Horse Racing Exposed: Drugs, Deception, and Death

Video copyright PETA







This undercover video, filmed in 2013 by a PETA investigator, focuses on the prevalent use of drugs and of other abuses in horse racing. The investigator worked undercover for four months.


Equine expert Holly Cheever, DVM, has reviewed the information from the investigation. This is an excerpt from her comments, particularly her conclusions about Nehro, a Throughbred race horse

This 5-year old horse [Nehro] placed second in the Kentucky Derby in 2011 and continued to race, though conversations between the investigator and Nehro's entourage state that he peaked in his third year and should have been retired after that season.


Nehro is shown in the video to have serious foot problems in both forelimbs that are severe enough to make his pounding on hard fast tracks excruciatingly painful. In conversations between the trainer, farrier, exercise rider, veterinarian, and groom we hear:

  • that he has a non-healing quarter crack

  •  that one forelimb has poor pulse quality and perfusion, possibly caused by injury and wear and tear; a compromised blood supply to the hoof's sensitive lamiae is disastrous for the hoof's proper function

  • that he has holes in both soles that are painful to the touch—"I know the fucker hurts."

  • that he has infected "shed" (i.e. with missing tissue) frogs

  • that he has "no feet" (i.e. they are fragile and sore)

  • that he cannot run on paved surfaces

  •  that his handlers "know he is sore"

  • that he has had z-bar shoes to attempt to heal the foot—but which were torn off in "breezing"—fast workouts to train for an upcoming race—by Nehro as he ran

  • that he has contracted heels

All of these serious injuries and malformations mean that the young Thoroughbred Nehro, at the end of his adolescence and on the verge of adulthood, was so injured and structurally unsound that he was in severe pain and should have been given strict pasture rest for months—possibly for a year—to permit the healing of his multiple lamenesses. There is no justification for running a horse with a quarter crack at all: complete retirement till full healing has been achieved is essential for the horse's future. Tracks have hard and concussive surfaces, and horses carry roughly 2/3 of their weight over their forelimbs: thus, galloping racehorses weighing 1,000 to 1,200 pounds exert the damaging pressure of 3,000 pounds per square inch on the forefeet, resulting in an overwhelming and excruciating force applied to an injured hoof sole and wall. The fact that he could run at all—even in pain as evinced by his lameness—raises the possibility that he may have been nerve-blocked to make his pain more bearable. With or without a nerve block, running a Thoroughbred in a competitive race with such severe hoof damage and weakness constitutes an unacceptable risk from a fall for Nehro, his rider, and other horses running in a pack, with potentially devastating (even fatal) consequences.


Instead of racing (compelled by the racing trainer's adage that the horse makes no money standing in his stall), Nehro should have been retired to a prolonged strict rest, hydrotherapy, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), thermal treatments, special shoeing, and possibly antibiotics. I do not believe his frequent "magnetic therapy" had any benefits for these types of injuries. For his quarter crack, he would have done better to have been shod with an egg bar shoe (rather than a z-bar type) with the hoof wall trimmed away from shoe at the crack's location.


In conclusion, continuing to demand an athletic performance instead of retiring Nehro as "pasture sound" was cruel and a common sequel to the initial stresses that the one-and-a-half year old Thoroughbreds face as they bear a rider's weight and start their rigorous training with their immature musculoskeletal frames and their open growth plates. In other competitive equine sports, athletic training commences a couple of years later, after their musculoskeletal systems have matured, and does not become rigorous until the horse is adult. Nehro's agonizing death from colic, described by a witness, is a distressing end note to a life spent in chronic pain. Though there is no direct connection between his chronic lameness and his gut ischemia (lack of blood supply), extreme pain and stress can have vascular consequences and thus his painful lameness could have been a contributing factor. In my opinion, Nehro deserved far better and suffered abuse at the hands of his owner, trainer, and riders.