It depends on who you ask. Even so, the answer is debatable.
Ardent horse racing critics cry of cruelty. They believe the industry is merely-profit driven. Horses are exploited and denied freedom—expendable when they are no longer profitable.
As for proponents, patrons, and horse racing advocates, the opposite is true.
Horses were born to run and love a life of thrill and royalty. Racehorses also get the best care, support, and treatment from a vast majority of race owners and trainers.
Meanwhile, some animal welfare position claims there’s nothing wrong with horse racing per se. As long as horses are respected and well-protected. The system, however, can be corrupt, greedy and heartless.
The bottom line: the question is simple but the answer is complicated.
Our best bet is to look into the arguments for and against horse racing.
Is horse racing cruel?
Learn all sides of the story. By then, you can find your own answer.
Horse Racing Ethical Issues
It’s a sobering statistic.
One horse dies every three days, in Australian race tracks alone. The death toll has risen to over 137 in a year from 2016 to 2017.
In fact, one insurer claims, it’s the most dangerous sport in Australia.
It’s not just the risks nor the death rate that casts a shadow over horse racing in Australia, it’s some industry practices as well, which many claims as unethical.
Just recently, Robert Smerdon, a prominent horse trainer has been banned for life and fined for $100,000, for doping more than 100 racehorses.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, just this year, eight people were charged of putting horses on Vicks Vapor Rub and Sodium Bicarbonate.
It’s believed that putting Vicks on a horse’s nose allows them to inhale more oxygen. Whereas, Sodium bicarbonate can delay the onset of fatigue. Both are banned “treatments” 24 hours prior to a race.
Stories of drug abuse in horse racing don’t end here.
In the past, many horse trainers have come forward to drug cheating just to get an edge in a horse’s performance.
Much is required for a horse to gallop in those tracks—energy, endurance, strength. They get pushed to their limits.
Alarmingly, due to the intensive training of racehorses, studies have found that 85% of thoroughbred had lesions in their stomach lining.
A separate research from the University of Melbourne found more than half of horses in their study had blood in their windpipes.
Racehorses often suffer from internal bleeding. With exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhaging, blood pours from their nostril afterwards.
Is horse racing cruel when it comes to intensive training? Racetrack Veterinarian Kate Papp knows so.
“Every day, I almost quit. Every day, I decide I don’t want to see 2-year-olds that haven’t even run yet be euthanized in a dirt pit at the back of the racetrack because somebody trained them too hard, medicated them too much, pushed them too far,” she told NBC.
Race Day Dangers
A study shows that being a jockey is more dangerous than being a boxer or fisherman.
While the sport can be dangerous for both jockey and racehorse, here’s the difference:
The jockey has a choice. The horse doesn’t.
Danger Diary: Infamous Cases of Death in Australian Horse Racing
It was a dramatic death.
The 2014 Melbourne Cup was Admira Rakti’s last.
He collapsed and died in his stall after the race. Apparently, from acute heart failure.
According to a top vet, a defibrillator could have saved him.
Sports Illustrated model Gigi Hadid was even ‘absolutely heartbroken to hear of the passing of this beautiful horse’.
That same day, fellow racehorse Araldo had to be euthanized too after he broke his right hind leg.
Likewise, Red Cadeaux shattered her leg the following cup. She too had to be killed.
Just this 2017 Melbourne Cup, the four-year-old gelding, Regal Monarch suffered the same fate, after a fall.
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Is horse racing cruel? When pointed to these incidents, and to those undocumented misconducts, animal welfare groups advocate so.
As for some horses who manage to survive another rigid race day, here’s what they get: a punch in a face.
Fate After Race
“We love our horses when they are performing. We groom them, talk to them, and admire their athletic appearance and ability. Then we turn our back on them if they fail to live up to our expectations.” – Former thoroughbred breeder
About 8,500 racehorses retire each year. Reports say, most end up in the knackery.
Is horse racing cruel? The brutal truth is that a horse who isn’t fast enough, strong enough or good enough don’t just face rejection.
They end in the slaughterhouse.
Australia has the largest population of wild horses in the world. Race-horses are expensive to manage, not to mention, difficult.
Also, horsemeat exportation is a multimillion-dollar industry in Australia. There are two abattoirs licensed to export horse meat in Australia. The Department of Agriculture claims at least 10,000 horse meats get processed in a year.
They need horse meat either from brumbies or ex-racehorses.
On the Other Side: Why Horse Racing is not Cruel?
Mainly, animal activists don’t see the positive side in horse racing, according to Andrew Lemon, author of the three-volume History of Australian Thoroughbred Racing.
There are good trainers and jockeys out there.
Like veteran jockey Robert Thompson, Libby Hopwood or South Australian Paul Beshara who even brings his horse ‘happy trails’ to a road trip.
What about the death rate, in this regard is horse racing cruel?
Reports say this is low.
In fact, despite the Melbourne Cup horror stories, sudden deaths are rare. Over the past ten years, it’s up to two sudden deaths per year in Victoria. This makes it the lowest in the world compared with UK, Britain and Hong Kong among others.
With regards to the retirement issue, Racing Australia disputes the figures.
Thousands of thoroughbred racehorses don’t end up as pet food, contrary to what the animal rights group say.
In fact, they go on to find other pursuits in recreation or tourism. Most are sold to private owners.
In 2014, Racing Australia also introduced a rule that requires owners to inform of their retired horse’s whereabouts.
Do Race Horses Get Treated Well?
“I wouldn’t mind being a racehorse myself if I’m honest! I would only work for 10 minutes with four weeks of rest and training. I would also get plenty of food, regular health checks, and a lot of attention as well as being treated like royalty.”
– Charlie Proctor
It has been proven that some Melbourne Cup winners were drug-free.
Racing Victoria introduced a threshold rule for cobalt in 2014 and since then, none has tested positive.
So, is horse racing cruel? Not to some thoroughbreds.
The racing industry claims owners spend an average of $40,000 annually on training. They also ensure the horses are best cared for.
Then to some equine veterinarians like Glenn Robertson-Smith, to say that racehorses aren’t cared for properly is nonsense.
“It’s akin to suggesting obesity is rife among AFL footballers. For a racehorse to be able to compete, it needs to be in the peak of health and fitness, which can only be achieved by an extremely high level of care.”
Racing Australia boss Peter McGauran also denies any allegations of welfare problems in horses. He assures too that the most regulated and accountable industries in Australia is horse racing.
Is Horse Racing Cruel Enough to be Banned?
Horse racing isn’t going anywhere, especially in Australia.
Its annual economic contribution of $6.3 billion dollars will be hard to replicate. Moreover, horse racing is embedded in the Australian culture. It’s part of a national identity, beyond gambling.
To be ignorant of horse racing these days can be “unAustralian” so they say.
When it comes to cruelty to any life forms the rule should be this: if you see something wrong, say something, do something.
As the great parliamentarian Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
There is beauty found in this sport—all the pretty horses, courageous jockeys—that create stories of courage, defeat, and success.
Moving forward, together we can all be part of a competitive and healthy history in sports.
As Melbourne trainer Peter Moody says:
“At the end of the day, I’m the first to let others entering the sport, both new and old, know – don’t underestimate the horse. Understand it’s their life that is supporting your own. And always make sure they come first.”s
What about you, do you think horse racing is cruel? Make your voice heard. Share this valuable information on social media along with your thoughts. Or check out other helpful articles to learn more.