Skip to content

The Darker Side of Horse Racing

Behind the glamorous facade of horse racing lies a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. While spectators sip mint juleps, horses are forced to sprint and can sustain serious injuries such as pulmonary hemorrhage (bleeding from the lungs).

Pushed beyond their limits, many racehorses die. Others suffer from heart failure, broken legs, or a shattered spine.


Horse races are one of the oldest forms of organized sports, dating back to the nomadic tribesmen who first domesticated horses. In modern times, it has become a popular sport for both spectators and gamblers. It is also an important part of American culture.

It is not known for certain when organized horse racing began, but chariot and mounted (bareback) races were popular in the Greek Olympic Games during 700 to 40 B.C. It also became a well-organized sport in the Roman Empire.

The modern racehorse is a descendant of 3 17th-century “foundation” breeds: the Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian, and Byerly Turk. These ancestors were known for their speed and endurance. This helped establish horse racing as the most lucrative and exciting sport of its time.


The rules of horse racing can seem confusing for those outside the industry. There are different organizations that set the rules, and there is no central governing body.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International sets international standards for race regulation, medication policy (including classification of medications and recommended penalties), drug testing laboratories, totalizator systems, and other elements. However, individual state racing commissions oversee specific racing operations.

When multiple horses are owned by the same person, they are coupled for pari-mutuel purposes and count as a single betting interest. This is called a “mutuel entry.” The time when the races are scheduled to begin is known as post time. The ’win’ bet pays out first place, ‘place’ is second and’show’ is a third. The payouts are much lower on show bets than win bets.


Race horses sustain a number of injuries during their careers. The most common is a ligament injury called the suspensory ligament in the forelimb or the hindlimb. This ligament is a large band of tendon-like tissue that runs from the back of the knee or fetlock down to the hock.

This injury is caused by the repeated large loads on a horse’s limbs during galloping exercise. Bone and soft tissues can only absorb a certain amount of damage before the body’s natural repair mechanisms become overwhelmed.

Another common injury is bone chips (osteochondral fragments) which are small fractures within a joint. They occur most frequently in the front fetlocks and knees but can occur in any joint. Bone chip injuries can vary in severity and treatment will depend on this.


The use of drugs is a major issue in horse racing. Some drugs are designed to enhance performance while others are used for medical purposes. Some of these medications have a negative impact on the race and are illegal. These include stimulants, depressants and bronchodilators.

Stimulants are used to give horses extra energy for a race. They also mask pain, allowing the horses to run through injuries that would otherwise stop them. Other drugs are used to control pulmonary bleeding, which can occur after extreme exercise.

The FEI has a complicated set of medication regulations. It is possible for a horse to test positive for a banned substance even if the trainer didn’t intentionally administer a drug. This is because the sensitivity of FEI drug testing has increased over time.


There’s a chilling contradiction at the heart of horse racing. While accolades are heaped on winning racehorses, every horse in the United States is just one bad sale away from slaughter. Whether they’re show horses, Amish workhorses or family pleasure animals, the slaughter industry offers trainers, owners and breeders a quick and efficient disposal service.

Many in the racing industry agree that this is unacceptable, with a number joining PETA’s campaign. Hall of Fame jockey Joe De Francis and The Stronach Group (owner of five prominent tracks) are both active in the fight against slaughter. In a 2019 investigation, PETA exposed the horrific slaughter of American Thoroughbreds in South Korea, with workers beating and shoving horses onto the kill floor as others looked on. Covert footage showed clear breaches of regulations.

Previous article

Live Casino

Next article

How to Win Big in Baccarat