and deaths – Racetracks are terrible about tracking and disclosing accidents, injuries and deaths of horses and jockeys, and making them public. They hide the information, and prevent the public from knowing or seeing the truth. By 2012, only 24 out of 86 tracks had made a database public record
- Horse tracks lack accreditation – There’s little interest on behalf of horse tracks to seek accreditation that would make horse racing safer, require pre-race inspection, post-mortem exams and more disclosure, and there’s an unwillingness to make statistics public
- Little to no federal regulatory oversight or legal protection for horses – State racing commissions lack the will to make the sport safer; reform measures have fallen short or are nonexistent; and racetracks fight against reform, regulations, and scrutiny
- Racetracks adding gambling casinos – With steep losses of customers at racetracks over the years, tracks have added gambling casinos to boost their operations, particularly at lower tier racetracks, resulting in increased purse sizes and trainers to race unfit horses
- Racehorses sent to slaughterhouses – When they can no longer run, have injuries, or must stop racing, owners will do the unthinkable and sell them to “kill buyers,” where they end up at slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada for food in Japan, France and Europe
- Transport to slaughterhouses – Racehorses sent to slaughterhouses endure misery, torture, injury and endless days of suffering in cramped transport trailers, where they travel with severe injuries, are deprived of food and water, are subjected to extreme weather, and many die en route
Videos On the Cruelty of Horse Racing
Ban Horse Racing? If not, What’s Needed Minimally To Make it Safer
- A national or federal law banning certain drugs and severely regulating medications using harsh financial and jail penalties for violations
- Horse trainers, owners and jockeys need to face far tougher punishments for drug violations through national rules that apply to all states, creating uniform penalties and consequences for violators
- It must be required that all racehorses receive pre-race examinations by veterinarians and are not allowed to race if at all injured or sick
- Close racetracks with the highest offenses and repeat offenses. Consolidate racetracks to only ones that are accredited and follow safety and health regulations that would make racing safer and more ethical. Allow racing at only the safest tracks that fully disclose statistics, records, require veterinary pre-checks, ban drugs, etc.
- Remove any and all federal government subsidies for horse racing jurisdictions that subsidize the (casino/racing) industry
- Make illegal the disposal of horses by owners that send them to kill-buyers and slaughterhouses after racing, which is the majority of them. Instead mandate owners are required to pay for them to retire to a horse sanctuary, thoroughbred rehabilitation center, or sold to an owner who will care for them the remainder of their lives
- Horse owners who kill their horses by euthanizing them, then file insurance claims for high payouts, should be heavily scrutinized and banned from racing, with veterinarians charged who euthanized a horse needlessly – all for an insurance claim
More About the Cruelty of Horse Racing
The Atlantic, The Ugly Truth about Horse Racing, March 24, 2014
The New York Times, PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses, March 19, 2014
The New York Times, Mangled Horses, Maimed Jockeys, March 24, 2012
The Horse Fund, The Horse Racing Fact Sheet
The New York Times, Records Show Triple Crown Contender Had History of Ailments, July 11, 2012
The New York Times, Sports Trainer of Kentucky Derby Winner Has a Trouble Record, May 11, 2012
NPR, Horse Racing: America’s Most Dangerous Game?, May 9, 2012
Deadspin, Our Race Horses Are Broken, America, July 11, 2012
The Washington Post, The U.S. No Longer Breeds Horses for the Belmont, June 3, 2012
PETA on Horse Racing
5 Reasons Why Horse Racing is Cruel, PETA Kids
Some Horse Racing Statistics
- The greatest number of incidents in a single day—23 horses killed—occurred in 2012 on the day of the Kentucky Derby. (The New York Times)
- 24 horses a week die in racetracks across the U.S., a rate greater than in countries where drug use is severely restricted. (The New York Times)
- 3,600 horses died racing or training at state-regulated tracks over the last three years (between 2009-2012). (The New York Times)
- Since 2009 to 2012, more than 6,600 horses have broken down or showed signs of injury. An additional 3,800 horses have tested positive for illegal drugs.But most have not been tested or refuse testing. (The New York Times)
- In one 13-day stretch of racing in 2010 at Sunland Park Racetrack and Casino in New Mexico, nine horses died racing. (The New York Times)
- As many as 90 percent of horses that break down had pre-existing injuries, California researchers have found. (The New York Times)
- Horses in the lower tier (claiming) races have a 22 percent greater chance of breaking down or showing signs of injury than horses in higher grade races (The New York Times)
- Most of the racing tracks with the highest incidence of horse injuries and death on the tracks, are in the Southwest. (The New York Times)
- Five of the seven tracks with the nation’s highest incident rates are in New Mexico; each is well above the national average. Four tracks remain unaccredited, and enforcement on drug violations is relatively lenient. (The New York Times)
- Since 2009, records show, trainers at United States tracks have been caught illegally drugging horses 3,800 times, a figure that vastly understates the problem because only a small percentage of horses are actually tested. (The New York Times)
Quotes About Horse Racing
“Racehorses in America are the victims of a multi-billion dollar industry that is rife with drug abuse, injuries and death.” ~ Horse Fund
“American tracks are increasingly scenes of ghastly accidents in which the horses are crippled, then euthanized, and jockeys sometimes suffer serious injuries.” ~ Joe Drape and Walt Boganich at The New York Times
“It’s hard to watch these poor animals running for their lives for people who could really care less if they live,” ~ said Dr. Margaret Ohlinger, a track veterinarian at Finger Lakes Casino and Racetrack in upstate New York
“Our horses are sick. Our thoroughbreds are thoroughly inbred. They are locomotives sitting atop toothpicks. They are fragile and friable, designed to run but not to recover from running. And each time they break down or wear out, we chalk it up to an individual horse’s shortcomings, rather than the decades-long decline of the entire breeding industry.” ~ said Barry Petchesky, writer for Deadspin
“It was devastating to see sore, exhausted, drugged horses every single day. Some were in so much pain it hurt them even to stand, yet they were trained and run anyway.” ~ said Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President for PETA
“The horse industry in general was a zero-waste proposition: this was one animal you could take from birth, exploit all its qualities – speed, strength, tractability – through breeding, racing, eventing, caléche or companion service, and then profit from its flesh when it had outlived its usefulness.” ~ From the Book, GROUND MANNERS, A NOVEL, by Cynthia D’Errico
“She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles.” Blaming the breeders and investors, sports writer Sally Jenkins claimed, “thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it.” ~ said Sally Jenkins, Sports Writer
Today’s breeders are in it for a quick buck, and the quickest bucks can be found in producing sprinters, even at the expense of stamina. ~ said legendary horse writer, Andrew Beyer
“Basically, when you have a relatively cheap horse and a huge prize, the risk and reward gets out of balance. And if there’s little risk and a huge reward, owners are going to take chances that they otherwise wouldn’t do and end up putting rider and animal at risk.” ~ said Walt Bogdanich, reporter for The New York Times
“Therapeutic drugs, by definition, are used for healing and curing. Drugs that mask pain and enhance performance are not ‘therapeutic.’ They are what they are: performance-enhancing drugs.” ~ said Arthur B. Hancock III, whose farm produced three Kentucky Derby winners
“Thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S. reported more than three horse deaths a day last year and 5,000 since 2003, and the vast majority were put down after suffering devastating injuries on the track, according to an Associated Press survey. Countless other deaths went unreported because of lax record keeping, the AP found in the broadest such review to date.” ~ the Associated Press, June 2008