The Challenges Faced by the Horse Racing Industry

horse race

Horse racing is a sport where horses are forced to run fast—often under the threat of whips or illegal electric shock devices—at speeds that cause injuries and, sometimes, hemorrhage from the lungs. While spectators don fancy outfits and sip mint juleps, behind the glamour is a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter.

In order to race, a horse must have a pedigree that satisfies the rules for its breed. A horse’s sire and dam must be purebred individuals, and the horse must meet age and weight requirements, as well as other criteria specified in the rule book for its type of race. Horse races can be categorized as sprints or long distance races, and they may be run on dirt, grass, or synthetic track surfaces.

The earliest races were match races between two or three horses. An owner who opted to withdraw from the race forfeited half of the purse (later it became the entire purse). Agreements between owners were recorded by disinterested third parties, known as keepers of the match books. One such keeper in England published An Historical List of All the Horse-Matches Run (1729).

After the British occupation of New York City in 1664, organized racing took off on a course on the plains of Long Island, and stamina was considered to be the hallmark of excellence, rather than speed. After the Civil War, the emphasis shifted to speed.

Until recently, horse racing was among America’s top five spectator sports. But after the equine flu outbreak, interest in the sport has waned. Today, only about 1 to 2 percent of Americans list horse racing as their favorite sport. The industry faces other challenges as well, including a declining population and an image that is outdated and out of touch with modern life.

The most significant problem facing the racing industry is that it does not have an adequate wraparound aftercare solution for horses who cannot compete in the sport or are injured and unable to be raced. These horses, referred to as ex-racehorses, hemorrhage into the kill pipeline, where they are given Facebook posts and a short window of opportunity to be “bailed” before they’re shipped to places like Canada and Mexico where they are slaughtered for their meat.

The lack of an effective aftercare system is a major contributing factor to the high number of deaths and serious injuries horses suffer in horse racing. The industry needs to invest in an adequately funded, industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution that will help all horses leave the track healthy and with a good quality of life. Without it, the horse racing industry will continue to lose its grip on the American public and struggle to compete with major professional and collegiate team sports for fandom. It’s not too late to make a change. Click here to read more about how you can help. This collection of research is being updated.