Horse racing aficionados often blow off the concerns of animal rights activists. But they cannot continue to create and profit from horses, watch them die on the track, and then not take responsibility for what happens to them afterward.
Benter’s mathematical model required his undivided attention, monitoring only a fraction of the infinite factors that affect a race-from wind speed to what a horse ate for breakfast.
The history of horse racing
Horse racing is one of the world’s oldest sports. Archaeological records of races between horses date back to early domestication of the animal, and the sport has evolved over centuries from a primitive contest of speed or stamina into today’s massively popular spectacle.
The first recorded horse races, involving both four-hitch chariot and mounted (bareback) races, were held in the thirty-third Olympiad of Greece, which ran from 664 to 700 B.C.E. Horses were connected to two-wheeled carts, and men acted as drivers or jockeys.
The modern form of horse racing began in the 12th Century when English knights returned home from the Crusades with Arab horses that were then bred with English mares to produce Thoroughbreds. Since then, the sport has expanded globally and is watched by millions of people around the world. Modern technology has improved the safety of the sport, with new equipment like thermal imaging cameras and MRI scanners helping to detect potential injuries or illnesses in runners before they cause serious problems.
Horse racing is one of the oldest sports in human history. It has evolved from a primitive contest of speed and stamina between two horses into a massive public-entertainment business. But the basic concept of the sport remains unchanged: The horse that finishes first is the winner.
Modern horse races are governed by state-based racing authorities and are legally sanctioned through offtrack betting parlors called bookmakers. Bets are made in a common pool known as the pari-mutuel, where all bettors share in the winnings minus a management fee.
Unfortunately, the industry still fails to recognize and address the many issues that threaten a horse’s well-being. For example, racehorses are often bred to have high turn-over rates, meaning that thousands of horses leave the industry each year—as foals, during their racing careers or when they retire. Horses that leave the industry often face a grim fate. Unless rescued by dedicated independent nonprofit organizations, they end up hemorrhaging into the slaughter pipeline.
Jockeys are highly skilled athletes who use their riding skills and understanding of horse racing to optimize a horse’s performance during the race. They communicate with trainers and owners to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each horse and plan race strategies accordingly. They also determine when to push the horse for maximum speed and when to conserve energy.
They must be able to balance the demands of this sport with a rigorous lifestyle that pairs intense exercise with a very low body fat percentage. As such, jockeys frequently reach close to their maximum physiological capacity during races and are at risk of falling off the horse. This is why many horse jockeys practice fall prevention techniques early in their careers. Jockeys use a whip during a race to encourage the horse on and to discourage it from slowing down or stopping. This is a controversial aspect of horse racing that some consider cruel to the horses.
The horse is the key component of any horse race. The sport requires immense physical effort from the horses and also huge skill from their jockeys who must ride them tactically to their strengths. The races that offer the biggest purses tend to be longer races such as the Grand National and these require more planning and tactical racing to win.
Currently, the horse racing industry largely governs itself in terms of animal welfare through state-based racing authorities. This self-regulation leaves gaps in monitoring and enforcement and allows significant welfare issues to continue undetected.
While racing has made some commendable improvements in recent years, it has been facing an existential crisis for a long time as it continues to lose fans, revenue and race days. Despite these efforts, racing is still exploiting young running horses and subjecting them to potentially fatal injuries and broken bones while thousands of other equine lives are sadly lost to slaughter.