Horse races have evolved over the centuries into a sport involving vast fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment, and immense sums of money, but their basic concept has remained unchanged: A contest of speed or stamina between two horses. Regardless of how horse racing has changed and what accoutrements are added to it, there is no question that the sport can be cruel to its participants—and the animals themselves.
There are essentially three categories of people in the horse racing industry. The crooks who dangerously drug or otherwise abuse their horses are the most obvious group, but there is also a small population of dupes who labor under the fantasy that the sport is broadly fair and honest. Finally, there is a middle group of honorable people who know the industry is more crooked than it ought to be, but who nonetheless don’t give their all to do what they can to fix it.
In racing terms, a horse is “in the money” if it finishes in the top four and is awarded a share of the prize money. To be considered “in the money,” a horse must complete the race in the proper order and must pass under the starting gate, start at the right distance, and cross the finish line with its nose in front of the other horses. It is also important for the horse to be ridden properly and to stay on course throughout the race.
Horses are ridden by jockeys, who have different styles and techniques. Some riders are more effective than others, and the skill of a jockey is critical to a horse’s success in a race. Jockeys must have a great deal of strength and endurance to control a horse at high speeds. They must be able to anticipate what the horse will do and respond quickly. A horse’s behavior can also be influenced by its trainer, and the horse’s physical condition and emotional state.
A horse’s performance in a race can be affected by the amount of weight it has to carry, the position it starts from (“inside” or “outside”) the barriers, its gender (female horses have a sex allowance), and its training. A horse may also suffer from a condition called roaring, which is a whistling sound caused by paralysis of the nerves that elevate the arytenoid cartilages of its larynx during exercise.
The roaring is a sign of exhaustion and can be fatal. Other ailments that horses can experience include heatstroke, injuries, abrasions, and dehydration. Some horses are prone to colic, which is a stomach inflammation that can result in severe pain and death. Many of these illnesses are preventable by proper feeding, rest, and veterinary care. The sport has a long way to go before it becomes an industry that puts the welfare of its horses as the primary concern. The horse racing industry needs serious reform, but it won’t come until the sport’s aficionados finally wake up and take action.