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People outside of the horse racing industry hear horror stories in the media about how racehorses are mistreated and abused. Horse racing proponents often refer to their horses as pampered royalty. What is the truth about how racehorses are treated?
Some racehorses are abused, and some are pampered. In the horse racing world, horses are treated differently based on their earnings potential. Also, training methods affect horse treatment.
Horses are commodities in the business of horse racing. To perform their best, they must be maintained at a high level. Keeping a horse in peak condition creates the allure of royal treatment; however, that is not always the case.
Racehorses treated well perform better.
Racehorse trainers make money when the horses they train are successful. For horses to run their best race, they need to be at their best, both mentally and physically.
Achieving peak mental and physical health in horses requires special treatment. This is true in even the lowest class of racehorses. The basics for racehorses include clean well-bedded stalls, daily washing, and two meals of high-quality feed, commonly with added supplements.
They are also either taken to the track for exercise each morning or attached to a walker. As the class of horse goes up, so does the extent of the treatment. Some horses get ice therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic treatment.
This doesn’t mean that lower-classed horses won’t have their legs iced if needed, but it is less likely. All horses have their legs checked for heat and treated if necessary. However, higher-quality horses will have more preventative treatments available.
Top-tier horses are pampered like pro-athletes.
Think about pro sports; there is a significant difference in facilities for a double-A baseball team and the New York Yankees.
The same is true for a facility whose focus is the cheap claiming horse; this is the double-A team. The New York Yankees is the facility getting horses ready to run in major races, like the Kentucky Derby or the Breeder Cup races.
In the top-tier facilities, the horses are kept in big airy stalls with a window and a fan. Their bedding may even be better, and they are fed a diet designed for their particular needs.
The horses have access to the latest technically advanced equipment and veterinarian practices. For example, horses are put under short-wave infrared light to increase blood circulation and cellular metabolism.
Some racehorse facilities have spas.
The facilities might have a therapy stall with a vibrating floor to treat sore muscles. The facility could also provide a cold water spa with a treadmill or even a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to promote healing.
When the horses fly to a race, they ride in first-class facilities. The horses have spacious stalls and hay available and can travel with grooms and a veterinarian. You can read more about flying a horse overseas here.
Trainers and grooms treat horses like royalty.
Some racehorses are abused.
Some racehorses are mistreated and abused; they are drugged, whipped, and even shocked during races. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) went undercover to document some horrible practices carried on by trainers. I have included the video below.
Horses are commodities in the horse racing industry. Their sole purpose is to win races. Some trainers go too far in their pursuit of winning and abuse their horses.
Racehorses are given performance-enhancing drugs.
Horses are often administered a cocktail of drugs before a race. The drugs are administered to help the horses run better in a race. But they also have long and short-term adverse effects on horses. The Jockey Club, which is the governing authority of thoroughbred racing, agrees.
To combat the problem, they sent out a warning to the thoroughbred racing world warning that continued drug use could lead to the death of the horse racing industry. Because of these concerns, the Jockey Club made it illegal to use non-approved drugs on race day.
To ensure compliance, racehorses are tested for banned substances, and if it is found in their system, a trainer can lose his license and the horse winnings revoked. In 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit was stripped of his title, and trainer Bob Baffert was suspended after the drug betamethasone was discovered in the post-race blood test.
The most popular drug given to racehorses is Lasix. Lasix is a bleeder medication administered to prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and must be approved by a vet before a horse can run while taking Lasix.
Lasix is given to racehorses even when not necessary.
When horses run, pressure is built up by air entering the lungs leading to increased pressure in the blood vessel. Because of the increased pressure, the blood breaks through its walls. Once the barrier is compromised, blood enters the lungs and results in blood seeping from the horses’ nostrils.
Repeated occurrences of bleeding can decrease lung capacity, cause inflammation, and in rare cases, be terminal. It’s estimated that 90 percent of racehorses experience some degree of bleeding, although not all results in bleeding from the nose.
A side effect of Lasix is the loss of fluids. Lasix causes a horse to pee a lot. Trainers believe this makes a horse lighter and, therefore, faster, so they give Lasix to horses that don’t need the medication.
“Bute” is used to mask pain in injured racehorses.
Phenylbutazone, aka “Bute,” is a drug commonly used with racehorses. Bute is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). It’s used in the horse racing industry for the short-term treatment of pain and fever in animals. This drug is often abused by trainers.
It’s typically injected into the joints of a horse. Bute can provide health benefits when used correctly. Trainers or vets will inject a horse shortly before a race to mask pain and reduce inflammation. Prolonged use of bute weakens bone, tendons, and muscles.
“Bute” doesn’t provide a horse the ability to run faster than it could naturally, but it does allow an injured horse to race. A horse with no pain will run as if it is not injured, which could lead to more damage. You can use Bute during training but not on race day; it is illegal to race a horse on Bute.
Thyroxine is often abused by racehorse trainers.
Racing on an injured limb leads to more severe issues, such as a fatal injury. Rest is the proper treatment for lameness, but this means feeding a horse that’s not earning money. The use of bute allows an injured horse to race.
Thyroxine is a thyroid medication that increases metabolism. It is designed to treat hypothyroidism, a condition in which a horse’s thyroid does not function properly.
A horse that suffers from hypothyroidism may display a fatty, cresty neck, resistance to losing weight, lethargy, and a poor coat. Thyroxine gives the thyroid a boost to kick up a horse’s metabolism.
The occurrence of hypothyroidism is rare in horses; however, the drug is frequently administered to horses. Trainers believe, and rightfully so, that a higher metabolism leads to better fitness, more muscle mass, strength, and speed.
No one is sure of the long-term effects of giving Thyroxine to horses that don’t have hypothyroidism. This drug is also abused by horse trainers.
How many horses die racing each year in the United States?
Santa Anita racetrack had a rash of deaths recently; forty died there in a little over a year. This has prompted people to look at how racehorses are treated, but it made me wonder how often racehorses die during a race.
The Jockey Club provided that there were 441 fatal breakdowns in 2019. That translated to 1.53 fatalities per 1000 racing starts. This is the lowest death per start rate since the numbers have been reported.
Each year The Jockey Club releases data on racehorse injuries and deaths in the Equine Injury Database. The numbers are compiled from reporting tracks across the nation. To view the most recent data chart, click here.
PETA provides that 24 racehorses suffer fatal breakdowns each week. The disparity in the two groups’ numbers is unclear. You can click on this link, horse abuse, and find some useful resources.
What Is Being Done to Prevent Racehorse Deaths?
The rash of deaths at Santa Anita Park renewed interest in horseracing abuse and racing deaths. I wonder if any steps are in place to protect horses against mistreatment and curb the rate of death on race tracks.
Not really; there is no single governing body that oversees the horse racing industry. But The Jockey club established the Equine Injury Database, and Congress presented The Horseracing Integrity Act; both are steps designed to prevent abuse and racehorse deaths.
Every industry has bad apples, but overall most people involved in horseracing love horses and don’t want to see them mistreated or die on the racetrack.
Equine Injury Database (EID) compiles critical horseracing information.
The Jockey Club compiles data and makes the data available to the public in a database called the Equine Injury Database. In collecting the numbers, the Jockey Club hopes to identify causes and remedies for racehorse deaths.
EIDs receive information from 109 racetracks. In 2019, approximately 98% of tracks are expected to provide data to the EID. Since the program began, racehorse deaths have dropped by 16%.
The Horseracing Integrity Act bill seeks to address abuse in horseracing.
The Horseracing Integrity Act was introduced in March 2019 and seeks to establish “a uniform anti-doping and medication control program to be developed and enforced by an independent Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority.”
The intent of the law is to lower the rate of racehorse abuse. The law would eliminate the use of all race-day medication. Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019 (H.R. 1754) – GovTrack.us. https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/116/hr1754
Currently, there is no one governing agency over the horse racing industry. Maybe it’s time to form a national regulatory commission to try and clean out some of the problems people within the horse racing industry.
From my own experience, most racehorses are treated like royalty. I have witnessed grooms wash and baby a horse better than some parents treat their children. However, I do believe there are bad apples in the industry.
If you don’t believe some people shouldn’t be working with horses, watch the undercover video taken by PETA. What these people did to the horses was unacceptable.
Below is a YouTube video that exposes some unethical behavior in horse racing.
Do horses know when they win a race?
It’s difficult to know for sure if horses know they won a race. People have opinions on both sides, but how does one know for sure? One way to make an educated guess is to pay close attention to the horse’s actions immediately after winning a race.
Does its body language depict its success on the track? When watching humans compete, you don’t need to see to hear or see the score to figure out who won a contest; the competitor’s body language tells you all you need to know. Horses may do the same.
Why does a horse have to be killed when they break a leg?
Horses are often euthanized after breaking their leg because they have little chance of ever being able to support their weight.
The failure to hold themselves up would lead to an extended and painful death. Check out this article for a more detailed explanation: Why Are Race Horses Euthanized When They Break a Leg?
Why does blood come from a horse’s nose after it races?
The primary reason horses bleed from their noses after they race is because pressure builds in their lungs, causing capillaries to burst. The blood from the burst capillaries is forced out of their nose. You can read more the condition that causes this here: Why Do Race Horses Bleed From the Nose After Running
- Are Racehorse Deaths On the Rise?
- How Often Do Racehorses Race,
- Why Are Race Horses So Young? Does Age Matter in a Race?
I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.