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Horse Racing — the Horror Behind the Glamour

List of Horse Racing's Documented Cruelties




Racing Cruelties:  The Horror behind the Glamour

Racing Cruelties: Photos & Videos

The Slaughter of Racehorses

In Memory of Ruffian



Campaign against the Expansion of Racing in Israel

Help Stop Expansion of Racing in Israel

Horse Abuse & Rescue: Overview

Help Stop Horse Abuse in Israel

Premarin Horses



Slaughter at
the Racetrack

Slaughterhouse: Exposé of Horse Slaughter in the UK







The horse racing industry advertises itself as "glamorous," but in reality, exploitation, welfare violations, cruelty, and premature deaths are an inherent and unavoidable part of this industry based on greed.



  1. The horse racing industry causes thousands of horses to be born only to be slaughtered or abandoned to an existence of neglect, starvation, and suffering. There are three reasons for this:
    1. Very large numbers must be produced annually to generate a few fast ones to be selected to compete. Of the many thousands bred to race, very few make the grade. The rest must be disposed of.
    2. During training or racing, injuries are common. Injured horses are also euthanized or sold from one owner to another into increasingly worse conditions.
    3. When race horses have finished their career - usually at a very early age, before they are fully mature - they, too, must be disposed of. Their numbers exceed by far the number of humane retirement facilities.

    The above has been found to be true of every country where this issue has been studied, including England, Germany, Japan, and the U.S. In the small country of Macau, for example, approximately 300 horses are imported per year, the same number as are retired. Most of those retired are euthanized. Some who do not make the grade, but who can still race, are exported to race and/or to an unknown fate in China or Vietnam. A local Macau newspaper published photos of healthy horses (some as young as 4 years old) who were no longer fast enough to win races, being lined up and shot, their bodies dumped at a local landfill. The horses were shot because shooting is a cheaper, though much less humane method of euthanasia than lethal injection.

    In the U.S., around 5,000 leave racing every year, the same number who enter it. As in Macau and in every other country where horse racing exists, many end up euthanized or sent into a downward spiral of abuse.


  2. Race horses frequently suffer injuries because they are forced to train and race before their skeletal system has finished growing.


    To compete in the races with the largest purses — which are for 2 and 3 year olds — horses must be trained and raced at too young an age, before their bones’ growth plates have matured. This causes many lower-limb ailments and injuries, including fractures, pulled ligaments, and strained tendons. Such injuries are common in horse racing.


    Riding horses are started at 3-4 years old, while race horses are often started as young as 1.5 years. Riding horses are brought along slowly and with as little stress to their still-maturing joints as possible, while race horses are forced to run beyond their limits, pounding their still-developing joints into the ground. When the riding horse is just entering his prime, the race horse is ending his career, and possibly his life.


    One study showed that for every 22 races, at least one horse suffers an injury severe enough to prevent him or her from finishing a race. Another study estimated that 800 Thoroughbreds die from racing-related injuries every year in North America. Most owners are not willing to pay high veterinary fees for an injured horse who is unlikely to ever race again, and instead, choose to euthanize the animal.






  3. Horses are forced to race even while injured, causing enormous suffering. Many horse owners are either unwilling or unable to provide expensive veterinary care for a horse who may not be successful enough to earn his or her keep. Even when owners do provide veterinary care, they typically do not allow the horse sufficient time for recovery. Instead, they send the horse out to train or race on still-unhealed limbs.


    Since the profit-making motive, not animal welfare, is the priority, horses are drugged so they can race even when injured. A recent front page New York Times article listed the most common ways used to enhance a race horse’s performance: bronchodilators to widen air passages, hormones to increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells, cone snail or cobra venom injected into a horse’s joints to ease pain and stiffness, and a "milkshake" of baking soda, sugar, and electrolytes delivered through a tube in the horse’s nose to increase carbon dioxide in the horse’s bloodstream and lessen lactic-acid buildup, warding off fatigue. The article noted that batteries are even concealed under a horse’s skin that deliver a shock when the horse is flagging. Laboratories cannot detect every one of thousands of illegal drugs.


  4. The unnatural stresses inherent in competing so aggressively and at such a young age also cause or make worse other serious problems, such as stomach ulcers, heart murmurs, and bleeding in the lungs, not observed in horses worked at reasonable levels. These health and injury problems once again necessitate the use of drugs to maintain the horse’s racing value (but not well-being).


    One study reported in the Equine Veterinary Journal noted a doubling of one type of heart murmur and a tripling of another in 2-year-olds after 9 months of training. Horses' heartbeats can increase tenfold during a race, from a relaxed 25 beats per minute to an excessive 250 beats, leading to exhaustion, collapse, and sometimes, to a fatal heart attack.


    Researchers found gastric ulcers in ninety-three percent of horses in race training. In horses that had actually raced, the incidence was a staggering one hundred percent.


    A study in the Equine Veterinary Journal found hemorrhaging in the lungs in 95% of horses checked during two post-race examinations. An article in the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice Journal states that hemorrhaging in the lungs is "a condition affecting virtually all horses during intense exercise worldwide….there is no treatment that is considered a panacea, and the currently allowed treatments have not proven to be effective." Another study in the Equine Veterinary Journal noted that as long as a horse continues to undergo training and racing, the lungs cannot heal. 


  5. Lethal experiments are now part of racehorse suffering.
    Worldwide, thousands of racehorses die or are killed every year: during races, during training, or because they are not fast enough. Instead of reducing the unnatural pressure on the animals that causes broken backs and legs, heart attacks, burst blood vessels, gastric ulcers, and bleeding lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage), the industry sponsors lethal experiments on the animals, supposedly to learn why racehorses suffer and die from injury and illness, though the reasons are blatantly obvious.
    The experiments include deliberately infecting horses with devastating viruses, subjecting pregnant animals to abdominal surgery so they subsequently abort their young, deliberately underfeeding them, and subjecting newborn foals to stress experiments. Most of these invasive procedures end with the horses being killed. The industry attempts to justify this cruelty with the immoral notion that some should suffer so many can benefit, when the high level of injuries and developmental problems the experiments pretend to address is purely the result of industry greed and callousness. (Information courtesy of Animal Aid, UK)

  1. Overuse of whips and spurs in races and the use of batteries and electric goads on training tracks are all illegal but they all still occur. In the wild, or when playing with pasture mates, horses run fast only for short sprints. In order to make them race over the longer distances at race tracks, a jockey must push them on, to encourage greater bursts of speed.


    According to a survey conducted by the British non-profit organization, Animal Aid, jockeys in England whip their horses as many as 30 times during one race. The whip is used even on young horses, during their first race. Horses in a state of total exhaustion and already out of contention were also whipped. The whip was used on the neck and shoulders, as well as the hind quarters.



  2. The industry promotes the false image of race horses retiring to lives of luxury as pets, well-cared-for riding horses, or stud horses. In reality, when horses can no longer race, they are usually sent to slaughterhouses.


    Rather than allowing a horse to rest long enough to heal completely, many owners and trainers decide the horse does not have race-winning potential, and they sell the horse at auction. From there, the horses are either sent to a slaughterhouse that ships horse meat to the European and Japanese market, or into abusive situations at the hands of new owners who may think they would like a retired racehorse, but forget about horses’ longevity and the expense necessary to maintain them properly.


    Until 2007 when horse slaughter was banned in the United States, the U.S. slaughtered tens of thousands of horses every year, of which many were ex-racehorses. Now these horses are sent to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.


    Horses are sent to slaughterhouses in cramped trailers, usually without access to water or food. Injuries are common. A University of California, Davis study of 306 horses destined for slaughter found that 60 of them sustained serious injuries during transport. Some travel in double-decker trailers designed for cattle or sheep, vehicles not tall enough for horses, though the U.S. Department of Agriculture banned the use of these trailers for horse transport. Horses are subject to the same method of slaughter as cattle, but thrash about to avoid the pneumatic gun that should render them unconscious before their throat is slit.


    Every year, around 300 racehorses die on British race tracks as a result of a.) fatal falls or serious injuries, most often breaks to the legs, backs, or shoulders, b.) heart attacks, or c.) a drop in performance that makes them not profitable. In addition to the hundreds raced to death, thousands more are killed or abandoned to neglectful or abusive situations every year because they can no longer run fast enough to be profitable.


    Ex-racehorses who are not euthanized often suffer an even worse fate.


    In the U.S., around 5,000 horses leave racing every year, the same number who enter it. Very few enjoy a decent retirement. Some are shot within weeks of their money-earning days coming to an end. A small number become breeders. Many are slaughtered, their bodies sold to countries like France, where people eat horse meat, or they end up as pet food. Others are exported, or sold from owner to owner into increasingly abusive and neglectful situations.


    Few members of the public have the expertise to care for and handle these horses properly, or understand how expensive it is, especially where land is at a premium and all their food must be provided for them because there is inadequate grazing. Many horses end up totally neglected and some are left to starve to death.


    Some have been discovered weak, emaciated, and forgotten. Even champion prize winners, once their racing days are over, have been found in appalling conditions. The 1984 UK Grand National winner "Hallo Dandy" was found in a field, thin, with scars on his back, and his ribs poking through.


    The New York Times highlighted the failure of the largest Thoroughbred racehorse retirement program in the United States, generously endowed by some of the wealthiest breeders and most elite stables in the industry and managed by the Thoroughbred Racing Foundation. This well-funded project is responsible for over a thousand horses, a large proportion of them suffering neglect – many had to be euthanized. Reported by The New York Times, 2011: Full Story


    Horses sold to riding schools or trail riding businesses can lead a miserable existence of hard work, improper care, and insufficient feed. Horses sent to race at smaller, less well known racetracks do not receive proper care and are forced to race on very bad surfaces, some of which are little more than ploughed paddocks, that are very hard on their legs.


    In Israel, racehorses who don’t make the grade will likely end up in the same terrible situation as the cart horses of Jaffa. The temperament of most Thoroughbreds is not suited to that sort of work, but any animal can be starved into submission.




  3. Legislators in the U.S. and England have tried to regulate the industry through statutes and regulations, but these attempts at control are often circumvented. Fraudulent and criminal practices are inherent in horse racing, despite the best efforts of controlling authorities, and in spite of extensive laws, severe and widespread abuse of racehorses usually goes unpunished, and even undetected.


    Despite large sums, effort, and sophisticated laboratory techniques employed in drug testing and control, illegal drugging of horses has been virtually impossible to stop. In addition, one British Broadcasting System (BBC) article noted that "Prison sentences, illegal betting coups, question marks over doping offences and cheating at race courses across Britain have all occurred over the last 30 years."
    In the U.S., the House of Representatives held a Congressional Hearing in June 2008, with the title Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred Racehorse. The following is from the opening statement of the Hearing, delivered by Congressional Representative Jan Schakowsky: "The death of Eight Belles on the track of the Kentucky Derby two months ago was a symptom of a host of problems that plague thoroughbred racing....Catastrophic breakdowns of thoroughbred horses are becoming more common as they become increasingly fragile over the years. Horses are doped up on performance-enhancing drugs such as cocaine, caffeine, and anabolic steroids to make them as fast as possible. Whether horses are sturdy enough to withstand the rigors of racing, it is really an afterthought, and almost no one pays attention to what their lives are like after they retire....It seems that greed has trumped the health of horses, the safety of the jockey, and the integrity of the sport. Although breakdowns have always been a part of this sport, long-term racing commentators and horsemen assert that the thoroughbred horse as a breed is becoming weaker. This may be because commercial breeding focuses on creating faster horses at an earlier age with little regard to the consequences of their practices." However, little or nothing has improved for racehorses in the years since the Congressional Hearing.


  4. Very few of the hundreds of thousands of horses bred win any money at all, let alone return their training and veterinary costs, or their sometimes astronomical purchase price. One study conducted in Australia of 1,804 race horses aged 2–5 years revealed that 87% did not earn enough to cover their training costs, and 40% earned no money at all.


    Apart from this huge loss of earning capacity due to lack of ability, there is also major loss of earning capacity due to injury and chronic illness, according to another study performed in Australia. This report also notes that the industry does not reveal these realities to the public, in order to continue luring people into buying race horses. Catastrophic racing injuries requiring immediate euthanasia on the track are another cause of loss of earning capacity, and are extremely distressing to all concerned, including racegoers and the general public.



Horses are sentient creatures, not inanimate, disposable objects. There is nothing romantic or glamorous about racing, despite the industry’s media promotions, and there are many ways to gamble besides racing horses. The horse-racing industry is built on the severe exploitation of horses for the sake of entertainment and gambling. It is cruel to horses, bad for people, and has no place in an enlightened society. In this day and age, it is unconscionable to exploit animals so humans can gamble, particularly when such serious violations of basic welfare are an inherent part of the industry.


How will the Israeli people feel if media exposure of numerous starved and abandoned horses — the result of greed — negatively affect the country’s image?


Hakol Chai calls on the Knesset to rescind its approval of gambling on horse racing and to explore other income-producing business opportunities that do not have their base in animal exploitation.



All racing photos are courtesy of Animal Aid UK. More extensive information about racing is on Animal Aid's website.