The Harmful World of Horse Racing

Horses are a popular symbol of freedom, power and strength. In addition to being trained as racehorses, they are used in other roles including armed service, law enforcement, and entertainment. The horse is also a beloved animal for its beauty and its ability to connect with humans. However, horse racing is a cruel sport that involves traumatic injuries and a high risk of death. Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racing lies a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter.

One of the most popular horse races is the steeplechase, which requires jumping over a series of obstacles. The event dates back to ancient times, as evidenced by chariot and bareback horse races in Homer’s Iliad, from about the 9th or 8th century bc. The race was long a favorite sport of cavalry officers, and it is believed to be the origin of the modern sport of cross-country running.

The earliest horse races were match contests between two or at most three horses. By the mid-18th century public demand had produced open events with larger fields of runners. Rules were developed for eligibility based on the age, sex and birthplace of horses as well as their previous performance. Horses were often forced to sprint, resulting in injuries and even hemorrhaging of the lungs.

During a race, horse trainers and jockeys (as the riders are called) work to get their animals to sprint as fast as possible to outrun competitors. Injuries are common, and many horses must be whipped to keep going when they begin to tire. This jolts the animals’ lower legs, straining ligaments and tendons and causing pain and discomfort.

In addition to the physical stress of the sport, many racehorses are abused with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask injuries and enhance performance. Horses are given potent pain relievers and anti-inflammatories, as well as diuretics such as Lasix to prevent the bleed from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. The drugs can also cause horses to lose weight.

After a race, the horse is sent to an aftercare facility, usually a private farm. The aftercare industry is rife with corruption and insufficient funding to address the needs of thousands of horses. Many ex-racehorses end up in the slaughter pipeline, where they are typically sent to Mexico and Canada. A few independent nonprofit rescues and individuals work tirelessly to network, fundraise and promote the horse’s case to be rescued.

Proponents of the horse race approach argue that it is a time-honored and effective way to choose an executive. By establishing an overt competition among recognized candidates within a set period of time, the horse race process ensures that the best leader for the company is selected. This is especially true when companies employ a succession “horse race” in which promising senior executives are groomed through a series of critical leadership roles that build the skills and seasoning to lead a large organization. Despite this, some executives and governance observers are uncomfortable with the horse race model.