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Letting Money Get the Best of Us By Avery Waite

posted by Horse Owner Today    |   December 18, 2012 08:13

In 2008, thoroughbred racehorse Eight Belles finished second in the Kentucky Derby, one of the world’s most prestigious horseraces. However, shortly after crossing the finish line, she collapsed in pain from two broken ankles and was euthanized on the track. A similar fate beheld Ruffian in 1975, Barbaro in 2006, and Raspberry Kiss in 2009. While these stories are well known, many people fail to realize how often these events occur. On average, 24 horses die each week at American racetracks. Many horses are drugged to block the pain they feel or to increase performance while they race. Since 2009, the injury incident rate has increased and trainers at United States tracks have been caught illegally drugging horses 3,800 times, a vast underestimate of the problem considering how few horses are actually tested. Why do we overlook the fact that many racehorses are pumped full of drugs, forced to run long distances at a young age, and often die of broken bones or heart attacks on the track? It is time that we help protect horses from people’s desires for economic profit.
The desire for money is the root of many problems in horseracing. In order to increase race attendance, racetracks have added casino gambling to their operations, resulting in higher purses. This provides an incentive for trainers to enter horses that are not ready to race. Trainers also push horses beyond their limits from a very young age with the hopes of having the next winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or the Belmont Stakes, as these races can generate millions of dollars in profit. People start training their horses between one to one and a half years old in order to be contenders in the major races. However, at that age, horses are not physically mature. Training horses before they have matured can cause common racing problems like lower-limb ailments and injuries. Early training also reduces the average horse’s lifespan from mid- twenties to about six years old. In addition, if a horse is not generating revenue, it could be one of the 10,000 racehorses that are shipped across United States borders to slaughterhouses every year.
After Eight Belles died in 2008, Congress received promises from the racing industry to make the sport safer. While safety measures like bans on anabolic steroids have been enacted, assessing their impact has been difficult because many tracks do not keep accurate accident figures. While there are many people who take great care of their horses, there are others who severely mistreat them. To improve the current situation, stronger regulations must be implemented concerning the use of drugs in horseracing. In England, horses cannot race on drugs, and breakdown rates are half of what they are in the United States. Therefore, banning drugs in races is a good first step towards providing better lives for racehorses. Gambling at racetracks should also be monitored and reduced. If there were not so much at stake, trainers would not feel the need to risk horses’ lives by forcing unfit horses to race. Finally, we should limit the number of races a horse can run every year. This would decrease the stress placed on these young horses bodies that are not fully matured. It would also lessen the number of deaths that occur on the racetracks each year by giving horses longer breaks between races.
What I have learned to love most about horses since I began riding at age seven, and what I miss about them now that I am in college, is the bond that we are able to form with them. They are so powerful and can easily harm people, yet when treated with care and respect, they are eager to do their best for us. Unfortunately, many people take advantage of the trust that horses instill in us. It is our responsibility to ensure that horses have the best quality of life. In order to prevent horses from suffering a similar fate to that of Eight Belles, we must stand up for horses and help make the sport of horseracing safer and more humane.


Avery Waite is a sophomore at Duke University majoring in Public Policy and Global Health
To contact Avery, email her at avery.waite@duke.edu