What Happens to Horses That Leave a Horse Race?

A horse race is a contest of speed among horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers. It requires incredible precision, so much so that it’s likened to a high-speed election race in which voters must finish within a hair’s width of each other. While there is plenty of number-crunching in horse racing journalism, the goal of good reporting goes well beyond mere rankings and predictions. It’s about providing readers with complete context to make those numbers mean something.

Horses race for many reasons, including money. The sport is a major industry, and it’s estimated that more than $1 billion in bets are placed annually. But the money isn’t the only reason to care about racing; it’s also a way for humans to indulge their passion for equine sports, and in the process, to help them survive.

Unfortunately, the sport’s money-driven structure is also a breeding ground for tragedy. Horses are sold and resold infinite times throughout their lives, and often they’re pushed far past their physical limits. Then, they’re subjected to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs meant to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance.

The industry claims that the sport has never been safer for horses, and that fatalities have decreased 37.5 percent since 2009 thanks to advancements in testing, track surfaces and other areas. However, these figures are difficult to believe given the fact that no one knows what really happens to most of the horses that leave a racetrack.

Once a horse is retired from the track, it often hemorrhages into the slaughter pipeline. The few independent nonprofit rescue organizations that network, fundraise and work tirelessly to save them have described what’s like for horses in the slaughter pipeline as hell on earth. Many of these horses have been abused, tortured and murdered.

As a result, it’s easy to understand why many people have little interest in watching a horse race. But if we continue to ignore the horrors of racing, then it’s likely that we’ll never be able to change them.

If we want to keep a healthy gambling culture in horse racing, we need to start by changing the horrific conditions that force so many young thoroughbreds to die tragically in a sport they were not designed for. And that starts with addressing the racing industry’s lack of an adequate wraparound aftercare solution for all of the horses it creates, profits off of through racing and breeding, then sells and sends to death in the slaughter pipeline. The plight of horses like Eight Belles should be a wake-up call to all of us.