Horse racing is a sport that involves horses racing for the best time around a track. These races can be run on turf, sand, or synthetic materials and are conducted in different regions of the world. The winning horse is awarded a prize called a purse.
The earliest known horse race dates back to the Greek Olympic Games in 700 B.C. Riders participated in four-hitched chariot races and mounted bareback races. Eventually the sport spread to China, Persia, Arabia, and other parts of Asia.
Many horses are trained and raced before they reach peak physical condition, putting them at risk for injuries such as cracked leg bones or hooves. Injuries can also result in permanent lameness.
Horses are sometimes given illegal drugs to increase their performance and mask pain. They also are often pushed to their limits, resulting in exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) and other serious medical conditions.
Several high-profile horse race scandals have emerged in recent years, and there are now calls for more stringent safety measures in the industry. Some of the more extreme issues include the practice of drugging horses, poor management of equine health, and the sale of lame, injured horses to new owners.
Ownership turnover in the industry is rampant, and many Thoroughbreds are bought or “claimed” multiple times during their careers. One 2011 study revealed that over 2,000 Thoroughbreds were bought and sold in claiming races.
Injuries and poor management of equine health are also widespread in the industry, with a number of veterinarians exiting the industry after seeing trainers over-medicate and train their horses, which eventually break down or die from euthanasia or in a slaughterhouse.
The AVMA has issued a policy condemning unregulated horse racing because of threats to animal health and welfare, including infectious diseases, the administration of illegal substances, and abusive practices. Some horse tracks are not regulated by state or federal agencies, and some are not even licensed.
Increasingly, the racing industry has been impacted by technological advances, such as thermal imaging cameras that can detect when a horse is overheating post-race, MRI scanners and X-rays that can identify injuries and conditions before they deteriorate, and 3D printing that can create casts, splints, and prosthetics for injured or ailing horses. The industry is also undergoing an extensive overhaul in terms of race safety, with the establishment of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.
Technology has also changed the way racers are treated, with many now subject to mandatory drug testing and strict penalties for egregious violations of rules. This is all good news for horses, as it means that they will be safer in the long run.
In addition, many racing tracks have invested in state-of-the-art security equipment to prevent the unauthorized entrance of horses and riders into the track, as well as monitor their movements and activity. In addition, many tracks are now using equine ultrasound devices to help identify possible medical problems, and some are even testing the blood of horses before racing.