The Unnatural Nature of a Horse Race

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by drivers in sulkies. The sport is a beloved tradition and a national pastime. Despite its popularity, the horse races can be brutal and even deadly for the competitors, especially the horses that are injured during the course of a race.

A race can be run on a flat track or an equestrian jump course, which is a series of obstacles that a horse must clear to complete the event. Jump courses tend to be longer and more difficult than flat tracks, and require the horse to travel over greater heights of obstacles. The first recorded racetrack in North America was established on Long Island in 1665, over a century before the Founding Fathers began writing the Constitution of the United States.

The early racetracks were informal affairs. A match race would be run between two or three horses, with owners providing the purse and bettors placing a wager on the winner. This type of race was called a “play or pay” bet, and an owner who withdrew was generally required to forfeit half the purse (later the entire purse). Match races became more formal as time went by, with bettors paying a fixed amount to place a bet on the winner. Agreements were made to standardize these agreements, and one of the earliest efforts was An Historical List of All Match Races (1729).

In flat racing, a horse’s pedigree is used to determine its eligibility for a given race. The pedigree consists of the horse’s sire and dam, which must be purebred to qualify the horse for a particular flat race. In addition, a horse must have completed a specified number of previous races to be eligible for a stakes race or the Kentucky Derby.

It is estimated that one in every 22 Thoroughbreds will be permanently injured during a race, and that about 3 thoroughbreds die every day in North America from catastrophic injuries sustained at the track. As a result, the industry is constantly facing criticism from animal rights activists who contend that horses are simply not made to be whipped into a frenzy and then forced to run around hard-packed dirt tracks at breakneck speeds.

The unnatural nature of horse racing also contributes to its inherent suffering, which often manifests as repetitive, compulsive behavior such as cribbing (biting at its gate), pacing, and self-mutilation. According to animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a horse’s natural instinct to survive is inhibited by the unnatural training and confinement it endures.

In an attempt to address these issues, many racetracks have instituted new policies and procedures designed to reduce the incidence of injuries. However, these measures are only a band-aid to an underlying problem: the horse racing industry’s dependence on gambling. In the US, where gambling is legal and encouraged, it has become common practice for races to be conducted with a large percentage of the wagering pool coming from outside the United States. This creates an incentive to rig the races in favor of the gamblers, which is why it has long been considered unethical.