The Inevitability Of Dead Racehorses

On the central matter of “casualties” and “catastrophic breakdowns,” while drugs, pre-existing injuries, track conditions, etc. are all certainly relevant, the simple truth is that the maiming and destruction of racehorses is inherent to the industry. Death at the track is, always has been, and always will be an inevitable part of racing.

And here’s why:

First, the anatomy. The typical horse does not reach full maturity – his bones are not done growing, plates not done fusing – till around six. And the higher up the body, the slower the process, so that the bones in the spine and neck, of all places, are the last to finish. The typical racehorse is thrust into “training” at around 18 months – and raced at two. On the maturation chart, a 2-year-old horse is the rough equivalent of a 6-year-old child. Imagine that. And this is something that will not change, for waiting till six to train and race horses would be cost prohibitive. It’s never going to happen.

Second, the horserace itself is an unequivocally unnatural act. “Born to run, love to compete” is a lie, at least in how the industry means it. Horses running and playing in an open field bears no resemblance to what happens at a racetrack. There, perched humans compel their charges to a breakneck speed – with a whip. There is no choice, no free will, no autonomy for naturally autonomous beings. Furthermore, in nature, horses understand self-preservation. So if injured, they know to stop, rest, and if possible, heal. At the track, not only are many of the injured “urged on” by their whip-wielding mates, but in a cruel twist, often try desperately to stay with their artificial herds. Again, no change is forthcoming, for the horserace can only exist by force.

Third, the economic realities of the business. The racing people are fond of saying, “since our success depends on healthy, happy horses, why would we do anything to compromise that?” Well, first, happy is more than mere sustenance and shelter; healthy is more than a mere ability to run. But beyond that, it’s crucial that the public understands how this industry works: The vast majority of racehorses are bought and sold multiple times over the course of their so-called careers, careers that generally don’t last long to begin with. So, the earning window for the current connections is almost always short-term – could be a few races, maybe a few months, perhaps a year or two – but the bottom line is that as a rule, the long-term well-being of the horse is of no concern. It’s maximize profits now, by all means – legal or otherwise – available.

And because most horses are worth less than a decent used car, and because most purses are artificially jacked with casino cash – cash that also allows many tracks to pay first through last – the horseman’s breakdown-risk to earnings-reward ratio is quite attractive. And because there’s always ample, affordable inventory, when problems do arise, they can always dump off to the next guy and acquire anew.

This leads to my final and most important point: The fundamental relationship itself – that of owner-owned – guarantees bad things will happen. Guarantees. By definition, a piece of property, a commodity, a resource, a means – all of which undeniably describe the racehorse – can have no meaningful protection under the law. In fact, it’s absurd to argue otherwise. Truth is, a horseman, if he so chooses, can run his horse into the ground – yes, even to death – with virtual impunity. There is no real accountability because this core relationship precludes real accountability. Neither the industry nor our society will ever, could ever, seriously punish a property owner for crimes against his property. Again, to say differently is pure folly.

Moreover, as it is with all animal-exploitation businesses, the law, as represented by anti-cruelty statutes, invariably defers to “common industry practice”; for 150 years of American horseracing, broken and dead bodies have been seen and treated as an unfortunate cost of doing business. In short, no one is watching; no one cares. In truth, to the racing industry, to government, to our society at large, a racehorse’s life does not matter. Alive or dead, it just doesn’t matter. So because of all this, I’m here to argue that short of shuttering the betting windows altogether, there is nothing they can do to stop the carnage. Nothing. And what’s more, they know it.

– Patrick Battuello

38 Comments

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  1. Excellent post! Thank you for pointing out just how cruel the horse racing industry is. I just wanted to add that horse racing greatly contributes to the overbreeding of horses in order to maintain the constant supply of new horses. Although, some off-track thoroughbreds that are no longer useful for racing are placed with rescues, the vast majority of them are shipped to Mexico or Canada for slaughter. It’s a long, arduous trip to the slaughter facility and a very painful death. Many horses die along the way and are dumped in border towns.

    Also, one of the lesser known facts of horse racing is their part in the Nurse Mare Foal industry. Nurse mare foals are foals born to mares so that the mare will produce milk. A few days after birth, the foals are taken from the mare so that the mare can be shipped to another breeding facility and use her milk to feed a thoroughbred foal. This allows the Thoroughbred’s mother to continue racing or be re-bred while her foal is cared for by the Nurse Mare. The nurse mare foals are usually killed because of the huge amount of time and money it takes to care for these babies whose mothers were shipped. It’s a very disgraceful practice.

  2. From the outside, it appears racehorses are well cared for… They have clean stalls, fresh bedding, shelter, water, hay, and grain. What the public does not see, and what they don’t realize they are funding with every two dollar bet has the deadliest consequences of all:

    Life at the racetrack denies every natural instinct inherent in the horse, except for his or her desire for freedom … which is exploited in the form of morning gallops — the only time in which the horse is allowed to run. The artificial environment, is managed for the sole purpose of getting the most out of a horse in a very limited period of time.

    As a former racehorse owner/breeder, I have witnessed firsthand, acts of depraved indifference considered every day practices at the racetrack. Among the many offenses, the continual drugging of lame horses to run by trainers and veterinarians who know these horses should not be racing – yet, cloaked with licenses they conspire together creating cocktails of painkillers, muscle relaxers, bronchodilators, snake venom, frog juice, cobalt and whatever else they can lay their hands-on to get in another race. When the horses explode from the inside out it is considered “just part of the game.” If such had occurred outside of racetrack gates, or in a physician’s office the perpetrators would be met with a swift arrest and potential jail time.

    I find it unconscionable, morally reprehensible, that anyone who engages with the horse, as his or her partner in the co-creation of their dreams, to win races [or any other activity] would knowingly and willingly compromise and jeopardize the well-being of that horse’s life. Sadly, in horse racing this is a daily occurrence; the number of deaths on track their witness.

  3. This simply reiterates what I have said for years about the racing industry, or any discipline that promotes two-year-old performance. I will take exception to the use of the word “horseman” in this article, however. A true horseman will not abuse his horses in any manner; a horse owner can be guilty of all manner of cruelty and abuse. Beyond the horses who die on the track, people are unaware of the thousands of Thoroughbreds that are shipped across our borders to be slaughtered, Thoroughbreds who are perhaps less fortunate than their stablemates who die “on the job”. It’s a very ugly industry indeed.

  4. And least we forget the ‘nurse mare foals’. Mare are bred specifically to be nurse mares for the foals as the mare has to return to the stud farm for re-breed, doesn’t have adequate milk or a host of other reasons. The new born foal of the nurse mare is ripped from the mare and sent to a sale. Disposable foal so now it’s mother can nurse the Thoroughbred foal. Please visit http://www.lastchancecorral.org/foal-rescue.aspx for more information on this horrible ‘fact of doing business’. This could easily be stopped by the Jockey Club recognizing and practicing AI- artificial insemination instead of live cover only breeding. A very ugly industry indeed!

      • As I’ve said time and time again, I have never met anyone that has used a nurse mare while their mare can go to the breeding farm to be rebred. What a bunch of crock. The mare isn’t gone for hours & hours or day. Why on earth would anyone want their foal to be raised by a nurse mare when a foal picks up the habits of their dam? This makes absolutely no sense to me or anyone else in the industry that I’ve spoken to. The only need for a nurse mare is for a foal that has lost it’s mother or that’s mother can’t produce milk.

  5. Succinct, and true. Well said. The entire industry is based on animal exploitation not unlike any other business that uses animals for profit. All of the signs and symptoms are the same with the only difference being the animal, and methods used to exploit.

  6. I agree with every word. Horseracing is so deadly, so resistant to even the most modest protective measures that there is simply no other option than the abolition of this equine massacre.

  7. I’m sorry but here you guys are going on and on about how appalled you are on what you believe, and have otherwise convinced yourself of animal abuse in the horse racing industry, and I’m reading it thinking this is absolute bull-shit. Now, I can’t speak for every trainer and every owner but I do not believe any of these horses, mostly the ones that work towards the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks are being abused from those who own them. And who is to say the writer of this website is credible to the words he/she writes? Don’t be so naive. If you want to know what is really going on, then you go and find out yourself. Don’t listen to a bunch of PETA lovers and instead, go out and find the truth. Reading it on some good for nothing website will only be a waste of time.

    • No you are naive – I have worked in the horseracing industry and on a breeding farm and it is even worse than described.

    • Bobby Rae–you know, I bet you’re right about the majority of the Triple Crown horses. But how many of those are there compared to the thousands that run and die every day on American racetracks? This is not just a bunch of PETA stuff. The numbers are out there for anyone to see. The New York Times did a blistering investigation of the industry in 2012. The LA Times did a horrifying article on the slaughterhouses. You go right ahead and do some research away from this “good for nothing website.”

      The problem is that there’s so much money at stake. Then the drugging, the running of sick and damaged horses in conditions that are guaranteed to harm them, the casual disposal of thousands of animals that can’t run fast enough to make their owners any money—-that’s the catastrophe of the industry. Do you know that 70% of every year’s thoroughbred crop ends up at slaughterhouses? That just-born foals are auctioned off to die before they’re weaned so their moms can nurse more promising candidates? Look up “Nurse mare foals.”

      Again, this is info easily gotten from racing sites, horse breeders, the USDA, newspapers. People just don’t want to know because the industry has so much at stake to make it all pretty and sentimental. They want you to buy the fancy hat and the 8 buck hot dog, lose a lot of money, and not notice the dead horses being carted off the track or trucked from the claiming races up the Northway to Canadian slaughterhouses.

      Google Investigation of Racing Industry, Thoroughbred deaths, Drugging of Thoroughbreds, Nurse Mare Foals…

      YOU go out and find the truth.

  8. I agree with this article on every level.
    Now, I want to set out a concrete plan to dismantle this industry one racetrack at a time.
    Of course I would like it shut down tomorrow, but I can provide a very effective method to get this cruelty circus, and death camp greatly diminished until all of it is gone.
    My plan is something that we all can do. It’s not difficult.
    The main way to shut it down is to ensure that its financial support is discontinued.
    It’s no secret that this industry can’t survive without either corporate welfare, tax breaks, taxpayers money and/or casino money.
    Here’s my economic plan for demise:
    1. Support DECOUPLING. This is a critical step. The decoupling of casinos and racetracks will immediately stop the insane amount of cash infused into purse money at racetracks while cancelling the mandatory policy for live meets. Florida is on the verge of passing decoupling. Any state that passes decoupling will start a domino effect and other states are sure to follow.
    2. We must start a petition to have our government review and cancel the Interstate Horse Wagering Act. This act provides BILLIONS in wagering money ACROSS STATE LINES with little accountability or taxing. Lots of this money goes directly into the HBPA’s pocket. One thing is for sure little or nothing is set aside for thoroughbred aftercare. This is a virtual ATM machine for the horse racing industry and it has been forgotten by our political leaders. They are flying under the radar with this one and we need to activate our politicians into actions and question why this unprecedented amount of money is allowed to continue with little or nothing being taxed. This Act was supposed to be temporary – another life line thrown out to this dying business. We need to get it cancelled.
    3. Don’t watch or wager on horse racing or racinos. If you like to gamble, PLEASE gamble at Native American casinos who refuse to support horse racing and the carnage that results from it.
    4. Educate. Take every opportunity you can to educate people on the truth about this despicable industry.
    5. Peacefully demonstrate. It’s every American’s right to peacefully demonstrate. We are protected by the constitution to do so. We must start to demonstrate outside of these racing venues. Saratoga Springs will be a great demonstration, but I would love to see one in front of Del Mar in California.
    Even the smallest demonstration can be effective with lots of handouts. It will get people thinking about what exactly they are supporting.

  9. I agree with you 100%, but the problem also exsists with all other horses that die every day from people abandoning them to end up in kill pens for slaughter. After much research very few are thourobreds. The problem really stems from people, and their not caring about these beautiful creatures.

  10. And like any other sport &/or industry there are indeed bad apples, but there are also those that do not do drugs, but you don’t hear about those. Why not? because the others get the bad press. I know of hundreds of trainers and breeders that treat their horses like royalty, that wouldn’t give their horses drugs, that are out there every day working 24/7, working hard. But you never hear about them and they never get any credit.

    • Animal cruelty laws could be used to help prevent running injured horses, or starting training so early. If we can demand more space for laying hens, why not provide some regulation of the racing industry?
      Katherine, the very act of beginning a horse’s training at 18 months, and racing them at two contradicts your admiration for the “good apples” in horse racing.

    • Kathryn, Lasix is a DRUG and almost 100% of horses are given the drug over and over, I is rare to see a horse race without it. And, like all drugs Lasix has side effects that are bad for the horse.

  11. I agree with your overview as absolutely straight forward and accurate. I wish more people know the truth and would support a more horse sensitive appreciation for this thing we call a sport, but in truth is not supportive of horse safety or longevity.

    Personally, I abhor any references to any horse being born to run. It is pathetic that people refuse to learn about horse behavior and to know that if you pack a horse with “heat food”, i.e., grain or breed for racing which produce brainlessly silly horses not suitable for any domestic application you do not produce a rideable animal for the beautiful relationship possible between humans and horses.

  12. Only just found your article. I agree whole heartedly with most of it. But I must say that there IS hope that this could be stopped. As a woman, I am very aware that at one time women were considered the property of their husbands and as such had no personal “rights.” if people like you and others who abhor horse racing keep bringing this barbaric industry to the attention of more and more people, change can happen. First, better supervision and treatment of the horses health and well-being and one day the abolishment of the “sport” all together. Please keep up your sharing of this information. It can make a difference.

  13. All that attractor people is making money. 😕. Sad how we have become plastic on our hearts and minds that we can’t see the pain and suffering caused by man for making a dollar.

  14. Horse racing kills horses – FACT.
    When they are not dying on the tracks, many are suffering slow, agonizing deaths at the hands of cruel, and neglectful monsters.
    Please watch this video it’s only some of the VICTIMS of the horse racing industry.
    HOW can anybody support this carnage?
    Dr Drip I’m so sorry for you.
    In you horrific suffering, and subsequent death you are doing lots for the other horses suffering like you did.
    We will get these hell holes shut down.

  15. how very sad! just to satisfy a lust for betting, money, these precious animals suffer.. What a shame, what a sin..

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