I love horses and I also love horse racing. But it is becoming extremely hard to reconcile the two, the more I learn about horses and the more I watch races.
On Saturday, during the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf race Rough Sailing fell on the first turn of the track and sustained a fracture on his upper right front leg. Rough Sailing had to be put down after the race. Last time something similar happened in a high-profile race was during the 2008 Kentucky Derby when Eight Belles shuttered both her front ankles only moments after crossing the finish line in second place. Eight Belles had to be euthanized by lethal injection on the spot. And this followed Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who was euthanized in January of 2007, eight months after breaking one of his hind legs at the Preakness Stakes. It is estimated that more than two thoroughbreds die from injuries a day, in North America alone.
Horses are majestic and beautiful animals (you have to see one up close to fully appreciate their beauty), and the racing industry tries to portray horse breeding and training as a very noble pursuit. But the truth is that breeding racehorses is nothing but.
Breeders have to breed hundreds of horses in order to find the ones that have both speed and endurance. Breeding horses is an expensive endeavor, hence, the ones that do not make the cut have to be disposed of. Most horses are sent to the slaughter-house (horse meat is very popular in Europe and Japan; I have tried it and I liked it). Personally, I am okay with that. I see no difference between cattle, sheep, chicken or any other animal being sustainably and humanly slaughtered for food.
The horses that exhibit potential are trained rigorously. Most high stakes races are for two and three-year old horse. Since the skeletal system of young horses is still developing at that stage, research has shown that during the growing years excess activity can lead to abnormal development, resulting in horses that are prone to injuries, especially in the legs.
Finally, drug use is rampant in racehorse breeding. For example, only recently were anabolic steroids for racehorses banned (a positive step here). A large number of other substances are also banned, like etorphine, narcotic analgesics, caffeine, and bicarb. Other drugs, like corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory and antibiotics are consistently used as short-term solutions for minor injuries, so that horses can race better. There is no denying that treating injuries with only short-term benefits in mind, leads to more serious health problems for the horses later on.
It is hard to draw a line between what is ethical racehorse breeding and what is not, but it is also very hard for me and hundreds of other horse racing fans to stop supporting this exciting sport. Instead, I will continue to rationalize the industry, while I await for next year’s potential Triple Crown winner…