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Is Horse Racing Good or Bad For Horses?

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I often get approached by people who wonder if horse racing is good or bad for horses. There are many different opinions on the matter. For some, it is a sport that brings families together to raise, train, and watch the animals they love to compete. On the other hand, horse racing is the exploitation of animals for human entertainment.

Horse racing can be a good or bad experience for a horse. Some racehorses are well taken care of – they live in comfortable facilities and receive outstanding treatment. But many horses are treated poorly; these animals are drugged, overworked, and generally abused.

Horse racing is a controversial topic that stirs up emotions in many people. Some see it as an exploitative activity, while others enjoy the sport and find it beneficial for horses and humans alike. In the following paragraphs, I examine both sides.

Picture of two racehorses racing down a dirt track.


The effects of horse racing on horses: negatives and positives

2020 was a sad year for horse lovers in the United States and all around the world. There were nearly 15 horse deaths reported at the Santa Anita racing track in LA. Some of the horses were barely 2-year old, and many had not even raced once in their short lives.

Naturally, these reports garnered a lot of bad press for the world of horse racing; as such, horse racing enthusiasts have to defend themselves to animal rights advocates constantly.

What many people do not understand is that horse racing is a partnership that benefits humans and horses. We must also not forget the fact that the horse racing industry provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and that the market size of the horse track racing industry was nearly 3 million USD in 2020.

Still, if you wonder if horse racing is good or bad for horses, I present both perspectives objectively so you can decide for yourself.

How horse racing is bad for horses.

Risk of injuries and death

Yes, there is a significant risk of injury to the horse and rider, but statistics clearly show that the fatality rate is very low, and the number of horses dying in flat horse races is about 1 in every 1000 horses.

Whipping and other forms of pain

Jockeys use a whip to make the horse run faster. Thankfully, most race rules and regulations clearly demand the use of padded whips, and there are also strict rules about the number of strikes a jockey can inflict on its mount.

Secondly, there are methods used for better control over the mount, including tongue-tying. This enables the rider to apply pressure on the horse via reins to make it more compliant.

However, tongue-tying also serves another purpose – preventing the horse from biting its tongue or choking during high-intensity exercise. Many competitive events have declared tongue-tying illegal.

Culling of uncompetitive horses

Horses deemed too old to race injured or simply uncompetitive are often culled or put down. However, I believe that the horse racing community is committed to the welfare of horses, and culling or euthanizing is only done under unavoidable circumstances and to put the injured horse out of pain.

Improper housing and confinement

Racehorses are often confined in tight, cramped spaces, which is unnatural for them. They are social animals meant to forage and graze on the plains. Some experts believe that this has led to behavioral issues in many racehorses, including crib-biting, weaving, etc.

Again, this is not the case, and most racehorses also sleep and play in sunny pastures and lead safer lives than their wild counterparts.

Now I will speak in defense of horse racing:

Picture of a bay horse.

How is horse racing good for horses.

Racehorses generally lead good lives.

The health and welfare of racehorses are incredibly important to the racing industry. That is why most racehorses live relatively good lives, such as sleeping securely in clean, well-kept quarters, nursing from their well-fed mothers, and eating well-balanced diets even during off-season/winters/droughts.

They are well-protected.

Racehorses are kept in secure pastures and barns and are protected from predators, diseases, weather elements, and pests.

They get to socialize.

Contrary to popular belief, racehorses aren’t constantly training for races and kept in stalls; they are also allowed to graze, sleep, play in sunny fields, and experience community bliss.

They get medical/dental health as needed.

Racehorses are very well taken care of. They get prompt medical and dental help as soon as an issue arises.

They have a purpose.

Just like humans, animals need a purpose for mental stimulation. Racing and training help them expend energy and also activates their brain cells and fire up neurons. This keeps them happy and prevents boredom, anxiety, stress, and loneliness.

They develop a close bond with their humans.

Most often, owners try to find a second career for their horses once they can no longer compete. However, some indeed euthanize their horses. But in my experience, euthanizing a horse because it’s no longer competitive is rare.

Racehorses and their humans form close, loving bonds. Racehorses experience care and nurturing, soft voices, daily grooming, physical touch, and strokes from their handlers. All this leads to the cultivation of mutual trust and respect.

This clearly shows that everything isn’t dark and depressing, as portrayed by animal activists!

Picture of racehorses.

Do horses like horse racing?

We cannot and should not assume that horses don’t like racing. After all, in the wild, you will see a horse running, jumping, and prancing. It is also a well-known fact that even if a horse – for some reason becomes riderless during a race – it will continue racing.

Here are reasons why horses are not unwilling participants in races:

They love the challenge.

As I mentioned earlier, horse racing gives a horse purpose, and every living being on this planet needs one. Horses love the challenges that racing provides.

They love the bonds they form with their jockeys, owners, grooms, and trainers.

Racehorses spend hours each day training with humans. They love the physical touch, strokes, and grooming. They do not hesitate to show their humans that they want to jump and race, and these cues are evident to everyone who knows and works with horses. In short, no evidence shows that racehorses are unwilling participants in races.

There is a reason why there are so many thoroughbred horses.

The very fact that the thoroughbred horse breed exists tells us something. There are nearly 500,000 thoroughbred racehorses all over the globe. Without horse racing, this breed would have probably died out. The sport provides a far superior lifestyle to racehorses than those in the wild.

A horse will tell you if it does not want to race!

Finally, we mustn’t forget that horses will find a way of indicating if they don’t like something. A jockey has experienced its mount plant its feet firmly on the ground all too often, refusing to move! So don’t worry, no horse in a race is there against its will. In the majority of the cases, horses are happy and willing participants in the sport.

Do horses want to win?

Horses may or may not understand the concept of winning and losing. In the wild, male and female horses run and jump during sexual pursuits, or two males might run and chase each other to ‘outdo’ each other. In that sense, maybe, a wild horse does understand what it means to win.

However, nothing about human horseracing is natural. And that is why the winning part could be complex for a horse to understand. A horse definitely understands how its jockey/handler will behave with it after the race is over.

It will also understand the appreciation of people it receives upon winning. Experts have even documented changes in hormone levels of a winning horse which might indicate that it understands ‘winning’ to some extent.

Horses are not people, and they certainly don’t think like them. However, a horse definitely forms a close bond with its jockey during training, and that is why it learns to appreciate how important a race maybe for its handler.

Based on these aspects– perhaps a horse might want to win. That is also why some horses continue running even if their jockey has fallen off. We will never really know what goes on in a horse’s mind?

Conclusion –Is horse racing good or bad for horses?

As with so many things in life, there are good and bad sides to horse racing. Racehorses do have risks of injuries, but they are also exceptionally well taken care of.  Racehorses live a life of purpose and get well-balanced meals, routine vet and dental checkups, as well as the community bliss of other racehorses.

A horse forms a close, loving bond of mutual trust and respect with its jockey and may even want to win a race when it understands how important that is for its handler.

We hope this brief guide gives you a glimpse into your horse’s mind!