The Harmful Practice of Horse Racing

Horse racing is a fascinating and engaging sport that has been around for thousands of years. It is also a cruel and abusive practice that often puts the health of horses in jeopardy.

One study found that an average of three thoroughbreds die each day in North America from catastrophic injuries sustained while competing in races. In addition, horses are bred with massive torsos and spindly legs that make them unprepared for the physical stresses of racing on hard tracks at high speeds. The combination of those forces is a recipe for breakdowns, and one that breeders have been pushing to the extreme for decades.

The result is that, on average, a racehorse will suffer from some kind of serious injury every four or five starts. For many people outside the horseracing world, this is enough to raise eyebrows. But it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Injuries in horse races are not only very common, but they are also very expensive. A typical racehorse costs less than a decent used car, and the purses for most races are jacked up with taxpayer subsidies in the form of casino cash, which gives the owners a strong incentive to run their horses to their limits.

And then there’s the fact that horses are forced to compete at an age when their bones and joints have not finished growing and developing. The typical 1,000-pound thoroughbred doesn’t reach full maturity until about the age of 6. Breeding such tall, gangly creatures and then forcing them to run before they are physically ready is simply asking for trouble.

Despite all this, there are still good trainers and jockeys who care about their horses and try to limit the risks as much as possible. They know that the physical and mental strain of racehorse training is unnatural and often leads to psychological problems, including compulsive behavior like cribbing. It is not uncommon for that suffering to manifest as self-harm behaviors such as biting on the gate or kicking the dirt.

But even the best-laid plans for a horse can fall through, especially when a race does not fill or an unexpected event comes up on the schedule. These last-minute changes can be frustrating, particularly for horse owners who have made travel arrangements or acclimated their horses to certain tracks and races.

The injury suffered by Havnameltdown, however, was different than most horseracing injuries. The post-mortem examination revealed bone cysts, severe degenerative joint disease and osteoarthritis in all four limbs. All of which, combined with the injection of corticosteroids and sedatives, is enough to raise some concerns about horseracing for those who aren’t part of the industry. But even if these findings weren’t enough to alarm the public, the fact is that the injury could have been prevented.