A horse race is a form of athletic competition in which horses are pushed to sprint—often under the threat of whips and illegal electric shocking devices—at speeds that can cause gruesome injuries and even hemorrhage from the lungs. Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racing, though, is a world of drugs, abuse and, in many cases, death.
In recent years, the number of horse races has dropped dramatically thanks to the efforts of racing regulators and a growing public awareness of the issues. In addition, the racing industry has instituted new rules that make it more difficult for horses to be injured and more enforceable against trainers who do so. Despite these improvements, a number of horses still die during races due to the overwhelming stress of what they are made to do.
The exact figure is unknown, but it is in the thousands. Almost all of the deaths can be traced back to poor breeding practices and unregulated racing facilities. The most common causes of injury are fetlock problems and pulled suspensory ligaments. Both conditions are caused by overuse and stress, and both can be prevented by reducing the length of time horses run and increasing the intensity of workouts.
A number of injuries, including fractures, to the knee, ankle and hock are also common. A fracture is often caused by a sharp impact, such as that of a fall. It may occur in a crowded pack or when a horse runs over a jump or obstacle. The injury is usually exacerbated by the horse putting pressure on the joint, which can also be caused by overuse and stress. The knee and hock are often the most susceptible to injury as a result of repetitive motion.
Horses are given multiple, comprehensive vet exams and observations to ensure they are healthy enough to run. However, even after such extensive care, if a horse is severely injured during a race it is likely to be euthanized. This includes every horse in the Triple Crown series, as well as those in daily races and other major events.
Some racing aficionados, especially those who are not part of the mainstream media, dismiss these claims by PETA. But it is a mistake to conflate hostility toward the group with dismissal of its work. Virtually no one beyond the industry cares how PETA obtains its video footage; they only care about what is in it.