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Where do horses go when they no longer win races? Don’t let the horse racing industry fool you – behind what is pictured often as a glamorous, prestigious sport, stands a cruel industry — an industry where horses are abused and then discarded once they can no longer earn their keep and an industry in which horses are drugged and made to run even while injured.

Horses do not enjoy running races, as the industry would like us to think, nor do they retire quietly once they stop winning. HBO did not cancel the TV show “Luck” for no good reason — three horses died during the shooting of the series, and that’s why it was ultimately cancelled. Not so glamorous after all, right?

Though common sense might dictate that caring for race horses is vital in order to win races, the truth is that, like any other animal industry, horses are being used in a way that profits the owners, not the horses themselves.

How a cruel “sport” becomes an industry

Horse racing has existed since ancient Greece, where horse-drawn chariot races were part of the Olympic games. Races were made popular throughout the Middle East at around 600 BC and spread out to other parts of the world to become a thriving industry, making more than a hundred billion dollars a year.

If it’s such a booming industry, what could be so bad about it, you ask? Here are some facts the industry wouldn’t want you to know:

Born to die

Thousands of horses are bred each year, but only a few survive to endure the life of racing. Actually, most of the money made is by breeding, not through the races themselves. Thoroughbred horses can be  sold for $50,000 to $3 million. If they fail to meet the industry’s needs, they are sold for only a few hundred dollars and killed for meat, either for human consumption or pet food.

Horses intended for the races are forced to undergo a series of brutal training, starting at two years old. At this age, their bodies are not fully developed yet, and they’re forced to run faster than they ever will again in their lifetime. Most horses don’t grow up to become famous racers, so they end up being sent off to slaughter. There are just not enough humane places for all the horses to “retire” to and many of them are injured during the first year of training. Sadly, most horses are then euthanized by the age of four.

A lonely life

Though people might go to races to socialize, racehorses are confined to the stables, where they spend up to 22 hours per day completely alone. This miserable existence causes neurotic, unnatural behavior, along with respiratory disease and stomach ulcers.

Drugged and forced to race

Even when injured, horses are forced to race and they are given stimulants and painkillers in hopes that they’ll run faster. After all, horses are created to make money and the owners are eager to turn a profit and animal welfare is not taken into consideration.

Where horses go to die

Think about it: raising a horse is an expensive affair, so if they don’t run well enough, they are usually sold for meat. The owner will make a few more dollars off their meat and invest in a new “winner.”

Horse racing in the U.S. 

Horse racing is the oldest organized sport in the U.S. and it’s backed by a strong and motivated industry. In 2008, the U.S. Congress held a hearing on the subject. An Illinois congresswoman, named Jan Schakowsky, was noted saying, “Almost no one pays attention to what they’re lives are like after they retire. It seems greed has trumped the health of horses, the safety of jockeys, and the integrity of the sport.”

Still, no changes have been implemented since. Horses are still drugged, forced to race, and sent off to slaughter, mostly without the public’s notice.

How you can help

Though horse racing is still legal in the U.S., you can help horses by spreading the word and taking part in campaigns. Remember, the fact that something existed for many years, doesn’t make it morally right. Here are some simple steps you can take to help:

  • Avoid horse races and stay away from gambling activities that involve horses (and others animals).
  • Help other people learn the facts about horse racing by sharing this information with your friends and family and social media followers.
  • Write polite and informed letters to newspapers and elected officials protesting horse races in your local community.
  • Join PETA’s campaign to ban horse slaughter in the U.S.

 Image Source: Paul/Flickr