The Dangers of Horse Racing

Horse racing is a global sport with traditions and rules that vary from place to place. Despite its popularity, the sport can also be dangerous for horses. Many horses die during the course of a race, and others break their legs or fracture their backs. These tragic deaths have sparked a debate over whether or not horse racing should continue to be allowed.

The earliest recorded descriptions of horse races are found in Asia Minor, where chariot and mounted (bareback) horse racing took place. A full description of a chariot race appears in Homer’s Iliad, dated to about the 9th or 8th century bc. Mounted bareback races were included in the Olympic Games from the 7th to the 5th century bc. The Greek author Xenophon wrote about the steeplechase, which involved jumping over obstacles, around the same period.

Modern horse racing developed in the 12th century. Knights returning from the Crusades brought swift Arab horses back to England, where they were crossed with English mares. This hybrid was a marvel of speed and endurance, and the nobility wagered privately on match races between them.

In the 1700s, the sport was standardized, with six-year-old horses competing in King’s Plates with 168 pounds in four-mile heats to be declared the winner. Other racing for five- and four-year-olds was established, along with races with fixed weights based on age, distance, sex, and time of year.

Today, horse races are run in every country in the world and attract a worldwide audience of spectators. There are more than 400 racetracks in the United States, and betting on horses has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

Spectators flock to the track to watch the horses, jockeys, and trainers. Before the race, horses and jockeys must weigh in and pass inspection to be allowed to begin the race. Throughout the race, the horses are watched by stewards and veterinarians to ensure their safety. A horse that shows signs of being ill or injured can be disqualified.

The racing environment is stressful for the horses, who are mostly still in adolescence and need to be protected from injury. The stress of the sport can cause heart attacks, pulmonary hemorrhages, and other injuries. Dead racehorses have been found with shattered bones, broken necks, and severed spines, often with skin only holding the limbs together. The death of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit sparked a debate over the ethics of the sport. Today, horses still die from cardiovascular collapse or heart failure during races and training. Some are injured by collisions with other horses, but the most common cause of death is simply cardiovascular collapse or a fatal heart attack. These accidents occur at the exhilarating pace of the race and in front of crowds that have just cheered for their favorite horses.