The Issues of a Horse Race

A horse race is a sport that’s been around for centuries. It has had a major impact on our culture and history. It’s a sport that many people love, and it has serious financial value. But it’s a sport that also has serious issues. And those issues aren’t just about how much money it makes, but what kind of impact it has on horses and the lives they lead.

The earliest races were match contests between two or at most three horses, but public pressure produced events with larger fields. The early King’s Plates, for example, were 4-mile heats in which a horse had to win two heats for victory. A rider’s skill and judgment was crucial to winning, but a horse’s ability to sprint quickly was also important. Then came dash racing, where speed became the defining characteristic of a champion. A rider’s skill and judgment were no longer so vital to winning a race.

Today’s horse races are wildly different. They’re often shortened to two- or four-furlong races, and they’re held at speeds that are not nearly as fast as those in the early 1800s. But the racing industry continues to face criticism about its treatment of animals. Whether the cruelty takes the form of a jockey whipping a horse too hard, or the exploitation of horses that are bred and born to race, horse racing is a system that’s based on violence.

There’s a long-standing critique about “horse race journalism” in politics, where journalists tend to focus too much on how a few candidates are doing in the polls, to the detriment of other primary contenders and third-party candidates. That same critique could be applied to the horse race, which would help us look at how a race might play out from a variety of perspectives and avoid a simplistic storyline that’s easy for readers to get caught up in.

In horse racing, as in so many other industries, there are ways to improve the safety and quality of life for horses. For starters, we could make sure that a horse’s injury history is completely available to the public before a race. And we could put some thought into the kinds of veterinary care that would ensure that a horse is fit to run and can recover from injury quickly.

Sadly, Eight Belles died after she was injured in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. She’s just one of thousands of racehorses who have died due to the stress of being forced to do something they can’t understand, and that’s too painful for them to bear. Let’s not take away the future of young running horses who deserve better than the way we treat them today.