The Dangers of Using a Horse Race to Choose a Board Member

A horse race is a contest to determine the winner of an event involving horses. The practice dates back to antiquity, and it is still used in many cultures around the world. It has been criticized, however, for trivializing politics and for contributing to depoliticization. For example, election polling is often treated like a horse race, with journalists emphasizing a candidate’s momentum and size of lead. A more credible, more useful approach to political coverage would focus on the candidates’ qualifications and philosophies, instead of on their popularity.

Horse races are dangerous for the animals and their riders, known as jockeys. The horses are pushed to run at high speed, which can cause injuries such as cracked legs and hooves. Often, they are raced before they are fully mature, which puts them at risk of developmental disorders. And a jockey’s whip can injure or even kill a horse.

The equine industry has come under increasing scrutiny, particularly after spates of fatal racing accidents. More than 7,200 thoroughbreds have died on American racetracks since 2009, according to a database maintained by the Jockey Club, which oversees the breed’s registry. These figures do not include unreported deaths. In the past, racetracks have been reluctant to report deaths, citing confidentiality agreements with owners and trainers. In addition, the industry has not established a protocol for reporting horse deaths, which includes a necropsy and a review of the animal’s history.

There are essentially three types of people in horse racing, says Patrick Battuello, who heads the advocacy group Horseracing Wrongs. There are the crooks who dangerously drug or otherwise mistreat their horses. Then there are the dupes who labor under the fantasy that horse racing is broadly fair and honest. And finally, there are those masses in the middle, neither naive nor cheaters but honorable souls who know the industry is more crooked than it ought to be and do not do enough to fix it.

A company using a horse race to choose its leader may suffer from some long-term consequences, depending on how the competition and the decision are handled. For example, if the board imposes an overt hierarchy in order to select a new leader, it can have a negative impact on other senior leaders who might have aligned with the unsuccessful candidate. It also can discourage future potential leaders from applying for management roles in the firm, because they might see a less desirable career path.

While the horse race is a common method of selecting a chief executive, it can have serious drawbacks, particularly when applied in a large organization. A company that uses this method should consider several factors, including the size of its workforce and how well the board understands the value of diversity. It should also carefully assess whether this type of competition is appropriate for the business and how the process will affect its performance. Then it should consider alternative methods of selecting a leader, such as a blind audition.