The Dangers of Horse Race

Horse race has developed from a primitive contest of speed and stamina to a huge public-entertainment business, but its basic concept has barely changed. Two horses compete on a fixed course, and the one that finishes first wins. The industry owes its success to the public, but it also depends on gamblers and people who make donations to rescue horses.

Most of the industry people I know and have worked with, whether trainers, assistant trainers, jockeys, owners or veterinarians, care a great deal about the horses they train or race. They would never intentionally hurt them. But a few do. They are the reason why PETA and the Times can drop a video like this, and so many observers scream “Shocked!”

The sport has evolved through several technological changes. It now has thermal imaging cameras to detect heat stress in post-race horses, MRI scanners and endoscopes to spot minor or major problems, and 3D printers that can make casts, splints and even prosthetics for injured or ailing horses. But despite these advances, it remains a dangerous sport that can take its toll on horses and jockeys alike.

Before the advent of modern drugs, racing officials had a hard time keeping up with what the horses were taking: powerful painkillers designed for humans, anti-epilepsy products, growth hormones and blood doping. Drug testing was infrequent, and the penalties for breaking the rules were essentially nonexistent.

A thoroughbred is a large, muscular horse breed that was developed in Europe and Asia in the 18th and 19th centuries. The word is derived from the Latin phaeton, meaning “fast.” These horses are trained to run fast, often to the point of breakdown and injury. The lungs can be damaged, and the legs can collapse or rupture. A broken sesamoid bone (one of four small bones at the back of the foot) is one of the most common injuries among Thoroughbreds.

The horse racing world is a strange place. The sport is romanticized by affluent spectators wearing fine clothing and sipping mint juleps. Behind this facade is a dark world of drugs, injuries and gruesome breakdowns that lead to slaughter. A few thousand American horses a year are killed.

Until the sport addresses these issues, its fans are likely to continue to be divided into three essentially hostile camps: those who support the crooks and cheaters who abuse and misuse the horses; those who labor under the illusion that racing is a broadly fair and honest business; and those, many of them horsemen, who realize that the sport is more crooked than it should be but don’t do anything to fix it.

The only way to change this is for the industry to address these issues and start treating its horses with more respect. Then it might be able to persuade its customers that it is a good business and worth their support. But until then, the sport will have to keep fighting for its survival.