Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, and gruesome breakdowns. As spectators parade around in their fancy attire and sip mint juleps, horses are forced to sprint – often under the threat of whips and even illegal electric-shock devices – at speeds so high they frequently sustain injuries and bleed from their lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage). Most horses, which are bred specifically for this sport, die from such conditions.
The first documented horse race was held in 1651 as the result of a wager between two noblemen. Since then, organized racing has expanded and evolved from local events into a global industry with rules, regulations, and betting to determine winners.
Horses used for racing are bred specifically to run at speeds of up to 40 miles per hour. To compete in a horse race, they must be healthy and well-trained. The best breeds of horses for racing include Thoroughbreds, Arabian horses, and quarter horses. The governing bodies of each country have different regulations for what breeds can be used for racing and how fast they must be able to run.
To win a race, the horse and jockey must cross the finish line before the other competitors. If two or more horses reach the finish line at the same time, a photo finish is performed to determine which one broke the plane first. If a winner cannot be determined, dead heat rules are applied.
Although horse races have not changed much in the past few decades, modern technology has made significant advancements in how horses are bred, trained, and raced. Among the most important changes has been in safety, with protocols that include necropsies of every horse that dies on the track and careful scrutiny of contributing factors to see if the death could have been prevented.
Despite these advances, horse racing continues to be an extremely dangerous sport for horses. Injuries are incredibly common, and horses can die from these injuries while still in the midst of their racing careers. Sadly, these deaths are a constant reminder of the cruel reality that is the sport of horse racing.
In addition to the physical stress of racing, many horses are given cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask their injuries and artificially enhance their performance. For instance, many horses will bleed from their lungs during a race, which is why they are frequently given the drug Lasix, or Salix, which is a diuretic with performance-enhancing properties. Other commonly used medications in horse racing include steroids, painkillers, and sedatives. When these medications are taken in combination, the effect can be dangerously amplified and lead to a range of health problems, including cardiac issues and organ failure. Moreover, these substances can also cause the horse to lose weight, which can affect their ability to run. In addition, some drugs have been found to be carcinogenic in horses. A number of other drugs, such as corticosteroids and anabolic steroids, are illegal in racing but are still being used by some trainers to boost their horses’ performance.