While racing itself is not generally a bad sport
, the way race horses have been treated over the last century is despicable. All racing breeds - Thoroughbred
s, and Quarter Horse
s - are subject to inhumane
treatment. The abuse ranges from neglect and simple lack of education
on the part of the trainer
s, to violence
against the horses, as well as dangerous
- sometimes deadly
Many trainers still use antiquated training methods, often not realizing the long-term damage done to the horse. Horses - especially Thoroughbreds - are started under saddle around the age of two; this can be up to five years before a horse's skeleton is fully developed. (The human equivalent to this would be for an eight-year-old child to run around with a 50 pound sack of coal.) Thoroughbred, Quarter Horses and Arabians who race under saddle are not taught how to listen to their rider, or do anything but gallop at top speed, which can cause severe leg damage.
The constant pounding of the legs on a hard track can often cause tendons to bow. If left untreated, a damaged tendon can cause chronic pain and permanent unsoundness. Unfortunately, trainers do not see the need to allow the horses' legs to completely repair, causing more severe damage. The two main ways that a lame racehorse is dealt with are pin firing and nerving, both of which are extremely cruel to the horse.
- Pin Firing is a process in which acid is injected into the injured tendon (and often the nerve), causing the area to swell and sometimes bleed. The theory is that the increased blood flow to the region will cause more rapid healing. In reality, pin firing can cause the injury to become chronic; it can also temporarily relieve pain, allowing the horse to further injure himself.
- Nerving is a very dangerous and cruel method of treatment. Acid is again injected into the injured area, but it is intentionally injected into the nerve. This numbs the nerve, allowing the horse to move without pain. Horses that cannot feel pain do not know that they have been injured, and they will run until they completely shatter the bones in their legs. When this happens, owners have no choice but to sell the horse to slaughter, or have him destroyed.
Many race horses who have second careers after they race are very sensitive to a rider because of the permanent damage inflicted on their spines (caused by being ridden at too young of an age). A racehorse's career is normally finished by the time he is 5, and if he was not fast, he will not be retired to stud. As a result, the majority of ex-race horses are sent to public auctions to be sold. Many of these horses end up at the slaughter house, because race horses are considered by many to be unsuitable for anything but racing.
There are some horses that enjoy racing, but many do not, and are punished by their owners and trainers. For most owners, the race horse is a financial investment, not a living animal (the way many people see their trucks or cars). Many owners do not have the money to buy another horse if theirs is not fast enough, so their horse is forced to run even if he is unwilling or in pain. This causes many race horses to mistrust all humans. These horses are reluctant to accept food, will sometimes become violent and unmanageable - which leads to their sale directly to a slaughterhouse - the fear and mistrust can become so extreme that these horses cannot stand being touched by a human. Race horses are kept standing all day, and are almost never allowed to graze. This deprives them of the herd contact that they need (horses are very social animals.)
Horse racing can be an exciting and enjoyable sport, but until abuse of the horses is punished, it is extremely inhumane. Most horses are sent to slaughter houses by the time they are 5 - not yet fully grown. They live their lives in fear and pain, and they are rarely rewarded for their good efforts. If laws were created to protect race horses (eg. make it mandatory to not ride horses until they are three, make all procedures such as nerving and pin firing illegal), the sport could greatly improve.