Up on the Soapbox: The Racing Industry

Every May, I get jazzed up about the Kentucky Derby. I watch it religiously every year, and for myself and my family, it’s the equivalent of the Super Bowl. Bets are placed, smack is talked, and we all pine for the day when we will get to Churchill Downs to watch it in person.


But there is an ugly truth behind thoroughbred racing. The truth behind the mint juleps and the colorful silks and big hats. It’s an industry that celebrates speed over durability, and money over morals. (Yes, that may be a sweeping generalization, my bad). The stunning equine athletes that we love to root for in their 2 minutes of fame are victims to these truths, as thoroughbred breeders care more about their pocketbooks than the integrity of the breed. Eight Belles and Barbaro were just two of these victims.


The horses that often make it to the big races look like greyhounds- long, sleek, and standing on spindly legs. Gone is the bone you see in the racehorses of yesteryear, the strong legs to carry them the distance needed to compete in the Triple Crown. I will never forget seeing Big Brown come onto the track. He looked like a winner, a lion amongst cats, but even he was unsuccessful, this time to the practice of trading medication for soundness.


Big Brown

For some racehorses, if they are lucky, they will be too slow to race competitively and after a few starts (or none) be ‘retired’ to live happy lives as sport horses in various other disciplines. Thank goodness the adoption of ex-racers has become popular, and that the burgeoning OTTB community is there to promote these athletes in their new homes. Those individuals are to be applauded for taking the time to rehabilitate those animals, and invest their time, money, and effort into making them successful again. Because the not so lucky ones will end their careers as a bad statistic, a brilliant flash of talent that their bodies could not keep up with.

So as much as I love watching the Triple Crown every year, a part of me hates it. For 2 minutes, I force myself to tune out what I know about breeding and everything else about horses. I try to enjoy this traditional American pastime as any other non-equestrian views it, with a mint julep in my hand, and a bet in the back of my mind.

If you are interested in reading more about bloodlines and soundness in thoroughbred racing, read here

8 thoughts on “Up on the Soapbox: The Racing Industry

  1. a business model that considers horses disposable products that should be replaced when they are three years old when they can live to be thirty is going to produce more horses that can be cared for. In this model, money is made from stud fees, mare and foal care, and prepping young horses. Purses and prices peak at three-year old futurities. When there is no significant money to be made competing and drugs can no longer disguise their physical and mental injuries, these horses and any ‘excess’ stock are ‘discarded’, meaning sent to slaughter, and the cycle starts over.

    This alone is bad news, not just for horses but for all reputable trainers, owners, and breeders whose efforts are marginalized. Why spend time and money training a horse properly or buying a well-trained one when you are going to kill it in a few months any way? The disposable horse paradigm is bad for the horse business. A start towards shifting it would be larger purses for older horses, lesser purses for younger ones, and banning breeders, owners, and trainers that send their animals to slaughter from both competing and registering horses….

    from my blog:

  2. I have mixed feelings on it as well, especially because I own an OTTB (with 0 starts). I don’t think I’d be upset if they banned horse racing in the US… I predict it’l happen in our lifetime.

  3. Very real post…

    I have owned 3 OTTB’s.Two came from the same trainer- a honest and hard working man who would pay to feed and care for the horses till he could find them a new home because the owners were done with them. Henry came from a very wealthy lady who breeds but makes sure that her horses go to good homes after racing.

    I know that isn’t the norm for OTTB’s… sadly.

    I almost pretend racing doesn’t exist because the few times that I have watched it, I feel a pit in my stomach waiting for something bad to happen. I prefer to go drool over the horses, picking the ones i’d like to take home 🙂

  4. I fall into the same trap. I do enjoy watching a good race, but when I remember everything that goes on behind the scenes it breaks my heart to think of the horses and what will happen to them.

  5. Ai, I agree. While on one hand I love the races, on the other hand I hate it as well- I really think they need to change the minimum racing age to like 4. That would really force breeders/owners/trainers to think more about the horses as a long-term investment, instead of just a 2-4 year gig.

    My horse was too little so they never sent him to the track, although my owner said she thought about it. (Then again, she’s never sent any of her babies to the track, so idk how true that is ha! She has ‘rescued’ OTTBs who are unsound for riding due to injuries not necessarily caused by genetics to breed. I’m not sure I agree with that, either, but somehow I got a pretty amazing horse out of it so I’m just going to take it. She does take really good care of her horses, so I give her that). But at 5, he is just now starting to finish growing. It’s SO unhealthy to have these horses racing at 2. They’re just babies!!!

    But at the same time, I know people say eventing is a cruel sport etc. etc. I try to pretend it’s not, because we go that extra mile to take care of horses, try to take things slow, etc., but I still know accidents happen and people are out there making horses who shouldn’t be jumping, jump, and horses who hate their job do it, moving up too fast through the levels etc. etc. (But I will say, I have found more people that do truly care for their horse’s welfare in eventing than just about any discipline I’ve participated in)

    • I agree! I definitely try to take a slow approach to training babies by waiting until they are physically and mentally mature before learning new skills- jumping especially can be just as hard on their bodies as galloping, if not harder!

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