Horse racing: dying to win

If the Kentucky Derby and other horse races conjure up images of fancy hats and mint juleps, it’s time to take off the blinders.

Horse racing is big business, with no regard for the well-being of the horses.

Kentucky Derby

On average, 24 horses die on racetracks in the US every week. Even more are injured and killed before they ever see a race. About 30,000 foals are born every year, in the hopes that they’ll be a winner. Not all have what it takes. As a result, 10,000 thoroughbreds are sent to slaughter in Canada and Mexico every year. The situation in other countries, like the UK, Australia and Israel, is just as grim.

Horses are routinely doped up on performance-enhancing medications and pain-masking drugs. For example, many horses are given thyroxine, a thyroid medication that amps up metabolism–whether they have thyroid issues or not. Lasix, meant to prevent bleeding in the lungs during extreme exercise, is used to dehydrate horses and make them lighter on race day. Conveniently, it masks other drugs in the horses’ systems too.

These young horses are exhausted, overworked, and often train and race with painful injuries. They aren’t rewarded for winning–even though their owners can pocket over a million dollars in a big race. One sad example is Ferdinand, the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner. He died in 2002, in a Japanese slaughterhouse, after an unsuccessful stint as a stud. Horse Racing: Where winners are eaten.

The horse racing industry enslaves these horses and forces them to be athletes. Some don’t make the cut, but even the fast ones face a short, miserable life.

As with so many industries that exploit animals, humans are exploited too. Stable workers are often undocumented and work long, hard hours for little pay and often sleep in the barns and tack rooms, not the staff quarters.

What to do?

  • NEVER attend or bet on a horse race!
  • Support humans events (where people choose to compete) like track and field.
  • Watch this short exposé by PETA (warning: graphic language).
  • Read about the similar plight of horses in the UK.
  • Use this form to send a letter to your US representatives and senators urging them to increase penalties for doping. (Please click here if you live in the UK, here if you live in Canada, and here for all other international locations.)