Horse Races Kill Horses

Horse Races Kill Horses

Isabella Snyder, Co-Chief Editor

We live near one of the largest horse racing tracks in the world, The Saratoga Race Track in Saratoga Springs, NY. Forbes magazine ranked it in the top ten. That being said, business is booming at horse racing tracks around the country. Additionally, if you read the recent headlines, so is the rate of horse fatalities. On average 14 horses die each 40 day season at Saratoga. With statistics like that shouldn’t we be curious as to why these deaths are occurring?


On the last day of this past season, during the last race of the year, a horse fell, causing him to need to be euthanized on the track. Thirteen horses died during the 2019 season, 1 less than the average. The most common way to euthanize a horse is with a lethal injection. The veterinarian will inject a sedative, followed by a large dose of barbiturates. The sedative relaxes the horse and the  barbiturate acts as a central nervous system depressant. When given in a large dose, it causes death. Horses do not handle surgery well, meaning strained tendons or hairline fractures could be the end of a horse’s life. The damage may go from minor to irreversible within one workout so many horses are euthanized or sold at auction to save the owners further veterinary fees and other expenses for horses who can’t race again. According to Patrick Battuello, founder, president and director of Horseracing Wrongs, a nonprofit committed to eradicating horse racing in the United States, there is no way to make horse racing safe. He feels, “It is inevitable, horses will die.” 


I asked two Shaker High School students who have been to the track about their experiences.

Both students felt they had a positive experience there. Ana Stiso, a senior, stated, “I had heard of horses dying at the track on the news but I never really thought about it while there”. She also felt upset after hearing the statistics. Jack Tervey, a senior, did not even know horses were dying, he felt “This confirms that [they’re] in it for the money and that is their only motivation. [They] should put more of an emphasis on animal treatment & health”. 


 Most people who visit the track do not truly know the reasons why horses are dying, nor do they realize how many cases there are. This past summer the Saratoga track had 1,056,053 visitors, making 2019 the fifth season in a row to pass 1 million. Also, over 700 million dollars in wagers were made. That is $46 million more than 2018, and $29 million more than the previous record, set in 2017. With all of these visitors and all of this money there should be more press and more funding set up to protect the animals we are betting on. 


I read up on the process of horse training, to learn what it takes to get a horse on the track. Horse racing is extremely dangerous for the horse and the jockey. Jockeys ride the horses in racing events and for exercise. They are highly trained professionals and are employed by racehorse owners, not by the track. Jockeys are also responsible for maintaining all riding equipment. Jockeys are not responsible for training the horses to race, that falls under the trainer. Every trainer has a different way of approaching this, some the right way, some the wrong way. The first step in getting a horse ready to race is getting them used to having tack on their back. This can take time, some trainers do not want to take the time to do this in a kind way. These young horse often around the age of 2, will carry this fear of humans with them for the rest of their life often making them violent towards humans, an even more dangerous situation. 


A contributing factor is that, horses do not end the process of growth plates becoming bone until a horse reaches age 4, but the pelvis keeps growing until a horse is about 5 and some plates of the vertebral column do not fuse until a small horse is 5 ½ or older.  This means horses begin training or are already racing when their skeletal systems are still growing and are unprepared to handle the pressures of competition racing on a hard track at high speeds. Horses race at approximately 30 miles per hour. Once a horse is ready to actually be on the track, they get worked on a daily schedule. It’s only a matter of time after that before they are entered in a race. 


Outside of the United States, medications for racehorses are strictly regulated, policed and punished, according to the Jockey Club, among the oldest and most influential organizations in horse racing. Why isn’t that the case here? Once at the track, horses are often drugged to perform better. There are legal drugs such as Bute. These drugs are used to mask pain and control inflammation. Unfortunately, also common is the use of illegal drugs.  “There are trainers pumping horses full of illegal drugs every day,” says a former Churchill Downs Public Relations director. “With so much money on the line, people will do anything to make their horses run faster.” The Churchill Downs, located in Louisville, Kentucky, hosts the Kentucky Derby. The director also reports one trainer being suspended for using a drug similar to Ecstasy on five horses. 

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, has been a huge contributor in bringing awareness to the treatment of racehorses.  The treatment of the animals is under the harshest scrutiny in years thanks to efforts made by groups such as PETA. Although the horsemen are not exactly cozying up to PETA, breeders recognize that the concerns the group has raised might be the hammer they need to make changes that will save their sport. Some trainers are starting to understand that in order for the sport to survive they have got to change the public’s perception. For anyone interested in finding more information about what happens behind the scenes at the track I recommend you visit PETA’s website.