A horse race is a sporting event in which horses are compelled to run for their lives. Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. The sport of horse racing is a multi-billion dollar enterprise in which the majority of participants have no interest in the well being of the animals they exploit for profit. Sadly, even those who genuinely care about the welfare of these magnificent creatures do not have the power to effect meaningful change.
The term horse race is derived from the Latin equus, meaning “horse.” A horse can be any breed of domestic or exotic animal that has been bred for speed, endurance, agility, beauty or intelligence. A horse race is a sport that involves horses competing against each other in a variety of races and other competitions. There are a number of different types of horse races, including flat races and handicap races. Flat races are typically sprints, while handicap races involve adjusting the amount of weight that a horse must carry during a race according to the type and age of the animal.
Some of the earliest recorded accounts of horse races are from the 700 to 40 B.C. In these early races, horses were paired or matched against each other and owners provided the purse. A wager was placed on the outcome of each match race, and agreements were recorded by disinterested parties who came to be known as keepers of the match book.
Today’s horse races are more complex than the match races of the past. In addition to betting on a horse’s chances of winning, many bettors place bets on specific jockeys and specific trainers. A horse’s post position, which determines where it lines up in the starting gate and its likelihood of getting a certain distance, is also an important factor. The performance of the horse over the course of its career is analyzed and used to assign a handicapping number called a speed figure, or Beyer number.
During a horse race, horses are subjected to a cocktail of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries, enhance performance and prevent the natural bleeding that occurs as a result of exertion. Many horses, particularly those that are pushed beyond their limits, will bleed from their lungs during the race and can die as a result of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. In order to reduce the chance of such bleeding, horses are often given a drug known as Lasix or Salix, a diuretic with performance-enhancing properties.
The 2008 Kentucky Derby winner Eight Belles was a filly who died from complications brought on by the tremendous stress of her racing career. Like many other racehorses before and since her, Eight Belles was killed at the age of 17. This tragedy is the direct consequence of a long-running lack of industry regulation, transparency and willingness to do what’s right for horses. If horse racing is going to survive, it must make a fundamental ideological reckoning about the nature of its business and commit to real reforms that prioritize the health and welfare of the horses it employs.