The 2008 death of Eight Belles and the more recent 2015 tragedy of Medea Spirit are not just reminders of the exorbitant physical stress horses endure in racing, but also a profound indictment of the industry’s record on horse welfare. What’s more, it has prompted renewed calls for reform, including an end to the use of drugs and whips in training. While many changes have been made to the sport, some remain largely unchanged.
While most people would agree that the sport isn’t a good idea for animals, the majority of races are still run by humans. That said, race-day veterinarians are on hand to monitor horses for maladies and ensure that horses are safe to race. They use thermal imaging cameras to detect overheating, MRI scanners and X-rays to pick up on minor and major health conditions and 3D printing to produce casts, splints and prosthetics for injured or ailing racehorses. In addition, horses are constantly being injected with drugs like Lasix to reduce the risk of pulmonary bleeding that hard running can cause.
Horse racing was first recorded to be a popular sport at the Greek Olympic Games from 700 to 40 B.C. It quickly spread throughout the world to China, India, Persia and Arabia. It is believed to be the oldest and most globally widespread sport of its kind, with a number of modern innovations that have enhanced its popularity.
A major innovation was the introduction of a standardized rule book that defines horse racing terms, rules and regulations. The rules are designed to maintain the integrity of the sport while ensuring that participants adhere to the highest levels of safety and animal welfare. These rules also ensure that the sport is conducted fairly and openly.
In addition to standardizing the rules, a number of other technological innovations have improved horse racing. For example, horses are now injected with Lasix before every race, a diuretic that helps to prevent pulmonary bleeding from the exertion of hard racing. This drug is clearly marked on a race’s racing form.
Many executives and governance observers are uncomfortable with the classic succession “horse race,” in which several well-known candidates compete over a limited time frame to become a company’s next chief executive officer. Yet, this approach to choosing leaders has been successful at some of the world’s most admired organizations.
As a result of these improvements and advances, horse races have evolved into a faster, more intense competition than ever before. Unfortunately, as the pace of racing has quickened, so too have the number of injuries suffered by racehorses. It is impossible to know the true number of horses that have died as a result of the exorbitant demands of racing and training, but it is likely in the thousands. This statistic should spur the industry to invest in an adequate wraparound aftercare solution for all retired racehorses. Currently, far too many ex-racehorses hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline, where they are often subjected to cruel and inhuman treatment.