Horse racing is an ancient sport that evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into one of the world’s most popular spectator sports and a multi-billion dollar global business. Yet behind the glamorous facade of the modern day thoroughbred horse race lies a bleak world of abuse, injuries, drug use, breakdowns and slaughter.
When a horse wins a race, its owner receives the prize money (known as a purse). The amount of prize money for a particular race is determined by a number of factors, including the race’s quality and the number of horses entered. The more expensive and prestigious races tend to offer higher prizes, while lower-quality and less-prestigious races may not award any prize money at all. The winner is declared when a horse crosses the finish line first, though in some instances a photo-finish may be necessary to determine a winner.
Prior to a horse race, competing horses are positioned in stalls or behind a starting gate. Once a steward or starter has signaled the horses to start, the gates open and the race begins. Throughout the course of a race, jockeys (professional horse riders) help guide their mounts along the track and over any hurdles or fences that are in the way. A fast acceleration is essential for winning sprint races, while long-distance races require a certain level of endurance.
In the early days of horse racing, most races were winner-take-all, but as field sizes increased and the emergence of different breeds of horses led to differing levels of athletic ability, second and third place prizes began to be awarded. Today most major races are run for a top-tier prize and runners in lower categories compete for secondary prize money that can be a significant sum of money.
The vast majority of horse races in the United States are run on a flat surface, where horses are ridden by a professional jockey. Depending on the type of race, jockeys will either sit or stand on a horse, using their whip to steer the animal and influence its pace and direction. They will also assist in navigating the horse over jumps and through any other obstacles on the track.
There are dozens of regulated horse race tracks in the United States, and each state has its own set of rules governing how horse races are conducted. These rules can vary widely from state to state, from what type of medication a horse can be given during a race to what penalties are imposed on trainers and owners who violate them.
Despite the fact that horse racing has a number of issues to contend with, growing awareness of the cruelty of this industry is resulting in positive improvements for horses. However, more needs to be done to ensure that the sport can survive in a society and culture that increasingly recognizes animals as living, sentient beings with fundamental rights that must be respected. We cannot let the for-profit industry steal the futures of Eight Belles, Medina Spirit, Keepthename, Creative Plan and the many thousands of other ex-racehorses who have been discarded into slaughterhouse pipelines.