“Carnage,” as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary, is “large-scale death and destruction.” Those familiar with this site know that I’ve oft used this word to describe what is happening within the American horseracing industry. Critics take umbrage, calling it dramatic and hyperbolic – just another bit of overheated animal rights rhetoric. And of course, they say, untrue. Well.

In each of the past five calendar years, I have identified roughly 1,000 track-related (racing/training) kills. But after factoring in what I don’t or can’t have – states that deny my FOIA request on the dubious basis of confidentiality, other states that withhold training deaths, the so-called catastrophically injured who are euthanized back off-site, the too-badly-damaged who must be put down shortly after landing at a rescue, horses who perish at private training facilities, and simply slipshod reporting to and from racing commissions – I estimate that upward of 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across America every year. Over 2,000. Imagine that.

But that number – 2,000 – staggering though it is, tells but a part of the story. Each year, hundreds more die back in their stalls from things like colic, laminitis, infection, “barn accident,” or are simply “found dead in the morning.”

Then, too, slaughter. While the industry desperately tries to downplay the extent of the problem, cunningly flashing its zero-tolerance policies and aftercare initiatives in defense, we do have statistics from which to draw conclusions. According to the Equine Welfare Alliance, using USDA data, in the nine-year period 2008-2016 over 1.2 million American horses were sent to slaughter (as an aside, the last equine slaughterhouses on U.S. soil closed in 2007; now we simply ship them – itself a horror – to Canada and Mexico). That 1.2 million translates to over 134,000 every year. A “Wild For Life Foundation” study, again using USDA data, found that from 2002-2010 fully 19% of the American slaughtered were Thoroughbreds. Even if we were to use a far lower percentage, say 12, we’re still left with well over 15,000 Thoroughbred racehorses butchered annually. For comparison, the Jockey Club’s official registry for new Thoroughbreds, or in a telling bit of language, “Foal Crop,” has numbered roughly 21,000 in each of the past seven years. In other words, that’s 20,000 or so coming in, 15,000 or more going out via slaughter. In other words, slaughter has been – and remains – this industry’s primary method for disposing spent racehorses.


– Patrick Battuello