Behind the romanticized façade of thoroughbred horse racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter. Three die or are killed after suffering catastrophic injuries during races on tracks across America every single day. This does not include the horses who break down during warm-ups or who die from illnesses caused by overwork, travel and stress.
According to a study published in the Journal of Animal Science in 2010, more than 100,000 unwanted horses are born in the U.S. per year, and approximately 21 percent of these are thoroughbreds. An estimated 10,000 are cast off by the racing industry when they fail to turn a profit and are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico every year. Thousands more are abandoned, neglected and abused. Despite this the racing industry continues to churn out nearly 30,000 thoroughbred foals each year.
Horses are started training often before they even reach the chronological age of two. They have not completed their growth, but that doesn’t stop the money-making machine that racing is from starting them in speed training under saddle to bring the best possible prices at the two-year-old auctions. If the horse is good enough to put in a few good showings, they are often pulled from the track and put into a lifetime of breeding. Once they are in the breeding pool, mares are kept bred for as many years as they can sustain life, often being kept bred and with a suckling foal until they wear out. The stallions are sometimes kept in stalls, usually given very little turnout and usually no riding. All they are used for is breeding, often covering up to 100 mares a season, with often very little care for their personal health or happiness. When breeding horses are no longer wanted in the U.S. they are often sent to auction to be slaughtered. The most fortunate ones are adopted by rescues or have trainers and owner who care enough to help them find homes as the athletes they are, jumping, endurance racing, dressage, even barrel racing. Some find retirement homes where they can do light trail riding, easy lessons for beginners, or just pasture time ‘letting a horse be a horse’.