The Issues

Horse Racing: Gambling on Animals' Lives

They weigh at least 1,000 pounds, have legs that are supported by ankles the size of a human's and are forced to run around dirt tracks at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour while carrying people on their backs. Horses don't enjoy this ordeal or get a thrill out of crossing the finish line. They're whipped into submission and end a race sweating and exhausted, often with debilitating injuries – if they survive at all.

Victims of a multimillion-pound industry, horses all too often pay the ultimate price. Whether they die in terrifying accidents on the track, are put down because of crippling injuries or are discarded to end their lives in an abattoir, these sensitive animals are treated as nothing more than disposable commodities.

Horse Racing: Gambling on Animals' Lives

The Not-So-Grand National

At 4.5 miles, the Grand National is the longest and most deadly thoroughbred race in the world. The high-risk factor is what makes it famous, but every year, horses pay the price with their lives, sustaining horrific and often fatal injuries at notorious fences such as The Chair, Becher's Brook and The Canal Turn. Every time that horses are forced to jump these excessively high obstacles, it puts tremendous pressure on their slender front legs, making accidents inevitable.

In 2011, after two horses died in shocking falls, breaking their necks and backs, the race didn't even stop – jockeys simply steered their way past the bodies of the two dead horses lying on the track. And the television cameras generally stay with the front runners as horses who fail to get up quickly are hastily covered with a green tarpaulin and disposed of, away from the public eye, masking the sport's distressing reality from many spectators.

Horse Racing: Gambling on Animals' Lives

Thoroughly Bred for Illness

As racing columnist Bill Finley remarked, "The thoroughbred race horse is a genetic mistake. It runs too fast, its frame is too large, and its legs are far too small. As long as mankind demands that it run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will die at racetracks".

Bred for speed at the expense of bone mass and general well-being, these horses are increasingly less robust and, in races, are pushed far beyond their natural abilities. It's common – and somehow accepted – for horses used in races to develop debilitating medical conditions, including bleeding lungs, ringbone and gastric ulcers. Fatal injuries, including heart attacks and broken necks, backs and legs are also commonplace.

After the Race

For the horses taking part that do make it to the end of their "careers", there is rarely a happy retirement. Horses are valued only when they are bringing in winnings, so the racing industry rarely has a proper plan for these animals once they stop making money. Some will simply be shot, and a few will be used in equestrian pastimes if they are still able. Many will be slaughtered, and their flesh will be turned into cheap meat.

What You Can Do

Boycott the racetrack. If you love horses, don't contribute to their suffering by supporting an industry that has no regard for their welfare. Betting also props up this exploitative system, so if you enjoy visiting the bookies, put your money on a football match or any other sport where the participants are willing athletes, not mistreated animals.

Fact Box

  • More than 400 horses die every year on British racecourses.
  • A horse's heartbeat can increase tenfold during a race – from 25 beats per minute to an excessive 250 beats, leading to total exhaustion and collapse.
  • Of the 12,000 foals born every year into the British and Irish racing industry, only about 40 per cent go on to become racing horses. The rest face an uncertain and usually tragic fate of slaughter or neglect.
  • Racing is the only context in which it is still legal to whip animals in this country. A poll commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority itself showed that 57 per cent of people in Britain want an outright ban on the whip.
  • The horse-racing industry invests millions of pounds each year for research into protecting their prize investments. Virtually nothing goes to help the horses once their racing days are over.