A horse race is a sporting event in which horses compete against each other over distances set by governing bodies, usually on a dirt track. Throughout the years, horse racing has changed dramatically with advances in technology that have made the sport safer for both the horses and jockeys. Today, thermal imaging cameras are used to detect heat exhaustion, MRI scanners can identify minor or major health issues before they become severe, and 3D printing allows for the production of casts and splints for injured horses. In addition, countless animal rights organizations have targeted the horse racing industry to expose abusive training practices for young horses, drug use and racing’s failure to adequately address the fate of countless former racehorses who hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline.
The modern horse race is a sport that dates back to the 16th century when colonial settlers in North America began establishing organized races. Until the Civil War, the American Thoroughbred was known for its stamina and endurance, rather than speed. After the war, the emphasis was on the classic Triple Crown races: The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
In order to attract more betting money, the industry developed handicapping in the 1750s. Handicaps assign weights designed to equalize the winning chances of the entrants. The handicapping system is still used to this day to determine which horse will win a race.
As the popularity of horse racing increased, so too did the number of races being held. In 1896, the American Jockey Club was formed to govern the sport and to establish standardized rules. The Jockey Club is also responsible for the breeding of Thoroughbreds and for registering all horses in the United States.
Although some horse owners and trainers do everything in their power to protect the welfare of their animals, the majority of them are not concerned with the well-being of their equine partners. Pushed beyond their limits, most horses are subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs meant to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. This is often referred to as “juicing.” The sport’s governing body, the Jockey Club, instituted a ban on wagering in 1909, but this was done not so much to promote horse welfare as it was to stamp out corruption associated with betting.
The most serious issue facing horse racing is the lack of a comprehensive, industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all ex-racehorses who are abandoned when their careers end. Many of these formerly beloved animals are shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter. Those that are not sold on the international auction market are sometimes charged arbitrary, outrageous ransoms by private individuals and rescues. The rest are killed. This is the “shadow side” of horse racing that is only now beginning to gain momentum, thanks to growing awareness and investigative work by animal rights organizations. These groups are also exposing abuses in the breeding industry and the exploitation of retired racehorses who face a life of unending misery after their retirement from the sport.