Horses are prized by humans as both companions and racehorses. Those who are good enough to make the grade in the latter category become fast-tracked to a life of training and racing, which can last up to two years. At the end of that short life, they are euthanized or sent to slaughter for meat consumption.
The for-profit industry that creates, races, and breeds these horses claims no responsibility whatsoever for the repercussions of that foray into the real world. Horses are sold multiple times during their lives, entering an unknown situation every time they leave the tracks.
In addition to being pushed past their limits, many horses are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs designed to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. One of the most common side effects is a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which causes horses to bleed from their lungs after strenuous exertion. This is often caused by the drug Lasix, or Salix, a diuretic with performance-enhancing properties.
It is difficult to know how many horses suffer from this condition, because the racing industry does not test all of them for it. However, the number is likely in the thousands, as many trainers will use their veterinary licenses to mask the effects of their medications and the horses’ racing efforts.
The sport has never established an overall set of standards that govern its operations, unlike other major sports leagues in the U.S. Instead, each state has its own rules that vary widely and can be changed on a whim. During the 2008 Kentucky Derby, for example, horse owner and trainer Michael Earl Smith was disqualified for using too many whip strokes. However, he was allowed to participate in the next week’s race after signing an agreement with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.
In order to qualify for a particular race, horses must have certain pedigrees and meet certain physical criteria. They also have to be of the same breed, as evidenced by their sire and dam’s pedigrees. In addition, a horse must be at least a year old to compete in any race.
Besides these stipulations, there are a variety of other factors that determine whether or not a horse will win. These include its speed, stamina, and ability to overcome obstacles in the course of a race. A horse’s performance can also be influenced by its age, distance of the race, sex (females are allowed to carry less weight than males), and a variety of other handicapping factors.
For this reason, horse races are an excellent place to learn about humane alternatives to animal cruelty. The industry can no longer afford to ignore health, welfare, and safety concerns as it continues to be questioned by a culture, society, and justice system that recognizes animals as being entitled to fundamental rights. Unless the racing industry takes steps to address these concerns, it will be doomed to be shut down by the same forces that took Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan, and Laoban away from the life that they deserve.