A horse race is a competition between horses in which jockeys or drivers attempt to win money by betting on the outcome of each individual race. These competitions are held around the world and involve thoroughbred (foal) or quarter horse breeds. Horse racing is a popular spectator sport and has been a major source of entertainment throughout history. It is also a major industry, generating billions of dollars in wagers. The sport is considered controversial because of the injuries, deaths, and drug use that are associated with it. Growing awareness of these issues has led to improvements in the health and safety of racing animals, but the problems persist.
Until the Civil War, American Thoroughbred racing was focused on stamina rather than speed. But after the war, speed became the standard. The escalating size of purses, breeding fees and sale prices have driven more horses to the track, forcing trainers to run them even when they are not fully fit, and leading to more and more breakdowns. Many horses that are pushed to their limits end up suffering from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, a deadly condition in which the lungs fill with blood during running and cause them to collapse.
The earliest recorded horse races, both chariot and mounted, were held in the Olympic Games of 700-40 bce in Ancient Greece. Racing was widely practiced in other ancient civilizations, including Rome, Babylon, Syria, Egypt, and Arabia, where it was a popular pastime for wealthy people. It was also an important part of myth and legend, such as the contest between the god Odin and his steed Hrungnir in Norse mythology.
By the 1700s, racing was becoming widespread in Europe. In 1751, the King’s Plates were standardized for six-year-old horses carrying 168 pounds at 4-mile heats, with a minimum of two wins to be declared the winner. Then, in 1761, five-year-olds began competing in the King’s Plates as well, and four-year-olds competed in a new type of race for them called a stayers’ cup.
Aside from its obvious popularity as a spectator sport, horse racing is important economically, generating tens of millions of dollars in wagers each year and employing some 100,000 people. But racing has a problem: New would-be fans are being turned off by scandals over horse abuse, drug use, and deaths at the tracks. And media coverage that focuses on the sport is often biased and inaccurate. This collection of articles explores how news outlets and politicians have adapted to this shift in public opinion about horse racing and what can be done to change it. The articles are compiled by the nonprofit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The organization has conducted groundbreaking investigations into abusive training practices for young horses, drugs used to treat and enhance performance, the slaughter of the most prized racing stock, and the transport of these horses to foreign slaughterhouses. Changing the culture of the sport will take strong and consistent pressure from all sides, but most importantly from the horses’ advocates.