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.
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