From the Kentucky Derby in May to the Melbourne Cup in November, thousands of horse races are run worldwide and year-round. Race after race, “accidents” occur: unconsenting, exploited horses fall victim to the whip of greed. It’s time to address the reality of this deadly “sport”. Nell Simon, who has a degree in equine science and has worked hands-on with many animals including horses, explains why all race horses need to be retired for good.
“Accidents happen” is a phrase that is uttered at racetracks and thoroughbred farms all over the world. But these accidents happen all too often and most go unreported. Unless a horse breaks down during a race, training accidents and deaths at private farms aren’t as regularly reported, at least not to the masses. Deaths that occur at smaller racetracks are all but swept under the rug.
Let’s take a look at some incidents that were reported.
- Melbourne Cup: two horses die after race Flemington – BBC, 4 November, 2014, BBC
- Two horses die following eight-race spill at Aqueduct – Daily Racing Forum, 9 December, 2014
Only a month apart, these headlines are pulled from two different publications in two different countries. Two separate instances of not one, but two animals dying in the same race. How could this happen? The answer isn’t too complex, although there are several factors.
Thoroughbred foals are weaned anywhere from four to six months of age. Yet in the wild, mares will wean their young typically around 1 year of age. Although a foal’s contact with their mother can continue for years, especially if the foal is female. Thoroughbreds start their serious training at about one year old. Ignoring the fact that horses wont be physically mature until about four or five years old, trainers force these young animals to carry people, and endure a host of unnatural, physically and emotionally detrimental training exercises. By the time a thoroughbred is two years old, they are expected to be racing.
Many pedigrees carry a predisposition to race-related injuries. It just so happens that many of the great racehorse tragedies of our time are related.
In his 2009 article for ESPN, “Eight Belles’ breakdown: a predictable tragedy“, William Nack wrote:
“… in the pedigree of this speedy gray filly, [thoroughbred breeding consultant and analyst Ellen] Parker had seen the same kind of dangerous crosses — in her case, lines of known unsoundness triply crossed behind an unsound sire line — that she believed had contributed to the racetrack breakdowns and deaths of such prominent horses as Ruffian and Go For Wand, of George Washington and Pine Island, and even of Barbaro. Indeed, when Ellen Parker first perused the bloodlines of Eight Belles, she saw a danger clear and present: a family tree that bore three branches of the extremely brilliant but unsound racehorse Raise a Native, who was a very muscular chestnut, heavy on the front end, who had won all four of his starts before he broke down in front and limped off to stud.”
Breeders are acutely aware that pedigree plays a role in the soundness of their horses. But risking the life of an animal is worth it, so long as the horse can bring money and fame to their “people” before they die.
Pedigree and irresponsible, but industry standard, training practices are not the only factors that cause horses to break down but they are two of the big ones. Drugging, inexperienced jockeys, scared horses and yes, “freak” accidents all play a part. But what do they expect, really? When you are forcing a young, stressed out, fragile, 1200 pound animal to gallop at 40 miles per hour down a track with a group of other horses, how could you not expect the worst? These deaths are certainly not purposeful, but they are 100 per cent avoidable.
Please take a stand against horse racing; boycott the practice and support rescue groups that place ex-racehorses in companion only homes. Horses deserve better.