Society for the Advancement of Animal Wellbeing

- Protecting Animals and Conserving the Environment

Horse racing

Horses are social animals that like to be among other horses, in the wild they will travel in herds and learn culture and behaviors from one another. They have very distinct personalities, moods and attitudes. Since the beginning of humanity, in all continents from the Americas and Europe to Asia, the sturdy horse has been helping man.

In early times before the industrial age horses were the main form of transport, from knights, cowboys to horse drawn carriages. Horses were also essential in agriculture to plough the fields so that crops could be planted, use of their manure as fertilizer and their use to subsequently deliver farmed goods to the market. Horses even made it possible for people to send messages and mail. In deed if it were not for this beautiful creature the world would undoubtedly be a very different place today.

Horses are also very intelligent. They have brains roughly the same size as humans with a highly developed and convoluted cerebral cortex. The hippocampus which is part of the cortex, is responsible for intelligence, memory and other functions. In recent years there has been a flurry of research on equine intelligence. Leading the way in this field is Dr. Evelyn Hanggi founder of the Equine Research Foundation in Aptos, California, USA. Dr. Hanggi a specialist in animal behavior says “Most recently, and unexpected by many, Equine Research Foundation horses have solved advanced cognitive challenges involving categorization learning and some degree of concept formation.”

Breeding race horses

Horse racing is portrayed today as a “sport of kings” for the fashionable. A lot of effort is put in to covering up the true face of the industry. Dr. Holly Cheever, an award winning veterinary surgeon and expert on animal abuse prevention noted “cruelty is an inherent part of the horse racing industry.”

We will now reveal the torment and torture of these elegant animals whose sole purpose is to generate a profit for his her owners, whether it be an individual or a syndicate.

Race horses are thoroughbreds that have been genetically manipulated to run as fast as possible. The manipulation first starts out on “stud farms” where the mares or mothering horses are kept constantly pregnant; in fact 90% of their time is spent in pregnancy where as in nature the mare will maybe give birth to a single foal every 2 years or so. Usually horses give birth in spring as this will give the foal the greatest chance of survival as there is abundant grass and the weather is warmer. However breeders often manipulate the mares’ natural cycle to give birth in the winter so that they can get the young horse ready for racing sooner and thus maximize profits.  To change the mares reproductive clock she is pumped full of drugs known as prostaglandins, the environment in which they live is also tampered, the light is left on longer to mimic longer days and the temperature is raised, this is very confusing and disorientating for the mares.

Next she is then forcefully impregnated by a stallion or is artificially inseminated. Once the foals are born they are ripped away from their mothers to be raised as race horses. The mare will then be made pregnant again this will continue until the mare can no longer reproduce, the same is for the stallion, at which point they will be sold to a knackery where they will be slaughtered and then minced up in to pet food whilst the bones will be used to make glue.

The dark corner of the horse racing industry - Nurse mares

The racehorse foals then have to be nursed but with no mother how can they get milk? The answer lies in a very dark corner of the horse raising industry. “Nurse mares” are horses that are used to produce milk for valuable or thoroughbred racehorses.

In order to be able to produce milk the female horses must be made pregnant and give birth so that they can lactate and provide milk for the more valuable horses. The nurse mare’s own baby can not be provided with milk as its mother is now feeding a racehorse, so instead the new born nurse mare foal will be brutally killed.

As it is illegal to send ponies under 6 months old to the slaughterhouse instead they will be killed on site by smashing in their heads with a heavy wooden or metal club. Alternatively they are just left in the field to starve to death.

The baby is then skinned and its leather is used to make high end fashion items such as purses and shoes. In some countries the baby ponies are skinned alive as it is believed to make its flesh more tender. The meat is subsequently sold for human consumption. The treatment of nurse mare foals is analogous to those of veal calves produced by the dairy industry.  (please visit our section on the dairy industry)

Training and racing

Each year in countries all around the world hundreds of thousands of foals are produced for the horse racing industry, of those only 30 to 40% will ever get to race.

Many are killed at a young age as they are deemed not suitable for racing or they may have genetic defects or other disorders. Some of the animals are used to replace breeding stock or are sold to other shows such as circuses or rodeos.  

The foals that make it through the vetting procedure will be subject to rigorous, harmful and damaging training methods. At just one and a half years old, whilst their body and skeletal system are still growing, these young horses will be pushed to the limits of their capacity and made to run as fast as they can carry heavy back-breaking loads.

Due to economic reasons there is a strong incentive to get the horses running on the track and competing in races as soon as possible. Currently there is a trend to have horses racing as young as 2 years old when they are still growing and are physically immature, this hugely increases the risk of injury.

Most of the time, for 22 hours of the day, the horses are kept isolated in stalls that are barely big enough to turn around in. This is done to make them more susceptible to human training and to reduce management and upkeep costs. This constant confinement is extremely stressful to these free and social creatures. Many of these animals start to exhibit neurotic behavior such as swaying from side to side, walking in circles and chewing on railings.

During training, fractures and broken bones are far too common. Veterinary costs and a need to get the horse to race means that the horse will be sent for slaughter if they can not run soon.

The rest of the horses are made to run all year round on hard tracks at speeds of 30 to 40 miles per hour. Typically weighing a thousand pounds and running at such high speeds on ankles not much bigger than those of humans is a disaster waiting to happen. As result many horses suffer fatal injuries on race tracks around the world, from broken legs and pelvises to torn tendon and heart attacks or worse.

In the UK alone more than 400 horses die on the track each year and in the US the number is double this. Many other horses incur other small injuries such as chipped pones or stiff knees are common. A lot of horses also suffer from an excruciating condition known as “shin soreness”; even one slight touch to the shin brings the horse down to its knees in pain. However a horse that is not out running is considered unprofitable and so it is pumped full of painkillers and with fear and violence is forced to run.

Painkillers administered include Bute or morphine. Horses are also given other drugs to improve there performance including steroids such as Winstrol.

They may also be given amphetamine derivatives or hormones to increase red blood cell count and therefore oxygenation of the blood. Some horses are injected with bronchodilators to open up the airways so the horses can breathe better and therefore have more energy.

One particularly inhumane method for making horses win competitions is called “milk-shaking”, this is when a combination of baking soda, electrolytes and sugar if forced through a tube that is inserted via the nose in to the animals stomach. This is done to prevent lactic acid build-up and therefore decrease fatigue so that horse can run further and quicker. However many deaths have occurred with milk-shaking as the tube and liquid is sometimes accidentally pushed in to the lungs thus causing the horse to suffocate and drown.

In some cases a device was placed under the horse’s skin to discharge an electric shock when it starts to lag behind.

But the most vicious and overt method employed to make the steed run faster is the use of the whip by the jockey to hit the horse. A horse may be whipped up to 30 times in a single race causing both physical and psychological pain and it also increases the chance of injury.

Horse communicator and equestrian advisor to the Queen of England Mr. Monty Roberts stated “it is a fact that whips have been involved in 86% of racing accidents.”

Other common ailments of race horses include bleeding of the lungs or pulmonary bleeding this is caused by excessive vigorous exercise.

 When a horse runs thousands of kilos of force are directed through the animals legs which rattle the chest walls and causes bleeding of the lung tissue this is also the cause of other ankle and limb injuries. More than 90% of all race horses have blood in their lungs and 2% of all horses bleed from the nostrils after completing a race. This is often covered up with the use of more drugs such as Lasix.

Thousand of different types of drugs are pumped in to these horses just to keep them running, no regard is given for their health which quickly deteriorates as the medicines just mask the symptoms instead of healing the problems.

Nearly all racehorses suffer from agonizing stomach ulcers, this is caused by both stress and poor diet. In the wild horses will spend 70% of their time grazing and so their stomach constantly produces digestive acid, but racehorses only eat at specified times, this leads to excess acid and excruciating stomach ulcers. Additionally their high protein and low fiber diet makes the condition much worse.

Transport and slaughter

All racehorses whether injured on the track or even if they are successful, eventually they will outlive their usefulness and profitability and will be sold to an auction or sale yard. From here either knackeries or slaughterhouses will purchase the horses.

The knackeries will kill the horse to turn them in to dog food. However the horses killed at slaughterhouses are carved up for human consumption. First the horses are crammed into trucks that are normally used for cattle, these containers have low roofs and so the horses have to duck their heads, this is a very unstable position and causes them to fall and sustain numerous painful and debilitating injuries.

Often these poor creatures have to be transported long distances through all kinds of climatic conditions, usually they are not provided with water, food or veterinary care as they will soon be killed and the buyers do not want to spend money on their care. They are subsequently dragged or whipped to get them off the trucks.

Depending on the country and the standards of the facility a variety of gruesome and cruel slaughter methods may be used. In some places a riffle will be used to shoot the horse in the face just as if it were an execution. This may be done in full view of the other horses.

In Mexico the horse is stabbed several times in the back of the neck with a “puntilla knife” to sever the spinal cord and paralyze the sentient being. The horse is still fully conscious as it is hauled up by its hind legs and has its neck slit open. Many of the horses die before being hung up as their lungs fail. Other slaughterhouses use a pneumatic gun to fire a bolt in to the head of the horse to stun it before it is hung upside down and is bled out.

Often the stunning is inefficient and the animals regain awareness before having their arms and legs hacked off. The horse meat is then exported to countries like Italy, France or Japan where this meat is commonly consumed. In Japan it is eaten raw and is called “sakura sashimi” or it may be used to make re-constituted ham.


The only way to stop such cruelty is to not support it, by not betting on horses or attending horse races, you can make a difference. Also you can inform your friends and family of the true treatment of horses behind the façade of glamour at the track.

Furthermore, do not consume or purchase any product containing horse meat, in fact there are numerous delicious and healthy vegan alternatives for any meat that we consume from veggie bacon to faux fish or tofurkey, so please try an alternative plant based meal that is good for you and the planet.

To find out what else you can do please visit the How You Can Help section or read more the animal issues.

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