The Morality of Horse Racing

How humans relate to “the other,” be it other humans or non-human animals, helps define our place in the world. What we chose to do with the power we have over the most helpless in our society defines us. Our relationship with animals has evolved and changed with time, and yet, animals are still largely at the mercy of humans. 


Thoroughbreds live a life of extreme confinement, punctuated by interludes of running at break-neck speed for the sake of entertainment and gambling. Now, more than ever before, they are doped and run with injuries. When they are tired and overworked, they are whipped to run faster. Thousands die annually either racing or training to race, or due to illnesses related to their lifestyle.


Do these animals have inherent rights that should be respected or are they like property to be used and disposed of? If we replace the word “animals” with “athletes” who died, would this number cause more alarm? When we know that the number that die on the track is a small fraction of those that die every year, the very existence of this sport must be questioned and it must be reformed or end. 


As people become increasingly exposed to injustice or cruelty, we run the risk of this becoming the cultural norm. When we see that these horses are suffering and dying yet disregard it, does this lessen our own humanity? 

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

~James Baldwin



Hardly. Young horses are evaluated early on and horses with promise, but not quite enough for
an owner to keep, often participate in speed trails
to be evaluated by potential buyers. A speed trail 
sometimes called an Under Tack Show, involves very immature horses — not even 2 years old — running as fast as they can against the clock, often resulting in catastrophic injuries and death.


Horses determined to have potential begin training well before their bodies are fully developed, which does not happen until they are about 5 or 6. This leads to a great deal of stress, and wear and tear on their bones which can lead to horrific leg breaks — the most frequent life-ending injury witnessed on a track.

Other common injuries including musculoskeletal fractures, tendon and ligament ruptures, laminitis, gastrointestinal displacement/rupture, colitis, and unexplained sudden death are the result of poor training practices, both under-training and over-racing, inadequate rest, bad track surfaces, pain medication, and stress.





Photo: Shutterstock


“It's hard to justify how many horses we go through.
In humans you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics.
But you see it in horse racing." 

~ Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director, California Horse Racing Board (New York Times, 3/24/12)

The Numbers

Born and dying

Sometimes horses die on the track, in view of the crowd, other times hidden by large portable screens, or removed by a van to be euthanized at the stable. They might die training in the morning, or in their stalls of unspecific causes. In most cases, horses that have been autopsied have been found to have an underlying injury that ultimately led to their death.

The toll of racing must also include horses that are born each year but disposed of before they’ve even begun, as well as those who are no longer winning or are injured. Unsuccessful or injured horses are often sold repeatedly and end up racing at lower-level tracks, or worse, sent to slaughter.


It is estimated that 10 - 19 percent of the more than 100,000 horses shipped to Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses are thoroughbreds.   

This is the reality — the number of thoroughbreds born into the industry every year is the same as the number that die racing, training, or at slaughter. 



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