Claire Hedger | Writer
May 19, 2023
In light of the Kentucky Derby just a few weeks ago, it is important to remember the despicable reality of the industry.
At a glance, horse racing is a beautiful sport. Majestic horses gallop across carefully paved tracks, illuminated by different assortments of plants and flowers. Crowds of people watching and betting on which jockey and horse duo will most likely win—the atmosphere filled with excitement and anticipation. However, beneath the fun and entertainment lies a disturbing truth; the abuse and exploitation of horses. It is essential that this issue gets revealed to the public and that the mistreatment of these innocent horses subsides.
While there is never an excuse for the abuse and exploitation of these horses, it can be generally inferred that the mistreatment stems from the competitive nature of the races. Winning is the only thing that matters to jockeys, trainers, and owners, which is why they prioritize victory over the animals’ health and well-being. The horses are subjected to gruesome training exercises and relentless racing schedules daily. These constant and physically demanding exercises exhaust the horses to intense and unbearable levels. The stress on the horses’ bodies leads to a high risk of injury.
“I watched the Kentucky Derby,” said junior Jake Poole. “But I didn’t know that the horses were abused behind the scenes.”
In most equestrian sports, horses are trained, with their overall health being the priority. Though in horse racing, horses are considered disposable, with their overall health never even crossing the minds of trainers and owners. Most racehorses begin racing at two years old. At this age, the horse’s bones are immature, and excessive training and exercise can cause fatal inflammation of joints. And when they are not racing or training, the horses’ short lives are spent in small stables, fed high-energy meals, and injected with performance-enhancing and pain-masking drugs. Drugs include Muscle Relaxants- used to relax the horse – and Anti-Inflammatory Drugs – used to manage inflammation and discomfort in horses’ joints.
While doping horses is banned in the industry, trainers ignore the ban and risk their jobs to get even the slightest advantage in the race. For example, famous trainer Steve Asmussen was found to illegally administer thyroid medication to all his horses to speed up their metabolisms. Similarly, Medina Spirit, the 2021 Kentucky Derby champion, was disqualified for testing positive for drugs. Days later, Medina Spirit, only three years old, passed away from a heart attack. It’s sickening that a horse would pass away from a heart attack at such a young age, yet it’s normalized in the industry. If the horses do not drop dead because of their intense exercise regime or exhaustion, they die from severe injuries or are “put down” after competitions. In reality, an average of 24 horses die per week on horse tracks, and The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission alone documented 237 horse deaths due to racing between 2010 and 2019. However, many go unreported.
“Even one dead horse is too much,” said junior Mason Nelligan. “There needs to be a change.”
The abuse of racehorses is a sickening reality that must be publicly addressed. As spectators of the industry, we are responsible for demanding change. If it’s not banning the “sport” entirely, then we, as a community, must demand stricter regulations for the industry to save the lives of the thousands of racehorses set to die and the thousands more that have perished already.