What is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest in which horses run against each other at different speeds over a set distance. The first horse to cross the finish line wins. Historically, horse races have been held for sport and as gambling activities. The earliest recorded races were match contests between two or, at most, three horses. By the mid-18th century, public demand for more public racing produced events in which all eligible horses could compete. Rules were developed governing eligibility based on age, sex, and birthplace and requiring a horse to be ridden by a licensed rider. A horse’s ability to gain a few yards in a race became vitally important, and a rider’s skill and judgment gained increasing importance in coaxing that advantage from his mount.

The modern Thoroughbred, the type of horse used in racing, is a result of crossing Arabian and Barb horses with European mares. It was created for speed, endurance and agility. It can run more than 30 miles in an hour and jump more than six feet high. It has a specialized musculoskeletal system and a highly developed respiratory tract. Its bones are shaped like a triangle, which allows it to carry a great deal of weight without straining its body.

Horses used for racing are forced to sprint-often under the threat of whips and electric shocking devices-at speeds that, if sustained, can lead to catastrophic injuries. The gruesome breakdowns of many thoroughbreds are the result of this excessive speed. Many others die in the course of the race, either from trauma or because their bodies simply cannot take it.

Behind the romanticized facade of a horse race is a world of drugs, animal abuse, and gruesome injuries. Yet, many in the industry do not want to admit it, even to themselves. Instead, they resort to a cliche that is more befitting of the Times and PETA: That most trainers, assistants, jockeys, drivers, caretakers and veterinarians love their horses and would never intentionally harm them. That is true of the vast majority, but it does not address the fact that too many abused horses have come to light.

It’s time for the industry to stop hiding behind its code of silence and take the bold leap needed to get to the other side of this crisis. That will require more money for enhanced drug testing and legislative efforts to better regulate trainers and veterinarians. It will also mean an end to the insider’s code of silence that keeps so much bad news from reaching the public. But more than anything else, it will require a willingness to tell the truth about what goes on under the hood of a horse race.