The Unformed Racehorse

Equine advocates often decry the racing of two-year-olds, and for good reason. But what many may not fully understand is that forcing two-year-olds onto the track is only marginally worse, medically speaking, than doing the same to three and four-year-olds, for the horse does not reach musculoskeletal maturity until an age when racing, for the most part, has already deemed him washed up.

First, a little history. A couple centuries back, racehorses were asked to run multiple heats of four miles each…on the same day. Shockingly, at least to us, a race-day in excess of 12 miles was not uncommon. But in the late 19th Century, futurities changed racing forever. As the name indicates, these contests were initially intended to generate interest in tomorrow’s “stars.” But because everyone knew that racing three-year-olds for many miles was a bad idea, futurities were run as sprints instead of marathons. The public loved them, and the profits flowed. And so was born modern horseracing and with it, the decidedly unready two- and three-year-old racehorse.

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The science of a horse’s physical maturation is well-established. To simplify, although some bones will reach full length early on, the filling out (girth) takes longer. And the higher up the body, the slower the process. What’s more, growth plates in the spine are still unfused at three, with those in the base of the neck the last to fully close, somewhere around six. Only then, does a horse reach skeletal maturity.

While the current racing model may have begun by accident, preserving it is anything but. Although fully aware that a racehorse will not reach his “athletic prime” – run his fastest – until 6-10, horseracing deftly markets its three-year-old product as the pinnacle of competition. They do this because waiting for maturity would be cost-prohibitive. With this ruse firmly entrenched, media and fans rarely, if ever, question the wisdom of forcing adolescents to perform like developed adults. But make no mistake, a Derby horse is physically more Little Leaguer than 30-year-old pro.

Still, some apologists ask, if considered safe and acceptable to place a 13-year-old gymnast on a rigorous regimen, why not a 3-year-old colt? Well: When injured, she gets rest; he gets dope. When broken, she gets crutches; he gets pentobarbital. When “retired,” she goes to college; he goes to the abattoir. She is an end; he is a means. Not the same at all.

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  1. There is really no appreciation or consideration for the horse in this so called “sport”. It is strictly about money and gambling not to mention the abuse of the horse and the cheating that is pervasive throughout the industry.

  2. […] Saturday at Aqueduct, 2-year-old Long Island Lee fractured a leg and was killed back at the barn. The filly was trained by Rick Violette Jr. Mr. Violette has now lost eight horses in NY since 2009; at the times of their deaths, nary a one was physically mature. […]

    • The infamous serial racehorse killer, and HBPA member Rick Violette Jr. will NOT – I repeat – will NOT be held accountable for Long Island Lee’s death.
      Trainers who have multiple racehorses DIE under their care (Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher, Wayne Lucas, Steve Asmussen, Chad Brown, Larry Jones, Carla Gaines, Kathleen O’Donnell, Josie Caroll etc. etc.) hide behind the lack of transparency, the self-policing, the racetrack management/wagering companies with whom they placate, and most importantly, hide behind the SECRET vet records that are never released.
      Imagine that? Racehorses DYING in their care with ZIPPO accountability – no accountability to even their owners because most Trainers have iron clad contracts that don’t permit an Owner to sue them for their racehorse DYING under their care.
      If this were to happen in the normal, outside world – they would be charged with Felony Animal Cruelty charges, and a full investigation would ensue usually conducted by the HSUS or local animal shelter INCLUDING access to any vet records.
      If this industry cared one iota about the racehorse they would have BANNED these Trainers years ago.
      Instead, they continue to re-license them, racehorses continue to die, and the same old establishment of secrets, and lack of information goes into action.
      The usual “investigating – will let you know,” is nothing more than lip service.
      Folks, please wake-up, this is legitimized animal cruelty, and systemic ongoing cruelty, abuse, and even DYING of sentiment beings who are turned into profit slaves, and most are later dumped into their disposal system called a slaughterhouse.
      Please stop supporting this. STOP gambling on racehorses who are nothing more than disposable gambling pawns, and commodities for these serial animal killers.
      These racehorses are DYING in unprecedented amounts.
      This must stop.

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