Horse racing is a global sport with an extraordinary pedigree that dates back millennia. It is a world that has experienced enormous technological changes in recent decades, even as it retains its cherished traditions and rules. One of the most significant changes has been in the field of race safety, with equine athletes being subject to a wide range of monitoring technologies that allow for a more rapid and accurate diagnosis of injuries and illnesses. Thermal imaging cameras can detect overheating post-race, MRI scanners can pick up a range of minor and major health conditions, and 3D printing is capable of producing casts, splints, and prosthetics for injured horses.
Despite these changes, the squalid conditions that plague many thoroughbreds are largely unchanged. In the racetracks where a great number of these animals live, the dirt is deep and slow and often infested with parasites that can cause serious illness. The food is mediocre and the water is sometimes contaminated. Horses are crowded into corrals that are often unlit, and they must contend with frightened or aggressive other horses. In the best of circumstances, being in the middle of a pack is an unpleasant experience for a prey animal that can weigh twelve hundred pounds.
The sport of horse racing has an opportunity to address these underlying issues and perhaps help create a better future for itself in a world that increasingly recognizes that nonhuman animals are entitled to certain fundamental rights. It can start by addressing its lack of an adequately funded, industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for horses leaving the track.
A horse race is a contest between two or more horses competing in a flat race that is over a distance of two miles or more with at least one turn. It is a test of speed and stamina. In addition to the physical demands of running a long race, the sport also requires a certain amount of mental agility as well as knowledge of how to handle a horse and a keen understanding of tactics.
There are different rulebooks for races in various countries and regions, but the vast majority of them are based on racing’s original rules, established by Louis XIV in 1643. At the time, Louis’s goal was to establish a standardized race that would be contested with equal weight and a fixed length of track.
In the early days of horse racing, doping was commonplace. Powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories designed for humans bled over into training, as did growth hormones and blood doping. Racing officials couldn’t keep up with the changing medications, and penalties for breaking the rules were weak. The result was a blurring of lines between the clean and the dirty horses. It is estimated that up to a quarter of the horses at some tracks were doped in this way. Eventually, the sport was rescued by a small group of dedicated horsemen and women who created independent nonprofit rescues that network, fundraise and work tirelessly to save these animals from a hellish existence.