The horse racing industry advertises
itself as "glamorous," but in reality, exploitation, welfare
violations, cruelty, and premature deaths are an inherent and
unavoidable part of this industry based on greed.
- The horse racing industry causes thousands of horses to be born
only to be slaughtered or abandoned to an existence of neglect,
starvation, and suffering. There are three reasons for this:
- Very large numbers must be produced annually to generate a few
fast ones to be selected to compete. Of the many thousands bred to
race, very few make the grade. The rest must be disposed of.
- During training or racing, injuries are common. Injured horses
are also euthanized or sold from one owner to another into
increasingly worse conditions.
- When race horses have finished their career - usually at a very
early age, before they are fully mature - they, too, must be
disposed of. Their numbers exceed by far the number of humane
The above has been found to be true of every country where this
issue has been studied, including England, Germany, Japan, and the
U.S. In the small country of Macau, for example, approximately 300
horses are imported per year, the same number as are retired. Most
of those retired are euthanized. Some who do not make the grade, but
who can still race, are exported to race and/or to an unknown fate
in China or Vietnam. A local Macau newspaper published photos of
healthy horses (some as young as 4 years old) who were no longer
fast enough to win races, being lined up and shot, their bodies
dumped at a local landfill. The horses were shot because shooting is
a cheaper, though much less humane method of euthanasia than lethal
In the U.S., around 5,000 leave racing every year, the same number
who enter it. As in Macau and in every other country where horse
racing exists, many end up euthanized or sent into a downward spiral
Race horses frequently suffer injuries because they are forced to
train and race before their skeletal system has finished growing.
To compete in the races with the largest purses — which are for 2
and 3 year olds — horses must be trained and raced at too young an
age, before their bones’ growth plates have matured. This causes
many lower-limb ailments and injuries, including fractures, pulled
ligaments, and strained tendons. Such injuries are common in horse
Riding horses are started at 3-4 years old, while race horses are
often started as young as 1.5 years. Riding horses are brought along
slowly and with as little stress to their still-maturing joints as
possible, while race horses are forced to run beyond their limits,
pounding their still-developing joints into the ground. When the
riding horse is just entering his prime, the race horse is ending
his career, and possibly his life.
One study showed that for every 22 races, at least one horse suffers
an injury severe enough to prevent him or her from finishing a race.
Another study estimated that 800 Thoroughbreds die from
racing-related injuries every year in North America. Most owners are
not willing to pay high veterinary fees for an injured horse who is
unlikely to ever race again, and instead, choose to euthanize the
Horses are forced to race even while injured, causing enormous
suffering. Many horse owners are either unwilling or unable to
provide expensive veterinary care for a horse who may not be
successful enough to earn his or her keep. Even when owners do
provide veterinary care, they typically do not allow the horse
sufficient time for recovery. Instead, they send the horse out to
train or race on still-unhealed limbs.
Since the profit-making motive, not animal welfare, is the priority,
horses are drugged so they can race even when injured. A recent
front page New York Times article listed the most common ways used
to enhance a race horse’s performance: bronchodilators to widen air
passages, hormones to increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells, cone
snail or cobra venom injected into a horse’s joints to ease pain and
stiffness, and a "milkshake" of baking soda, sugar, and electrolytes
delivered through a tube in the horse’s nose to increase carbon
dioxide in the horse’s bloodstream and lessen lactic-acid buildup,
warding off fatigue. The article noted that batteries are even
concealed under a horse’s skin that deliver a shock when the horse
is flagging. Laboratories cannot detect every one of thousands of
The unnatural stresses inherent in competing so aggressively and
at such a young age also cause or make worse other serious problems,
such as stomach ulcers, heart murmurs, and bleeding in the lungs,
not observed in horses worked at reasonable levels. These health and
injury problems once again necessitate the use of drugs to maintain
the horse’s racing value (but not well-being).
One study reported in the Equine Veterinary Journal
noted a doubling
of one type of heart murmur and a tripling of another in 2-year-olds
after 9 months of training. Horses' heartbeats can increase tenfold
during a race, from a relaxed 25 beats per minute to an excessive
250 beats, leading to exhaustion, collapse, and sometimes, to a
fatal heart attack.
Researchers found gastric ulcers in ninety-three percent of horses
in race training. In horses that had actually raced, the incidence
was a staggering one hundred percent.
A study in the Equine Veterinary Journal found hemorrhaging in the
lungs in 95% of horses checked during two post-race examinations. An
article in the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice
Journal states that hemorrhaging in the lungs is "a condition
affecting virtually all horses during intense exercise
worldwide….there is no treatment that is considered a panacea, and
the currently allowed treatments have not proven to be effective."
Another study in the Equine Veterinary Journal noted that as long as
a horse continues to undergo training and racing, the lungs cannot
Lethal experiments are now part of
Worldwide, thousands of racehorses die or are killed every
year: during races, during training, or because they are not
fast enough. Instead of reducing the unnatural pressure on
the animals that causes broken backs and legs, heart
attacks, burst blood vessels, gastric ulcers, and bleeding
lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage), the industry
sponsors lethal experiments on the animals, supposedly to
learn why racehorses suffer and die from injury and illness,
though the reasons are blatantly obvious.
The experiments include deliberately infecting horses with
devastating viruses, subjecting pregnant animals to
abdominal surgery so they subsequently abort their young,
deliberately underfeeding them, and subjecting newborn foals
to stress experiments. Most of these invasive procedures end
with the horses being killed. The industry attempts to
justify this cruelty with the immoral notion that some
should suffer so many can benefit, when the high level of
injuries and developmental problems the experiments pretend
to address is purely the result of industry greed and
courtesy of Animal Aid, UK)
Overuse of whips and spurs in races and the use of batteries and
electric goads on training tracks are all illegal but they all still
occur. In the wild, or when playing with pasture mates, horses run
fast only for short sprints. In order to make them race over the
longer distances at race tracks, a jockey must push them on, to
encourage greater bursts of speed.
According to a survey conducted by the British non-profit
organization, Animal Aid, jockeys in England whip their horses as
many as 30 times during one race. The whip is used even on young
horses, during their first race. Horses in a state of total
exhaustion and already out of contention were also whipped. The whip
was used on the neck and shoulders, as well as the hind quarters.
The industry promotes the false image of race horses retiring to
lives of luxury as pets, well-cared-for riding horses, or stud
horses. In reality, when horses can no longer race, they are usually
sent to slaughterhouses.
Rather than allowing a horse to rest long enough to heal completely,
many owners and trainers decide the horse does not have race-winning
potential, and they sell the horse at auction. From there, the
horses are either sent to a slaughterhouse that ships horse meat to
the European and Japanese market, or into abusive situations at the
hands of new owners who may think they would like a retired
racehorse, but forget about horses’ longevity and the expense
necessary to maintain them properly.
Until 2007 when horse slaughter was banned
in the United States, the U.S. slaughtered tens of thousands
of horses every year, of which many were ex-racehorses. Now
these horses are sent to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.
Horses are sent to slaughterhouses in cramped trailers, usually
without access to water or food. Injuries are common. A University
of California, Davis study of 306 horses destined for slaughter
found that 60 of them sustained serious injuries during transport.
Some travel in double-decker trailers designed for cattle or sheep,
vehicles not tall enough for horses, though the U.S. Department of
Agriculture banned the use of these trailers for horse transport.
Horses are subject to the same method of slaughter as cattle, but
thrash about to avoid the pneumatic gun that should render them
unconscious before their throat is slit.
Every year, around 300 racehorses die on British race tracks as a
result of a.) fatal falls or serious injuries, most often breaks to
the legs, backs, or shoulders, b.) heart attacks, or c.) a drop in
performance that makes them not profitable. In addition to the
hundreds raced to death, thousands more are killed or abandoned to
neglectful or abusive situations every year because they can no
longer run fast enough to be profitable.
Ex-racehorses who are not euthanized often suffer an even worse
In the U.S., around 5,000 horses leave racing every year, the same
number who enter it. Very few enjoy a decent retirement. Some are
shot within weeks of their money-earning days coming to an end. A
small number become breeders. Many are slaughtered, their bodies
sold to countries like France, where people eat horse meat, or they
end up as pet food. Others are exported, or sold from owner to owner
into increasingly abusive and neglectful situations.
Few members of the public have the expertise to care for and handle
these horses properly, or understand how expensive it is, especially
where land is at a premium and all their food must be provided for
them because there is inadequate grazing. Many horses end up totally
neglected and some are left to starve to death.
Some have been discovered weak, emaciated, and forgotten. Even
champion prize winners, once their racing days are over, have been
found in appalling conditions. The 1984 UK Grand National winner
"Hallo Dandy" was found in a field, thin, with scars on his back,
and his ribs poking through.
The New York Times highlighted the
failure of the largest Thoroughbred racehorse retirement
program in the United States, generously endowed by some of
the wealthiest breeders and most elite stables in the
industry and managed by the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation.
This well-funded project is responsible for over a thousand
horses, a large proportion of them suffering neglect – many
had to be euthanized. Reported by The New York Times,
Horses sold to riding schools or trail riding businesses can lead a
miserable existence of hard work, improper care, and insufficient
feed. Horses sent to race at smaller, less well known racetracks do
not receive proper care and are forced to race on very bad surfaces,
some of which are little more than ploughed paddocks, that are very
hard on their legs.
In Israel, racehorses who don’t make the grade will likely end up in
the same terrible situation as the cart horses of Jaffa. The
temperament of most Thoroughbreds is not suited to that sort of
work, but any animal can be starved into submission.
Legislators in the U.S. and England have tried to regulate the
industry through statutes and regulations, but these attempts at
control are often circumvented. Fraudulent and criminal practices
are inherent in horse racing, despite the best efforts of
controlling authorities, and in spite of extensive laws, severe and
widespread abuse of racehorses usually goes unpunished, and even
Despite large sums, effort, and sophisticated laboratory techniques
employed in drug testing and control, illegal drugging of horses has
been virtually impossible to stop. In addition, one British
Broadcasting System (BBC) article noted that "Prison sentences,
illegal betting coups, question marks over doping offences and
cheating at race courses across Britain have all occurred over the
last 30 years."
In the U.S., the House of Representatives held a
Congressional Hearing in June 2008, with the title Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse. The following is from the opening statement of the Hearing, delivered by Congressional Representative Jan Schakowsky:
"The death of Eight Belles on the track of the Kentucky
Derby two months ago was a symptom of a host of problems
that plague thoroughbred racing....Catastrophic breakdowns
of thoroughbred horses are becoming more common as they
become increasingly fragile over the years. Horses are doped
up on performance-enhancing drugs such as cocaine, caffeine,
and anabolic steroids to make them as fast as possible.
Whether horses are sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of
racing, it is really an afterthought, and almost no one pays
attention to what their lives are like after they retire....It
seems that greed has trumped the health of horses, the
safety of the jockey, and the integrity of the sport.
Although breakdowns have always been a part of this sport,
long-term racing commentators and horsemen assert that the
thoroughbred horse as a breed is becoming weaker. This may
be because commercial breeding focuses on creating faster
horses at an earlier age with little regard to the
consequences of their practices." However, little or nothing
has improved for racehorses in the years since the
Very few of the hundreds of thousands of horses bred win any
money at all, let alone return their training and veterinary costs,
or their sometimes astronomical purchase price.
One study conducted
in Australia of 1,804 race horses aged 2–5 years revealed that 87%
did not earn enough to cover their training costs, and 40% earned no
money at all.
Apart from this huge loss of earning capacity due to lack of
ability, there is also major loss of earning capacity due to injury
and chronic illness, according to another study performed in
Australia. This report also notes that the industry does not reveal
these realities to the public, in order to continue luring people
into buying race horses. Catastrophic racing injuries requiring
immediate euthanasia on the track are another cause of loss of
earning capacity, and are extremely distressing to all concerned,
including racegoers and the general public.
Horses are sentient creatures, not inanimate, disposable objects.
There is nothing romantic or glamorous about racing, despite the
industry’s media promotions, and there are many ways to gamble
besides racing horses. The horse-racing industry is built on the
severe exploitation of horses for the sake of entertainment and
gambling. It is cruel to horses, bad for people, and has no place in
an enlightened society. In this day and age, it is unconscionable to
exploit animals so humans can gamble, particularly when such serious
violations of basic welfare are an inherent part of the industry.
How will the Israeli people feel if media exposure of numerous
starved and abandoned horses — the result of greed — negatively
affect the country’s image?
Hakol Chai calls on the Knesset to rescind its approval of gambling
on horse racing and to explore other income-producing business
opportunities that do not have their base in animal exploitation.
All racing photos are courtesy of Animal Aid UK. More extensive information about racing is on
Animal Aid's website.