By Sara Farr
Horse racing has a reputation for elegance and attracts many wealthy owners and audience members. News coverage is saturated with women in fancy hats and designer dresses and men in suits that cost more than most peoples’ rent for the year. All of these pretty wrappings hide dark secrets, though, the reality of horse racing is as far from high heels and limousines as you can get.
Many undercover investigations have showed us a different side of this industry. This coverage shows that the horses are viewed as nothing more than commodities in this industry that profits from them, much in the same way that animals are viewed on factory farms. Horses are abused by trainers and others in order to make them run as fast as possible, no matter the consequences to their health and happiness. Tragically, there is nothing glamorous about the world of horse racing, only lies and abuse.
Drugging horses to enhance their performance is a common practice in the horse racing industry. During their undercover investigation, PETA witnessed horse trainers giving their animals drugs for hypothyroidism to speed up their metabolisms. In addition, to Lasix, also known as furosemide, is a diuretic that stops pulmonary bleeding in the horses’ lungs during intense exercise, allowing them to push through otherwise exhausting training sessions and races. Lasix also works to masks other drugs that might be in the horses system so it appears that they haven’t been fed anything that would make the race “unfair.” As an added touch, Lasix dehydrates the horses to force them to lose weight, and thus, run faster.
Many of the horses also had scarring on their legs from being administered liquid nitrogen to increase blood flow in sore muscles. This process, called “freeze firing” is meant to soothe aching muscles, but more often than not ends with deep surface wounds. The scars left by this process tell the story of racing more clearly than words ever could.
Life on the Track
The only area of horse racing seen by the public is the race itself, but even this hides some portion of the reality of the industry.
It all starts with the breeding of the horses who are designed to run at 30 mph while carrying their 1,000 pound bodies on the tiniest ankles possible. After all, the skinnier their legs are, the lighter the horses are; this is obviously a recipe for disaster, particularly broken bones which, in certain cases, can be lethal.
The dangers of this reckless breeding became obvious on June 6th at Belmont Park. A four-year-old colt named Helwan broke his left front cannon bone during the Jaipur Invitational Race at Belmont Park. He was running on Lasix, as were the twelve other horses in the race. This was Helwan’s ninth race, and following the injury he sustained to the canon bone he was euthanized behind a curtain on the track.
According to a report in USA Today, “One week earlier [prior to Helwan's death at Belmont\, a 5-year-old horse named Soul House collapsed and died shortly after finishing seventh of 10 horses at Belmont Park. One day before that, a 5-year-old horse named Icprideicpower died at Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack in upstate New York after a training session.”
When you look at the statistics, these three incidents are revealed to be anything but isolated; a staggering 750 horses die on the race track every year, which is an average of two deaths a day. The New York Times reported that 24 horses die a week on U.S. race tracks. In New York alone, 43 horses have died in racing or training since January 2015. These numbers won’t be shared by the racing industry.
If you thought the deaths during races were staggering, you’ll be horrified to know that over 10,000 thoroughbreds from the U.S. are sent to slaughter, usually in Mexico, when they are no longer “of use.” Even Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was slaughtered in 2002 when he could not longer be used for breeding – he was nineteen.
These horses are sold at auction, crammed into trucks designed for cattle, and starved for more than 24 hours until they reach slaughterhouses over the border. The horses often lose their balance in the trucks, because their bodies aren’t designed for stability. This often results in painful injuries that the horses have no choice but to anguish in while they are transported. Their slaughter, which includes the killing of foals despite that fact that this is illegal, is largely unregulated, as well.
What Can You Do?
Once you understand the truth about the horse racing industry, it is your duty to share what you’ve learned for the sake of the thousands of voiceless horses that are subjected to this cruelty every year. One of the most important steps you can take is to never go to races or bet on them. Don’t even watch them on TV. This includes the Kentucky Derby as alluring as those crazy hats may be. You can also write to your government representatives to get them to support legislation to increase regulation and penalties in this industry. Spread awareness about the reality of this industry so people can make informed and kind decisions. No animal should have to suffer for the sake of our entertainment.