Horse racing is a sport where horses compete against one another for prize money. It is a popular spectator sport with significant economic impact and the industry contributes $15 billion to the United States economy today. However, what is not commonly known about horse races is that they involve a high level of risk to the lives of both the horses and riders. Horses are forced to sprint – often under the threat of whips – at speeds so high that they sustain injuries and often have to be destroyed (27,33,34). Additionally, the physical stress of the sport causes many riders to fall off horses resulting in serious injuries (30,35).
Despite the glamorous facade of horse races, behind the scenes is a world of drugs, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Moreover, the industry continues to ignore the legitimate concerns of animal rights activists and broader society about the welfare of the animals.
The first recorded race was held in 1674 and consisted of two horses competing over a quarter mile distance. The name of the sport came from this distance, and it was called a “quarter race.” Since then, the sport has expanded globally. Today there are over 150 racing venues worldwide with the three major American events – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes – making up the Triple Crown series of elite horse races.
While some people have bet on individual racehorses, the majority of bets are placed on horse races as a whole and on the first three finishers of the race (win, place, show). In early races, wagers were private bets, but betting evolved into what is now known as pari-mutuel, where bettors share a common pool of total bets minus management fees.
Flat horse races are the most common type of horse race. They are run over a variety of distances between 440 yards and four miles, although races longer than two miles are rare. Individual flat races are categorized as either sprints or routes, with sprints being viewed as a test of speed and route races being seen as a test of stamina.
During a race, the horse is guided by a jockey wearing a helmet and a saddle on top of its back. The jockey controls the speed and direction of the horse by shifting his or her weight around on the saddle and applying pressure to the reins. The horses are also ridden with spurs that are used to motivate the animal and to push it into a speedy sprint at the beginning of the race.
In addition to these techniques, the horse is aided by other training methods. For example, pacers are trained to run using a “pacing gait” in which the front and back legs on each side move forward at the same time. They are also trained to wear hobbles, which are straps connecting the horse’s front and back legs to prevent them from breaking stride or losing momentum during a race.