The Frontal Cortex

Horse Racing

I completely agree with the sentiments voiced in this column, by William Rhoden:

Why do we keep giving thoroughbred horse racing a pass? Is it the tradition? The millions upon millions invested in the betting?

Why isn’t there more pressure to put the sport of kings under the umbrella of animal cruelty?

The sport is at least as inhumane as greyhound racing and only a couple of steps removed from animal fighting.

It’s hard to think otherwise after watching the brutal death of Eight Belles. And, of course, it’s not just high-stakes races like the Derby that are so hazardous. A recent article in the Times on an equestrian event included this paragraph:

A top rider in the Olympic equestrian sport of eventing was seriously injured after her horse somersaulted over a fence Saturday at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, the nation’s premier eventing competition. Her horse and another horse, after a separate fall, were euthanized.

The simple truth is that asking animals to perform inherently risky stunts is not entertainment: it is cruelty.


  1. #1 PhysioProf
    May 4, 2008

    I think part of the reason that horse racing is not considered animal cruelty is that consistency would then require accepting that factory farming of animals is too.

  2. #2 monson
    May 4, 2008

    Yea, where is PETA when you need them?

  3. #3 Irene Sanders
    May 4, 2008

    Her death wasn’t brutal. Euthanizing her was the humane thing to do. Horse racing is brutal!

  4. #4 ticktock
    May 4, 2008

    Don’t anthropomorphicize horses. These animals are treated well and are cared for humanely.

    I don’t understand how people can watch UFC without blogging their objections, but choose to condemn the sport of horses racing around a track because the animals are occasionally hurt.

  5. #5 carlsonjok
    May 4, 2008

    As a horse owner, and spouse of an amateur eventer, I cannot disagree more and have to state (indelicately, to be sure) that I suspect you are not engaged in any equestrian activities. Perhaps I am wrong, and will stand corrected if I am, but I have never heard such thoughts from someone who is around horses alot. So, I might suggest that you may have some selection bias at work here and to remember that the plural of anecdote is not data.

    There are probably hundreds of horse competitions (in dozens of disciplines) every weekend with tens of thousands of participants and accidents are exceedingly rare. Certainly, sometimes horses are injured and occasionally have to be euthanized. But, the same thing happens to horses that just stand around in pastures. My own anecdote is that we’ve never had a horse injured in a competition. What injuries we’ve had to deal with happened at home. And I would venture most of our friends would say the same thing.

    I suppose I risk being accused of anthropomorphization, but I have attended alot of equestrian competitions (both breed and discipline) and having watched my spouse at innumerable eventing competitions (on 4 different horses) over the years, you can tell that most horses love their jobs. Is it cruelty to use a horse in an activity they clearly enjoy? I don’t think so.

    As for the thoroughbred racing industry, I have little good to say. But, it is not the nature of the activity that is the problem. The issue is breeding for emphasis on speed over soundness and intensive training of physically immature animals.

  6. #6 trog69 FCD
    May 5, 2008

    My father owned a few harness horses, and I witnessed some of the most brutal methods to control the animals you could imagine. Punches to the head, kicks to sensitive areas, whipped with leather straps, etc. These beautiful animals are high-strung by design; Docile horses don’t usually win races. When my father died, the horses were placed in a retirement stable, and I only wish I could have pressed charges against the trainers/jockeys/stablehands. (I was in my teens at the time.) Unbelievable. I’m quite sure this still continues at the tracks today.

  7. #7 George
    May 5, 2008

    Jonah, I don’t agree with you or Rhoden at all. I think that it would be an enlightening experience for you to work at a track for a while and then see if you still feel the same way. You obviously have dilegently applied yourself in the areas of your choosing. I’m certain your experiences in those areas have informed your opinions; from your time and experience in the lab to that of the kitchen. It’s very easy to criticize the worst part of anything, it’s the worst part of it! But I have experienced more heart and soul in the race industry than anywhere else. Risk is inherent in almost everything. There is more in horseracing; some activities do present greater risk than others. No one in the industry wants injuries to occur nor are they immune to the tragedy. They are an unfortunate reality that is part of the business. The more an activity is performed the more every possible outcome will occur. But make no mistake, the horses are very well trained and cared for atheletes, especially those running at the level of the Kentucky Derby. The arguement that these horses are forced to do this I can’t address. No one can really know what their thoughts are, but I do know many seem to love and thrive on the competition. Rhoden’s comparison of racing to bullfighting is just absurd. As to the question of why is H.Racing given a pass? I think the question is phrased so there can’t be a proper response. It implies guilt. Again, I urge you to go work at the track for a bit. While there are good and bad (people, systems and intentions) in every aspect in life, I certainly have not see any hint of ill intent by anyone I have encountered in the industry; there is no guilt that I have seen. Again this is not to say the industry does not have serious issues they need to deal with. Perhaps as an industry there is some guilt in not dealing with those issues as one body, but that is off point here. Horseracing does have wonderful tradition and it does generate lots and lots of revenue for state and local governments. Since when are they bad things? I can’t talk to the issue of dog racing I have no knowledge or experience of it. I like many others have heard the hearesay, I don’t know the facts. In his article Rhoden also wrongly attributes intention to Larry Jones’ (Eight Belles trainer) comments when he writes “But even through the grief, Jones instinctively toed the industry line about racing.” I think it’s irresponsible reporting. It should have properly been attributed that in his (Rhoden’s) opinion that was what Jones’ was doing. Again a sentence phrased so as to imply guilt. Just irresponsible (and this is in The NYT). Jones has been in the sport a long time. We all are familiar with the downside of whatever profession we work in and Jones obviously was dealing with a highly emotional and difficult situation. Rhoden’s portrayal of Jones would make any reader think that Jones’ grief was less than sincere. It also makes it seem that Jones’ response was defensive as if he believed he needed to defend the industry he has dedicated his life to. In my opinion, if Jones was deffensive I believe that Rhoden likely made him feel that way if indeed he actually was the one interviewing him. Racing is a wonderful sport that has inherent in its nature, the risk of very tragic events. It is very unfortunate that one of those occurences had to part of the Kentucky Derby.

  8. #8 McFawn
    May 5, 2008

    If nothing else, this tragedy might highlight the absurd, short careers (and often lives) of racehorses. As has been discussed in the media, racehorses simply race too young. A horse is in its prime at 10-15, and a three year old will not even be ridden, much less raced, if it is being primed for the Olympic disciplines (dressage, evening, jumping).

    Racehorses, whether or not they suffer a catastrophic injury, often are permanently unsound for life by “too much, too young.”

    I own a Thoroughbred ex-racehorse who only ran three starts. He is now 19 and can still jump, gallop, and move beautifully. He is an example of the longevity a Thoroughbred can have when managed properly and not pushed too young.

    No doubt Eight Belles would have been faster, and more physically up for the challenge as a 8 year old.

    But even for those horses that make it, the cloistered big money world of racing makes for an artificial, unhappy life. Remember War Admiral, the “dud stud?” This is a young horse who is expected to have sex on demand, while being deprived of the natural courtship behaviors and social integration that would make it possible. War Admiral might also enjoy a second career as a riding horse, but his high value prevents him from being anything but a showpiece, kept apart from stimulating work or a herd. He may suffer 25 more years of this–thatís what the winners have to look forward to.

  9. #9 Layla
    May 9, 2008

    I’d have to say horse racing is far more kind than the regular practice we pass off as necessary for meat, egg, and dairy, and leather production. Lets have some priorities.
    In addition, horses are expensive animals, and losing one is usually a great loss to an owner or trainer that has invested much time and money. It is in their best interests to promote safe practices and adequate training before competition, just like with human athletes.
    Finally, there are some people out there with cruel practices and even bad morals. They draw attention to a very negative aspect, not of a sport so much as human nature. But its the countless numbers of people that really do care about their animals and the sport that keeps it going.

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    May 15, 2008

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  11. #11 ev temizligi
    October 28, 2008

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  12. #12 Shelby W
    November 13, 2008

    OMG! half of all the people that suddenly had an opinion after eight belles and barbaro only had one because thats what the news told then and the news was shocked! horses are injured everyday at every track- but u don’t see a memorial or petition in their name! animals are also hurt in any place. have u ever heard of a dog show? an open show? a horse show? a cat show? HECK i show through FFA- most people have heard of 4h… bum, bum, bum y’all haven’t heard all the horror stories parents due to their child’s animals just to win! but no one cared before a horse was publicly injured in a high stakes race. and eight belles ran her heart out- i give her many kudos! horse racing IS the sport of kings, most of it is humane, and it will prevail!

  13. #13 geciktirici
    February 15, 2009

    It’s hard to think otherwise after watching the brutal death of Eight Belles. And, of course, it’s not just high-stakes races like the Derby that are so hazardous. A recent article in the Times on an equestrian event included

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    March 5, 2009

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