Hundreds of horses die every year in the sport of horse racing. They are killed during training and racing from heart attacks, fatal fractures, or from the exorbitant physical stress of running on a hard track at high speeds. While improved medical treatment and technological advances have made the plight of racing horses somewhat less dire, they have done little to address the root cause of these tragic deaths: the race itself.
Most people who love horse racing will defend it by claiming that horses are born to run and love to compete. But the truth is that these majestic creatures are not built to endure the intense physical demands of a racetrack. The exploitation of these animals, whether by the trainers and owners who make their living at it or the gamblers who wager on them, is cruel and often deadly.
The sport has a long history of corruption and cruelty, but it also possesses an unquenchable appetite for money. It is a multibillion-dollar industry that draws on the loyalty of millions of fans and gambling enthusiasts, who can be persuaded to spend billions of dollars on betting tickets for one race or on several thousand races over the course of a year. This fervor for betting is fueled by a lack of competition from legal online sportsbooks and the massive advertising budgets of the big racetracks.
Aside from the massive purses on offer in the most prestigious races, there are also countless other incentives for horsemen to push horses past their limits. For example, most racehorses cost little more than a used car, and the majority of racetracks receive major taxpayer subsidies in the form of casino cash. This means that, at many tracks, the money paid to first through last is almost equal and thus there is a strong financial incentive to keep a horse in action even if it has no business being on a racetrack.
Another important factor is that the skeletal system of a young horse is still developing, and it is not physically prepared to handle the extreme stresses of racing. Moreover, it is not uncommon for an injured horse to lose its ability to eat and breathe due to laryngeal hemiplegia, a condition caused by a paralysis of the muscles that lift the arytenoid cartilages in the throat during exercise. This leads to a whistling noise that is difficult for horses to explain, and they sometimes die from cardiac failure or respiratory arrest as the result of this condition.
While donations from racing fans and gamblers are critical on behalf of the horses, these dollars do not cancel out participation in the ongoing exploitation of younger horses who will ultimately enter the slaughter pipeline. If not for the efforts of a small number of independent nonprofit rescue groups that network, fundraise and work tirelessly to save these former racehorses, most would face horrific endings.