The horse race is a brutal sport that pits equines against one another on a narrow track and at high speeds. During the race horses are subjected to whipping and the pressure of their jockeys (riders). The speed at which they are forced to run can cause serious injuries, such as cracked leg bones and hooves. The grueling race can also lead to mental and physical breakdowns.
The first horse races were held in ancient Greece and Rome, as part of the chariot racing games, and later in medieval England. During the 18th century, a few American colonies developed their own horse racing circuits and the popularity of the sport spread throughout the world.
Until the Civil War, the hallmark of Thoroughbred excellence was stamina. After the war, speed became more important, and American horse breeders started focusing on crossbreeding and breeding for that specific quality. The breeder who produced the fastest, most agile horse was rewarded with large stakes money—known as a purse. This system was eventually adopted in Europe and is still used today, and it has contributed to the success of international racing events such as the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, the Caulfield Cup, and the Gran Premio Internacional Carlos Pellegrini.
Some people criticize the practice of horse racing, arguing that it is inhumane and has been corrupted by doping and overbreeding. Others support the sport, saying that it is a form of entertainment and that the riders who ride the horses are highly skilled professionals. The popularity of horse racing has decreased in recent years, as more people become aware of the cruelty and abuse that is common in the industry.
In the United States, a national governing body oversees the horse racing industry. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority launched a series of reforms last year and started enforcing its standards this month. The reforms replace a patchwork of rules that vary by state and track.
The HISA has set a goal of reducing the number of catastrophic injuries to horses by 2022, and it has made some progress. However, there is much more to be done. The industry must continue to improve its drug-testing and injury-prevention programs, and it must address the many underlying issues that contribute to horse injuries and deaths.
A HISA study is currently examining blood samples from injured and uninjured horses at races nationwide to find out what causes horses to become seriously injured during a race. The research is funded by a grant from the University of Kentucky and will help to determine if there is something in the genes of a racehorse that can be screened for before the horse is put into the starting gate.
Injuries are a significant problem in horse racing, and the death rate is far too high. Many of these deaths could be prevented if horses were allowed to race only when they are healthy. The recent spate of horses that died at Santa Anita in California has led to calls for a national standard for racetracks to require necropsies after every horse fatality and review of contributing factors.