Horse Racing: Gambling on Animals’ Lives

They weigh around 500 kilograms, their legs are supported by ankles the size of a human’s, and they’re forced to run around racecourses 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 finishing line. They’re whipped into submission and end each race sweating and exhausted, often with debilitating injuries – if they survive at all.

Horse racing©Liss Ralston

Victims of a multimillion-pound industry, horses all too often pay the ultimate price. Whether they die in terrifying accidents on the track or in training, are euthanised after sustaining crippling injuries, or fail to win races and are shipped off to an abattoir, these sensitive animals are treated as nothing more than disposable commodities.

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 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

Thoroughly Bred for Illness

Horse eyeAs 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. Heart attacks and fatal injuries, including broken necks, backs, and legs, are also commonplace.

After the Race

For the horses who do make it to the end of their “careers”, there’s rarely a happy retirement. Horses are valued only when they’re bringing in winnings, so the racing industry rarely has a proper plan for them once they stop making money. Some will simply be shot, and a few will be used in equestrian pastimes if they’re 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 a flutter, put your money on a football match or any other sport in which the participants are willing athletes, not mistreated animals.


  • Approximately 200 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 sometimes collapse.
  • Of the 12,000 foals born every year into the British and Irish racing industries, only about 40% go on to be used for racing. The rest face an uncertain and usually tragic fate of slaughter or neglect.
  • Racing is the only context in which it’s still legal to whip animals in the UK. A poll commissioned by the British Horseracing Authority itself showed that 57% of people want an outright ban on the whip.
  • The horse-racing industry dedicates millions of pounds each year to research into protecting their prize investments. Virtually nothing goes to helping horses whose racing days are over.