How to Make Horse Racing More Ethical and Integral

Horse races are equestrian sporting events in which horses compete in a field of runners while humans perch on their backs and compel them onward with a whip. The first such event, the King’s Plate, was held in 1751; it was open to six-year-old horses competing in four-mile heats carrying 168 pounds each. By the 18th century, the sport had expanded to include races for four- and five-year-olds. By then the race rules were standardized, and eligibility was determined by age, sex, birthplace, and previous performance.

While improved medical treatment and technological advances have helped mitigate the plight of the horse, the truth remains that racing is a dangerous sport for the animal. One study estimates that 3 thoroughbreds die each day in North America due to injuries sustained in competition. The majority of these injuries occur in the final furlongs of a race; the last quarter of a mile is especially difficult for horses, who are already exhausted from exerting themselves at breakneck speed.

As we approach this year’s Derby in the wake of a death that, like Eight Belles’, nobody missed, the sport should be forced to reckon with its ethics and integrity. It should begin by addressing its lack of an adequately funded industry-sponsored wraparound aftercare solution for all horses leaving the track. This is a must, because ex-racehorses hemorrhage into the slaughter pipeline after their retirement. Many wind up in Canada or Mexico, where they’re often shipped without warning to a rendering plant, where they’re forced to fight for their lives against vicious wild animals that want to eat them. Those that don’t die at the facility will often be bailed out with a Facebook post or offered a few days to “go home” with a loving family, but for the most part, they’re doomed to a horrific end.

The best way to make racing more ethical is to focus on the welfare of its equine athletes. This means a complete overhaul of the status quo for medicating horses, one that invites federal oversight, and a serious reform of training methods.

The only other thing that could save horse racing is an influx of new, young fans, who’ve been turned off by scandals related to doping and safety. But the industry can only lure them in if it starts putting horses’ rights at its core.