Horse racing is a sport in which humans perched atop horses compel the animal with a whip at breakneck speeds on an enclosed, tightly packed track. The sport has a rich history in many civilizations and has often played an important role in myth and legend.
In modern times, racetracks have become more sophisticated in terms of technology and safety measures. Thermal imaging cameras can detect when a horse is overheating after a race, MRI scanners can pick up injuries that might not be apparent to a human eye, and 3D printing can create casts, splints, and prosthetics for horses injured on the track. But the basic structure of the sport remains unchanged, and the exploitation of horses continues.
A horse is often forced to race even when it is unsound, and the injury may get worse. A horse’s rib cage, spine and neck can be permanently distorted and its joints damaged by being forced to run at high speeds. Those muscles and ligaments can also be permanently pulled out of place, making it difficult or impossible for the horse to walk, stand up, or put weight on its legs.
The most significant problem with horse racing is the use of illegal drugs, which make a horse’s bones more fragile and increase its chances of breaking down in a race. Random drug testing does not catch every single violation, but many egregious cases are revealed. The lack of regulation fuels greed and corruption in the industry.
Horses are also bred for speed and pushed to race at too young an age. A thoroughbred’s spine and neck do not reach full maturity — or fuse the growth plates at the ends of its vertebrae — until it is around 6. In the meantime, these horses are thrust into intensive training at 18 months and are made to compete at age 2, which is the rough equivalent of a first-grader.
A racing career can last as long as 15 years or more, and afterward the horse may not have an easy time of it. The sport hemorrhages ex-racehorses into a slaughter pipeline, where they face a horrible fate. The only hope for those horses is the handful of independent, nonprofit rescues and individuals who network, fundraise, and work tirelessly to save them.
To improve the situation for horses, a comprehensive industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution must be created. This includes housing and caring for horses once they are no longer competitive in the racetrack. At the moment, many ex-racehorses are simply sent to auction or to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada where they are killed for meat. The few reputable charities who can afford to bail these horses out of their horrible predicaments do so, but the vast majority end up in horrific places where they die slowly and painfully. It is an inexcusable and unnecessary hell for horses.