Why Do Thoroughbred Horses Die at The Race Track?

Whenever I write this type of link somebody always freaks out and says “Oh no, that is not true, race horses are babied, and pampered.” Well.. I have news for you, not ALL race horses are babied and pampered, only the top ones.

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At the bottom of the horse race world are the “bush tracks”, places where horses are tied to the back of a truck and pulled around for exercise. Places where horses are raced around out of the eye of the public. Obviously these are not the million dollar horses, but rather they are the lower grade claimers, the bottom of the barrel horses, and the trainers are not the ones you see on television in suits and ties. What happens at most bush tracks is illegal and would be frowned on by the general public, even those who support the horse racing industry as a whole.

Legal Cruelty and Dangers to Racehorses

Race horses are often pushed to get onto the track at an early age. The sooner they can make money, the better. As a result many are ridden as late yearlings (to compare, most warmbloods used as hunters/jumpers are not ridden until 3 or 4 years of age).  At 2 years of age Thoroughbred horses’ joints are not mature and this often results in injury.

When two year old racehorses are raced its at short distances. As such the horses are made to run as fast as they can, clearly this results in more impact on their legs, and as such, more risk of trauma and injury.

During the racing season, particularly at American and Canadian tracks, the horses are stabled for most of the day. This results in bone density problems. This is one of the reasons so many race horses suffer from broken bones. In the UK it is important to note that the horses frequently travel back to their farms where they have pastures and often go for rides in the country, or ocean – which helps greatly with their mental health as well as strengthens their bones.

Due to the lack of bone density (the same thing happens to astronauts due to lack of regular forces on their bones) combined with what they do, the race horse is more likely to suffer broken bones and fractures.

In North America horses are raced only one direction. A lot of North Americans assume that horses in the UK race in the opposite direction, but this is not always true, some of the race tracks in the UK are straight (yes mile long straight tracks), some run clockwise, some counter clockwise, some even have slight hills and valleys. However, back to the tracks in North America, they are all counter clockwise, if a trainer does not balance the horse out properly this too causes stress and results in more injuries.

It’s What you Don’t See

The public is really only aware of the times when horses are hurt on the race track in during a race meet. They are unaware that the majority of injuries and deaths occur during training, and workouts. A lot of injuries happen, splints, fractures, spavins, and so forth, that end the career of a racehorse, and sometimes its’ life.

Racehorses who do not make it to the top are not worth sending to the breeding barn. If they are sound, some are sold to be riding mounts, or to be used in chuck wagon races, but many with soundness issues (unless their legs are broken in which case they would be euthanized) are shipped to slaughter (either to Canada, or overseas).

I do want to add that National Hunt Races (formerly known as Steeplechases) often result in horse deaths. The horses used are primarily older geldings, former flat racehorses. Due to the number of horses on the track, and particularly over a jump at any time, there is always an increased danger factor. Injuries and death are not uncommon during National Hunt Races or behind the scenes.

One must realize that racehorses are seen as commodities. Items that are bought and sold for the purpose of making money. This is not to say that the owners, breeders, and trainers, do not love their horses, many do, but at the end of the day, they are in the business (it is a business) to make money, and if a horse is not making money (they can costs hundreds of dollars a month to feed and house) the horse has to go!

Can’t they Fix Broken Legs?

Yes, a broken leg on a horse can be fixed, but it is very expensive, time consuming, and risky. As well the horse would not be able to race afterwards so unless it is worth breeding (watch the movie Ruffian) there is little reason why an owner (again in the business sense of the word) would bother.

*The Author studied horses for 2 years in College, and worked briefly as a groom at a race track in North America.

Related Links

Life after the Race Track for Thoroughbred Race Horses

How to Prevent Lameness in Horses

Unique Horse Breeds

Warmblood Horses, why are they so Expensive?

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12 Comments
  1. Posted October 4, 2010 at 11:41 am

    very informative post. like this..

  2. Posted October 4, 2010 at 12:14 pm

    Great article!

  3. Posted October 4, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    i have always been against horse racing and always will be. it is unnatural, cruel and stressfull to the horse. this article is brilliant and exposes the kind of cruelty i’m sure we all suspected from the start, that the horses go through, behind the scenes. whether it’s greyhounds or horses, it is wrong and should be permanently banned as a cruel sport. a very intellectual, highly informative and enjoyable eye-opening article to read. thanks very much for sharing. :)

  4. Posted October 4, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Not my kind of stuff really but then, well written with awesome facts.

  5. Posted October 4, 2010 at 6:11 pm

    I’ve suspected this all along… stabled all/most of their lives, ‘protected’ from nature and only to serve in the form of the race..

  6. Posted October 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm

    sad but true, the horses are used to make money, and things used to make money are not treated as they would be otherwise.

  7. Posted October 4, 2010 at 9:05 pm

    good post

  8. Joseph Rudolph
    Posted October 5, 2010 at 1:20 pm

    Pretty sneaky! All the links within the article are not more info on the topic but take you to ads. This affects your credibility to provide back up to the statements. I am wondering just where are these “bush tracks” you mention? Is parimutuel wagering allowed at those tracks? Are the results recorded with Equibase, Equineline via the Jockey Club? It may sound as if I do not agree with you but I do and have direct experience with the racing industry since the early 1990’s.

  9. Posted October 5, 2010 at 8:24 pm

    to Joseph. I did not put any Links in the article other than the 4 at the end which I labed as “Related Links” the things on some words are set by the site that publishes the article…

    anyhow Bush Tracks are illegal. they have wagering through bookies, they are NOT Jockey Club approved. Where I am they are in “the bush” – races often take place at night and in the dark…. the “meets” are not advertised..

    I dont want to sound racist by in the area I am these are typically on Native Indian reserves. the public is NOT invited, or welcome.. you hear about them from word of mouth..

    I went to one many years ago, and yes.. they still exist.. illegal, cruel, and horrific. Not just TB, but also QH.

  10. Posted October 5, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    This is a great article, pointing out a few little known truths about the racing industry. It is not an industry made up solely of people who love horses. It is made up of some horse lovers, certainly, but there are many who are in it for the money, and they don’t care about the horses that get hurt or end up dying.

  11. Posted October 6, 2010 at 1:03 pm

    again to Joseph.. I should have added that “bush tracks” are not proper race tracks. they are often dirt roads.

    and the trainers often exercise as many as 6 horses at a time by tying them to the extended mirrors from the side of the pickup trucks.. its a pretty brutal side of things..

    while racing of course there are no rules in regards to whipping and so forth.

  12. Clare
    Posted February 1, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Horse racing is not cruel, the horses love it and only a few are mis treated just like with any animals. Horses get injured while hunting and competing like in cross country but no one wants to ban them. Most ex racers get re homed and make lovely riding horses.

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