A horse race is a competition in which humans perch on horses’ backs and compel them, with whips, to run at breakneck speed. This is not a sport that’s generally thought to be fair or honest. In the heyday of the sport, it was dominated by crooks who dangerously drugged or otherwise mistreated horses for profit. It was also a sport that was regularly marred by gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Today, a few crooks still drug and abuse horses. But there are fewer dupes and more of the masses in racing who labor under the delusion that the industry is broadly fair and honest. They support the sport with donations and wagering money. But that does not cancel out the fact that the exploitation of young running horses continues, and that they often die in the process.
This is because the economic model of horse racing has not evolved in ways that make the best interests of horses the top priority. Most races are subsidized with taxpayer money in the form of casino cash, which increases the incentive to race horses who have little chance of winning. Horses enter training at ages when their skeletal systems are still growing, and are forced to run on a hard track at speeds that strain their bodies. This leads to many injuries and breakdowns, and a lot of pain, suffering and death.
To address these problems, the sport developed a series of equine welfare rules and regulations that are supposed to protect the animals. But they are often ignored. In addition, the racing industry is constantly readjusting its business model to adapt to the changing political and demographic climates, while continuing to fail to adequately protect the health and well-being of horses.
One major type of race is the handicap race, in which weights are assigned to each entrant with the specific objective of rendering them as nearly equal as possible in terms of their winning chances. The weights are based on the age of the horses (a two-year-old has less to carry than a three-year-old), their sex, their birthplace and their previous performance. Some races are designated as graded races, based on the size of the purse, the amount of added money and the quality of past performances.
A horse’s ability to win a race is determined by its speed and stamina, but its heart is what really counts. In nature, horses understand the value of self-preservation and will stop to rest if they get injured. On a racetrack, however, horses are urged by riders to keep going even when they are obviously in pain or breaking down. This is a profoundly cruel and inhumane situation for an animal that deserves nothing less than a life free from violence. That’s why it’s so frustrating when racing aficionados blow off the concerns of animal rights activists and the larger public, while failing to do what’s needed to make horse racing a truly humane sport.