Don’t Go to the Kentucky Derby – Why Horse Racing is a Cruel Tradition

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The 143rd Kentucky Derby weekend starts tomorrow with the main event being Saturday.  Horse racing and the Kentucky Derby specifically is steeped in tradition – I mean you don’t do something for 143 years without it being a tradition, right?  A little background information about myself – my great-grandpa used to train harness race horses in Rochester, NY and my great-uncle was a famous jockey.  They were quite good at their jobs and I used to visit the farm every summer.  There is a lot of nostalgia around horses and horse racing for myself.  I also have attended several races at Churchill Downs (not the Derby but the Oaks the day before) and I’ve always enjoyed myself – drinking mint juleps and gambling on horses like my life depended on it.  Now, that you know my background and how deeply horse racing was rooted in me, I hope you’ll take my next advice to heart.  Do not support this barbaric and cruel tradition.

The horse racing industry is exceptionally cruel and you’d never know it.  These animals are forced against their will to do something they would never do if given the choice and the things that go on behind closed doors is not for the faint of heart.  There is zero benefit to horse racing for horses – it is purely a “sport” done for the entertainment of humans – humans wearing their gigantic hats, betting on horses as if their lives don’t matter, getting sloppy drunk and probably not even paying attention to the race that could end a horses’s life.  Yes, horses enjoy running – in a field or in the wild on their own volition – not because they are forced into it.

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Drugging is Common Practice

Kate Papp, a racetrack veterinarian, says it best – “Everything that’s given to the horse is with the main goal in mind, which is having them run well, win races, pay well to the owners and to the trainers,” she said. “And anything that they can give the horses – whether it be legal, illegal, even non-necessary substances – they will do … in an attempt to have a winner or improve their horse.”

Drugs aren’t given for the well-being of the horse.  They’re given to do everything possible to keep the horses going when their bodies simply can’t handle it.

Slaughter is How we Thank them

When a race horse has had their body used up, it is very common practice for them to be sent to slaughter.  They aren’t usually sent to graze in pastures for the rest of their life (they’re still relatively young too) like we may be led to believe.  Nope.  When they are determined to be too old, too slow or not good enough – they are very often slaughtered for meat.

“It is well-documented that many racehorses end up at slaughter auctions within a week of their last race, despite the fact that many tracks aross the country have policies opposing this practice,” said Nancy Perry, the senior vice president of ASPCA governmental relations.

Not all are sent to slaughter, of course.  There are always exceptions to rules and if a horse is deemed a winner or successful horse, they are often forced to breed for the retirement and talk about making the owner money.  Smarty Jones has sired 418 foals in seven years for a whopping $7,500 per session.

The “Life” of a thoroughbred broadmare

A thoroughbred broadmare’s sole purpose in life is to produce as many racehorses as possible.  So, when she delivers her baby, it is immediately taken from her and nursed by a nurse mare while the broadmare is then forced to immediately get pregnant again.  So, how do the nurse mares magically have milk to feed the racehorse foals?  Well, they had babies too of course (mammals don’t magically produce milk without bearing young).  So, what happens to her baby?  These foals are of no use to the industry.  They were literally born just so their mom could produce milk to feed another mare’s baby so that mare could become pregnant again – all in the name of money.  Sadly, these “useless” foals have been historically killed – by either starving them or hitting them in the head with a hammer.  I shouldn’t say they are useless though because their skin is used int he fashion and textile industries and the meat can be considered a delicacy (note heavy sarcasm).

Last Chance Corral does their best to step in and rescue these foals by purchasing them.  While saving a life is more important, purchasing them only feeds into the industry more.  The only way to truly stop this is to stop supporting this horrible industry.

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The Horrific Injuries

Horses run, yes.  Horses love to run, yes.  What horses don’t do is run faster and harder (drugs, remember) than ever intended at a super young age (usually 3 years old and horses don’t even mature until 6) on a dirt track – not to mention with a human being on them, making fast, quick turns.  Horses are often euthanized on spot when injured on the track.  Broken legs, “run down”, ligament injuries and more are all super common.

It’s so bad that there is a Race Horse Death Watch.

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It’s not just dangerous to the horses

Being a jockey is extremely dangerous as well.  “An investigation by CNN found that “jockeys are the worst-paid and most seriously injured athletes in any professional sport.” Since 1940, there have been 154 deaths at horse racing tracks across the U.S. — 13 since 2000″ (source).

Jockeys also commonly develop eating disorders as they have to maintain a very low body weight.

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Tradition is never a reason to do something that isn’t right.  Slavery could have been argued as tradition.  Dog fighting is tradition to some.  The dog meat industry in Asia is tradition.  

Tradition does not equate to right.

What to do instead

So, you don’t want to support this horrible industry anymore right?  But, you still love animals and seeing them and experiencing all the goodness they can bring into your life so how do you do so in an ethical way?

  • Visit a farm sanctuary or a horse sanctuary
  • Experience wild horses – something else that needs to be protected!
  • Educate others about the industry
  • If gambling is your reason for the races, find another avenue that doesn’t exploit anyone or any animal.  This goes for dog races too.

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photo credits | featured photo | Eight Belles injured | mare and foal | horse/jockey fall

Traveler. Freelance Writer. Blogger. Vegan. Risk Taker. Voice for the Voiceless.

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