BY ANDREA POWELL
Horses that win races are praised and treated well – until they stop winning. A horse race may be thrilling for the people watching, but the results may be life or death for the horse. Horses that do not perform well on the track are sent to slaughter.
What most people do not see is what happens to the horses who lose or are too old to race. There are multiple rescue groups throughout the United States, that rescue horses from the track and rehabilitate them into wonderful companions. “Around 20,000 thoroughbreds are born a year. At 2, a horse’s bones aren’t fully formed, yet typically, they’re put on the track at that age,” reports app. The horses are started before their bones have completely developed so they break down faster, leading to a short life for race horses.
Horses are not seen as living beings, but as objects of value. Once the owner deems the horse “invaluable” they are sent to slaughter. The poor horse is crammed into a trailer with many others, and shipped thousands of miles without water or food. “More than 10,000 U.S. Thoroughbreds a year ship to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico,” states Forbes.
Over 1,000 horses die every year on the track, averaging about 3 per day. A list of the 1,000 documented “on-track” deaths for 2017 lists all the horses with their names and number of races. Sadly, this is only the recorded deaths and does not include deaths that happen at training barns or once rescued.
Even horses that have won millions of dollars for their owners are sent to slaughter after they stop performing. Some are used for breeding, but after they stop producing they are shipped off to slaughter. “Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Ferdinand was slaughtered in 2002, in Japan,” states Forbes. He earned his owners 3.7 million dollars and they repaid him by sending him to slaughter at age 19.
Horses are being bred with the skinniest legs and ankles, making them more brittle, but able to run faster. Horses are being bred to win races, not to sustain a long healthy life. The sad reality is that once the horse is worn out- “retired”- most will be killed.
The public does not hear about race horses that had to be put down due to broken bones, unless it happens on the track. The public would be horrified by the real amount of race horse carnage.
“The United States Department of Agriculture calculated that 92.3 percent of the horses sent to slaughter are healthy and could complete a normal lifetime but for a place to call home,” states app. Horses are not a possibility for many people because of cost and space. Overbreeding is leading to many healthy horses dying because there is no home for them.
Some thoroughbred race horses don’t even get a chance to go to a rescue. Trainers have been known to call kill buyers to pick up a “slow” horse instead of contacting a rescue. Tracks supposedly have rules against this, but they are not enforced. Forbes reports about a horse named Deputy Broad, “Less than 48 hours after coming in last in a July 11 race at Mountaineer, his trainer, Danny Bird, had an Ohio kill buyer pick up the colt for transport to Richelieu. He arrived on July 19 and was confirmed slaughtered, according to online reports. Bird didn’t even give Deputy Broad the chance to be adopted by a rescue.”
The dark side of the horse racing industry has been exposed on ABC’s 7.30 program. A gruelling two-year-long investigation gathered damning evidence of the mass slaughter of racehorses who are deemed no longer ‘useful’.
After being whipped to exhaustion, heartbreaking footage reveals what the ‘final race’ looks like for thousands of Australian horses every year.
In filthy slaughterhouses and knackeries, they’re sworn at, kicked, beaten and slaughtered in front of their companions. Their flesh is exported overseas for human consumption or sold locally for pet food — some of which ends up in the dinner bowls of fellow victims of the racing industry: greyhounds.
Peak racing bodies have long understood and accepted the mass deaths of healthy horses. In fact, it’s also been revealed that significant funds allocated to rehoming programs have gone unspent, and breeding restrictions are yet to be implemented.
And it’s not only horses exploited by this industry, as nearly half of all regular race bettors say they’ve experienced gambling-related problems.
The big question is: how can sponsors and governments continue to support a socially destructive and cruel industry?
PETA is working hard to tackle horse-racing cruelty. When celebrated filly Eight Belles was euthanized on the track after breaking both front ankles during the 2008 Kentucky Derby, PETA called for Congressional hearings into abuse in the horse-racing industry.
After PETA supporters called on the Jockey Club to implement our Thoroughbred 360 Lifecycle Fund to help fund retirement programs and prevent the slaughter of Thoroughbreds, the club launched the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance to raise funds for retirement.
In 2009, following persistent pressure from PETA, several prominent tracks replaced hard leather whips with softer air-cushioned whips. And in 2015, the California Horse Racing Board implemented the strictest regulation in the country governing the use of whips.
PETA exposed the use of illegal shocking devices by top trainers and jockeys, prompting Churchill Downs to increase measures to detect the devices.
After a PETA investigation exposed that leading Thoroughbred horse trainer Steve Asmussen drugged sore, injured horses in order to mask pain and make them run faster, the New York State Gaming Commission fined Asmussen $10,000 and proposed sweeping new regulations to protect horses. Also as a result of our investigation, the Jockey Club, which keeps the Thoroughbred registry, joined with members of Congress to introduce new legislation mandating stricter medication oversight.
Growing awareness of the dark side of racing has fueled these improvements and promises to continue putting pressure on the industry. In a 2011 report commissioned by the Jockey Club, researchers revealed, “Racing is experiencing a shrinking share of wallet from a shrinking fan base,” and admitted that the industry was rapidly losing fans, revenue, race days, and entries.
And check out PETA’s groundbreaking investigations into abusive training practices for young horses, drug use, the transport of horses to slaughter, and the fate of countless American horses in foreign slaughterhouses.