Horse Health

The time for horse racing has passed. It’s time to outlaw it.

(Cam Cottrill/for The Washington Post)
by Patrick Battuello

Patrick Battuello is the founder and president of the nonprofit organization Horseracing Wrongs.

In recent months, much media attention has been focused on the deaths of racehorses at the famed Santa Anita track in Arcadia, Calif. On Sept. 28, a 3-year-old colt named Emtech sustained catastrophic injuries in the eighth race — both front legs snapped — and became the 32nd horse to die racing at Santa Anita since December. Emtech was euthanized on the track after workers had erected a green screen to block the crowd’s view of a beautiful, broken animal foundering in the dirt.

If the horse racing industry could, it might like to put up a screen to shield the public view of the thousands of horses that have died at the approximately 100 racetracks, large and small, across the United States over the past several years. There is no single clearinghouse for this information, so I have endeavored, through Freedom of Information Act requests and monitoring of reports by individual tracks, to try to quantify the carnage resulting from the “sport of kings.”

In the past five years, more than 5,000 racehorses have died in the United States, as documented with names, dates and locations on my website, Horseracing Wrongs. That appalling 1,000-per-year rate reflects just reportable, racing-related deaths. Hundreds more die annually in their stalls from what the industry describes as “non-racing” causes — colic, laminitis, “barn accident” or simply “found dead in the morning.”

For all their power and size, racehorses are delicate animals, but they are treated as industrial commodities almost from the moment of birth. Owners generally thrust them into an intensive training regimen at 18 months — long before a horse’s body is remotely mature — and they are first raced competitively about six months later. From there, the physically grinding regimen of racing begins, because if horses aren’t racing, they aren’t earning.

Death can come in many forms. Cardiovascular collapse. Pulmonary hemorrhage, or bleeding in the lungs. Blunt-force head trauma from collisions with other horses or the track itself in a fall. Snapped necks, severed spines, shredded ligaments. The horses’ legs can shatter as they try to support a 1,000-pound body with a jockey on top, at speeds of about 40 miles per hour. Sometimes a leg will break so severely that the limb remains attached to the rest of the body only by skin and tendons. Badly injured horses are euthanized with an injection of pentobarbital solution.

The euphemisms for racehorse deaths and injuries that lead to their being “put down” also come in many forms: “bad step,” “went wrong,” “broke down,” “sudden cardiac event” and “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.”

The thousands of catastrophic injuries and sudden deaths might sound like a form of slaughter — but then there is the actual slaughtering of racehorses.

The use of horses for meat production is illegal in the United States, but that simply means horses are shipped out of the country, mostly to Canada or Mexico. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, using Agriculture Department data, in the period from 2008 to early 2018, more than 1.3 million horses were sent to slaughter from the United States, an average of about 130,000 annually. A Wild for Life Foundation study in 2012, again using USDA data, found that from 2002 to 2010, 19 percent of the horses slaughtered were thoroughbreds. Another study pegged it at 16 percent.

Even allowing for a possible decline since then, assuming improved care for racehorses, lowering the thoroughbred total to 12 percent would still translate to about 15,000 racehorses exported for slaughter annually. Compare the total with what the Jockey Club, a horse racing industry organization, counts as the annual “foal crop,” about 21,000 horses born in each of the past seven years. In come the new racehorses, out goes a significant percentage of that number in no-longer-competitive or simply unwanted racehorses for slaughter.

For Americans who know horse racing primarily from the annual TV spectacle of the Kentucky Derby and other Triple Crown races, the dark and bloody underbelly of the sport might come as a shock. They might also be unaware of just how grim the economic outlook is for horse racing. The Courier-Journal in Louisville — the heart of horse racing — reported last year that the industry’s problems include “numbers of races and total starters that have been cut roughly in half since 1990, a five-year streak of declining purses and an on-track handle” — the amount of money bet — “that has plunged by 51 percent since 2001.” Attendance at U.S. tracks dropped nearly 50 percent between 1975 and 1997, the Atlantic noted in 2014, from 78 million to 42 million.

The decline might have been much steeper if horse racing weren’t heavily subsidized by revenue from slot machines, steered to tracks in many states by politicians hoping to aid the racing industry. But as The Post noted in 2012, “When slots were legalized, the machines proved to be so lucrative many track owners lost interest in the sport and viewed it as a nuisance.”

Horse racing might be a nuisance to many track owners, but it is a menace to the animals it depends on. As the staggering toll in dead horses becomes clear, Americans should consider asking their state and federal legislators to outlaw a cruel pastime whose time has passed.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-staggering-toll-in-dead-horses-makes-it-clear-its-time-to-outlaw-horse-racing/2019/10/08/b0f97a06-e52c-11e9-a331-2df12d56a80b_story.html

7 replies »

  1. If legal racing is ended, what then happens to the thousands of horses, including those of racing age but also the broodmares, foals, stallions, retired? An ethical plan for these innocents needs to be part of this discussion or most will face a dire end, and quickly.

    Just like our wild ones, these sentient animals through no choice of their own are subject to all our human whims, including those that declare them nothing more than disposable property.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Horse racing itself is Not the problem. It appears that horses have been dying left and right since Animal Rights groups have been attacking. The idea was to Advocate for stronger protections for horses and people in racing. We NEED TO TURN OUR FOCUS BACK TO WILD HORSES. THEY ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE. The new plan will ensure their mix of life and death disproportionately. I asked HSUS to help with wild horses but Never to work with the same deceptive Farm Bureau and Cattlemen, ie pro slaughter to do so. Let’s get to work on stopping Horses that are Wild From Being Abused and keep focused until they are saved. Otherwise
    There will be thoroughbreds not raced and wild horses only in a history book. Get back to focusing on the True Battles in front of US, or we will lose the Most crucial of them all, the Entire Wild Horse population. Like it or not our Focus has to stay later like on Saving ALL OF THEM! There are horses going to slaughter daily….wild ones included…….so let’s handle our job here First and Foremost. The thoroughbred Industry has people good people working to resolve issues. The Wild ones Only have Us so let’s get back on track Immediately!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good points, but this article is a specific call to end the horse racing industry. If racing is ended, then it’s very clear horse ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE.

      It’s beyond comprehension how the HSUS, who has been largely absent from wild horse and burro matters, has now joined part of an unhly alliance which will indeed kill thousands of wild ones if implemented. I continue to suggest that anyone voting for this should be required to sit and watch in person as every horse and burro they voted to kill breathes their last breath.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Horse racing itself is Not the problem. It appears that horses have been dying left and right since Animal Rights groups have been attacking. The idea was to Advocate for stronger protections for horses and people in racing. We NEED TO TURN OUR FOCUS BACK TO WILD HORSES. THEY ARE DEFINITELY GOING TO DIE. The new plan will ensure their mix of life and death disproportionately. I asked HSUS to help with wild horses but Never to work with the same deceptive Farm Bureau and Cattlemen, ie pro slaughter to do so. Let’s get to work on stopping Horses that are Wild From Being Abused and keep focused until they are saved. Otherwise
    There will be thoroughbreds not raced and wild horses only in a history book. Get back to focusing on the True Battles in front of US, or we will lose the Most crucial of them all, the Entire Wild Horse population. Like it or not our Focus has to stay later like on Saving ALL OF THEM! There are horses going to slaughter daily….wild ones included…….so let’s handle our job here First and Foremost. The thoroughbred Industry has people good people working to resolve issues. The Wild ones Only have Us so let’s get back on track Immediately!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The problems involved with racing are so many and many of us who love horses are in awe of their power and absolutely emotionally gobsmacked when we see a talented horse run. I am so moved every time I see a recording of Secretariat or Sea Biscuit or Zenyatta, or Black Caviar, or Winx…When we see a way that we can participate in meaningful change that does not result in wholesale slaughter of these domestic horses, we should get involved.

    Yet, it is not the same as the thrill of seeing the wild ones run or interact naturally on their home range or in a legitimate sanctuary. Both domestic and our wild ones are facing that life and death crisis. Our wild horses and burros are facing extinction if we do not find a way to stop this assault on our public lands and our wildlife. I believe we must bring the crisis to the public because the public lands belong to all of us and will be lost forever by all of us if we cannot move enough people to action that will save the wild horses and burros with viable genetic numbers and public lands secured for them.

    For both domestic and wild horses, we must vote for people who will listen to our horse loving voters. There must be support for the rescuers and sanctuaries. There must be support for using the court systems to achieve stopping the misuse of the public lands for private gain. I understand and hear those who want to maintain a focus on this forum for the wild horses and burros. But, I don’t believe that having the discussion about racing horses is or should be a distraction. We can research and vote in the interests of both. There are rescues and sanctuaries that we can support to the extent our budgets allow. We can share and repost on social media about both the plight of domestic and wild horses. We can support what is happening locally. We can raise issues at town meetings. I’m sure most of you do these things.

    I have been reading this SFTHH for several years and have learned so much from this site and from all of you that comment. Recently I was finally able to fix the glitch that did not allow me to join the conversation. So, I thank you for your past comments and for listening to my comments tonight.

    Liked by 2 people

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