A horse race is a competition between horses where the first one to cross the finish line wins. It is one of the oldest sports and its basic concept has changed little over centuries. It started as a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses and has since become a massive industry that pays out enormous sums of money. But the sport has never been able to get over its fundamental animal cruelty problems.
It is a cruel game that forces horses to run faster than they can and often beyond their limits, under the threat of whips and other illegal electrical shocking devices. It is a race that can cause gruesome breakdowns and injuries and that kills many horses. The truth is that, while racing has taken some commendable steps in recent years to make the game safer for horses, it will not be able to change its fundamental business model until it acknowledges that it is killing animals and stops doing so.
The main type of horse race is the handicap race, in which the weights that a competing horse must carry are adjusted according to its age (the younger the horse, the lighter the load). Other types of races include allowances for fillies and geldings and weight penalties or allowances based on a horse’s past performance.
In a horse race, riders called jockeys are attached to each horse and use a whip to encourage the horse to run faster. The whip causes pain and injury, so rules are designed to limit how often the jockey can use it.
A horse may suffer a serious injury that can cause permanent lameness. But even if it is diagnosed, it can still be sold to a new owner who will not disclose the diagnosis and continue to race it. The horse can then be forced to sprint to exhaustion and be whipped in an attempt to keep it going, or it may bleed from its lungs (a condition known as exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage).
Many of these horses end up at the slaughterhouse. But there are some who escape the pipeline.
The saviors of these horses are horse rescue organizations, which can often find homes for injured or abandoned racehorses. They also advocate for better equine welfare laws and public awareness of the issues facing the horse racing industry. But it is difficult to imagine a time when the racing world will wake up and stop treating horses like disposable products. Until that happens, the sport will continue to be a disaster for horses. It is a scandal that this is not yet being recognized by the majority of the public.