Is Horse Racing Cruel?
An insider points out some things you may not have realized about the Horse Racing Industry, in an attempt to inform people about what really goes on at the race tracks.
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This is one of those impossible questions to answer because first you have to establish the definition of “cruel”. Unfortunately everyone has a different interpretation of this word, and ultimately view what others do as cruel, and what they do as not cruel. The fact is every year hundreds of horses will loose their lives as a result of breaking down on the race track. Rather than using this article to define cruelty I will simply point out what I feel is cruel in the horse racing industry from an insiders point of view. I have worked with horses for many years.
Horse racing is different world wide. In the United States, and Canada, for example, horses are kept pretty much at one race track for an extended period of time. These race tracks are typically located in urban areas thus not allowing any pasture, or riding space other than the tract itself. Thus the horses are kept in their stalls for the greater part of the day, I will refer to this below.
In other countries such as England the horses are kept mostly at home, shipped to race meets which generally are around 2 weeks long. These tracks are in rural locations allowing areas for riding. The horses are often outdoors more of the time and have a generally better enjoyment of life. If you have attended a race meet in the United Kingdom you will notice right away that the riders are not “ponied” to the starting gate in the manner they are in North America. The riders seem to trust the horses a bit more, an indication that they are ridden more frequently and independently of racing and training.
The race tracks themselves are much more “humane” in the UK, being longer, no tight corners, they are often straight, or varying direction, grassy, and so forth. Whereas the typical North American track is always a counter clockwise oval.
Race horse owners and the industry itself, push to get these guys on the track early. Regardless of actual date of birth they are all considered to all have the birth date of January 1st of the year they were born. So if a foal is born in June, it is considered to be 1 year of age in January. There are races for 2-year-olds. In an eager attempt to get these youngsters on the track they are saddled and ridden as yearlings, something not done in any other discipline. Many Warmbloods, horses commonly used for jumping, are not even ridden until four or five years of age, much less pushed to their maximum capacity.