A horse race is a competition in which horses are forced to run at speeds so fast that they often break down or even hemorrhage from the lungs. Despite the romanticized facade of fancy outfits and mint juleps, behind the scenes of Thoroughbred racing is a world of drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. Fortunately, growing awareness of the dark side of the sport has fueled improvements for horses, and PETA’s investigations continue to put pressure on the industry.
Horse races are usually run over distances of one to four miles (1.6 to 6.4 km) on a flat surface, such as grass or dirt. They are divided into sprints and long-distance races, with short races generally known as “sprints” in the United States and as “routes” in Europe. Sprints require explosive acceleration and a quick turn of foot, while longer races are a test of stamina and endurance.
The sport is dominated by thoroughbreds, which are breed to be winners in races and have a natural propensity to run fast. However, a horse’s ability to run quickly is largely determined by its genetic makeup and training. The process of training a young horse to race requires harsh whipping and a lot of patience, as horses need to be conditioned to overcome their natural instincts to stop when they’re tired. Many of them are whipped so hard that their lower legs are permanently damaged, straining ligaments, tendons, and joints.
Moreover, many racehorses are doped with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask injuries, increase their speed, and enhance performance. For example, most racehorses are injected with Lasix, a diuretic that is indicated in the official racing form by a boldface “L.” The medication reduces bleeding caused by hard running by forcing the horse to excrete epic amounts of urine.
Other common medications include powerful painkillers, growth hormones, and blood doping. The drugs are used to conceal injuries and enhance the performance of a tired horse so it can compete with an otherwise healthy competitor. While racing officials often try to keep up with the use of new medications, they lag far behind the pharmaceutical industry in terms of testing capabilities and enforcement of penalties. This makes it easy for trainers to simply move to another jurisdiction if they are caught using illegal substances.