What is a Horse Race and Why Should It Be Made Illegal?

horse race

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers. It is not a race against time, but rather against other horses in a field and is typically held over a short distance on a smooth or turf surface.

Despite the romanticized facade, US horse racing is in fact a business that enslaves and slaughters horses. The suffocating heat, frenzied crowds and mint juleps are just a cover for the brutal reality of this cruel and outdated industry. Pushed beyond their limits, horses are drugged and whipped, often suffering from injuries, breakdowns and even hemorrhaging in the lungs (a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage). These animals are forced to sprint at speeds that can easily result in death, and they spend most of their lives in solitary confinement in a confined stall.

“Horses used in racing are subjected to a barrage of physical, psychological and social stress, all while being forced to run at speeds that can easily result in death,” said Dr. Stuart Brown, delegate to the AVMA House of Delegates and a member of the AAEP’s working groups on racing and equine welfare. “This is why unsanctioned racing should be made illegal, and it’s something that our profession can help to achieve.”

The first horse races were standardized by kings, who set rules for race distances, the number of entrants per race and the qualifications of riders. In addition to being based on gambling, these early races were also intended to attract spectators and enhance the prestige of a nation. The sport became more popular in the 18th century, when public demand necessitated that the rules be altered so that anyone could participate.

By the late 1700s, racehorses were being pushed to their absolute limits, resulting in many breaks and even fatal accidents. As a result, the industry started using cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask injuries and to boost performance. The most common drugs included Lasix and Salix, which are a diuretics with performance-enhancing qualities, as well as phenylethylamines and steroids.

Many media scholars have studied the impact of news coverage that frames elections as a horse race, with reporters focusing on opinion polls and giving the most attention to frontrunner candidates in key swing states. This type of reporting is especially harmful to third-party and independent candidates, who can be overlooked or ignored by newsrooms if their chances of winning are slim compared with those of the Democratic and Republican contenders.

Ultimately, the most important question for the horse race industry is not whether or not to change its practices, but how to ensure that its horses’ needs are met. For this to happen, horse racers need to stop selling a narrative that makes it seem like horses love the thrill of competition, and instead focus on improving their care. That’s why it’s crucial that we support those racehorses whose owners are in this for the animals, and not just for the money.