The much-hyped Kentucky Derby will be taking place this Saturday, May 1st. It seems like every where I turn, I’m hearing or reading something about it: the contenders, the odds, the wagers, the jockeys, the hats, and so on and so forth. And yet very little is said about the cruelty of it all.
Horse racing is a brutal “sport”, and it starts with the breeding of these champion racers. Modern race horses are genetically engineered for speed instead of health and longevity. Trainers begin running the horses at age 1 or 2 when their bones are still too brittle to handle their massive body weight. They are so in-bred and over-trained that many of them suffer from broken bones, viral diseases and devastatingly painful conditions such as bleeding lungs and gastric ulcers. Many of these beautiful animals are quite literally raced to death. According to In Defense of Animals, roughly 800 race horses die from their injuries on race tracks each year in the US alone. Another 3,500+ are so severely injured they cannot finish their races. Thousands more are bred and discarded for not being fast or strong enough.
Race horses are often pumped full of drugs to make them run faster and to ignore their pain. When they break a leg or fail to win (to create a “return” on their owners’ investment), they are discarded – often sent to slaughter, a profitable end for the owner, but a brutal one for the animal. When not racing, these horses spend up to 23 hours of their day stabled, deprived of the herd contact and freedom of movement that would ensure physical and mental health. None of us would consider that to be acceptable treatment for our beloved pet cats and dogs, yet we look the other way when there’s profit or entertainment involved for us.
Horse racing is not a sport. Sports are activities in which the individuals involved choose to participate. Race horses have no choice. Surely horses love to run when given the freedom to do so, but forcing them to run on artificial surfaces known to increase injuries to their already fragile legs is inhumane. The whole industry from start to finish is inhumane, and this Saturday, millions of people will be watching the Derby, betting on it, and perpetuating the cruelty inherent in it. Don’t be one of them. The horse racing engine will keep speeding along until we humans stand up and demand that it stop. The victims of this “sport” cannot speak for themselves. It is up to us to do it for them.