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Is Horse Racing Inhumane?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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The answer to this question is rather complex, as both sides of the argument about horse racing have thoughtful, passionate arguments. Whether or not horse racing is inhumane depends on many factors, including the type of racing under discussion, the horse, and one's own beliefs about cruelty to animals. Ultimately, it is a decision people have to make for themselves, although a growing number of reformers pushing for changes in the horse racing industry seem to suggest that some aspects of racing certainly are inhumane.

In some senses, horse racing could be considered very humane. A champion horse is an extremely valuable property, and trainers, owners, and staff will go to great measures to keep the horse comfortable, settled, and happy. The best horses get regular equine massage, affectionate contact with human beings, and a chance to compete with other horses; since these animals are naturally competitive, once could argue that horse racing does not force animals into a particularly unnatural state.

When a champion horse is finished racing, the horse is usually retired to stud, or turned into a broodmare. Horses used for breeding are also very well treated, out of a desire to ensure that they bear healthy, rugged, strong young, and they are often in fact quite pampered. At all times, the horses receive regular veterinary care and constant attention from dedicated staffers.

However, the pampered life of a champion is not available to all horses, and the further down the food chain of the racing industry one goes, the more gruesome this sport can become. Horses with little value are treated more like commodities than living creatures, and they may be brutally run into the ground before being sold for slaughter after they outlive their usefulness. These horses may suffer from a variety of untreated health complaints, and they may also be drugged, beaten, or surgically altered in an attempt to enhance performance, making their existence rather unpleasant.

This sport can also be brutal for mid-range horses which do not make it into the ranks of the champions. A single devastating injury can end the career of a racehorse, putting its fate into question, and of the vast numbers horses sold each year in yearling auctions, only a fraction make it into prestigious races. The rest tend to change hands frequently, typically moving further and further down the food chain at each step.

Horse racing is also rife with many of the issues which plague human sports, including drug abuse, over training, and financial shenanigans, much to the disappointment of people who are involved in the sport out of a love for horses, rather than money. People who wish to see reforms in the racing industry have pushed for more frequent inspections and firmer laws at all levels, from prestigious tracks to county fairs. Many advocates also work in the background to find good homes for injured racehorses, and to show people that ex-track horses can be rehabilitated and used in a variety of equestrian sports.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Sports n' Hobbies researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon983793 — On Jan 02, 2015

I would like to mention that if horse racing is to end that millions of horses would be homeless as their owners would no longer be able to afford them. Most horse shelters are already over run with horses that are without owners. Most of these race horse would end up in a meat plant as they would have no where else to go.

I'm a horse lover and have seen and worked at race tracks. There are owners who don't care about their horses, but I have met many who do love their horses and take good care of them, and even look for homes for them when their racing days are done.

By anon927199 — On Jan 22, 2014

It is incredibly unlikely that horse racing will be banned completely in the next few years. However, it is cruel in many cases. From the beginning of their lives, most are subjected to small, cramped living spaces, excessive training, use of painful tools to increase their racing speed, and very little health treatment. They are bred to have giant frames and thin ankles that break very easily, and the mares are forced to repeat a cycle of irregular pregnancy.

Even if the racehorse manages to win many races, it is unlikely a painless life will await. Other racehorses are discarded at young ages due to injuries left untreated from racing, or the fact that they simply can't run and obey as well as the owners think they should. Then, they are sent off, perhaps to be dumped by the side of a road, or to a pet food factory. No matter what choice they take, the ending will be the same. Saving one racehorse or bringing awareness is helpful, at least, but the business will not stop.

By anon335809 — On May 23, 2013

Personally, I know that it will never happen (there are too many rich people involved), but I want to see horse racing stop completely. It is unfair to the horses, who do not have a say whether they have to endure excruciating pain while the owners only care about how much their horse is going to earn for them.

I personally say that the owners should be put through exactly the same as the horse so they understand what it is like to be raced to death. Or, the owners should be forced to race with horses on their backs. It is unfair that the horses are run into the ground because their owners want to earn a pittance.

By anon299179 — On Oct 24, 2012

I agree very much with what has been said here. Justifying horse racing by saying that they are treated well since they are 'prized'/expensive is absurd to me. Then what about those that aren't champions? What has become of them? Discarded because they are deemed unworthy.

For those that excel on the race track, they are so called "treated well", but they are stabled for most of the day and alone. People would not think it is OK to keep a dog in a cage alone even if it has daily walks. Why is it OK to do to the same to horses? Shame on any "animal lovers" who defend the horse racing industry. All I can say is, they're not true animal lovers.

By anon175565 — On May 13, 2011

I am a 15 year old horse lover. my mom has trained horses but never violently. i do not believe in hurting an animal. i think the idiots who race horses should have to go through the same exact pain that any race horse has to go through, but we all know that will never happen.

i would love to see all slaughter houses and glue factories shut down. i think it is an outrage to have to see race horses injured and in pain. they don't want to race; they would rather be put out to a big green pasture and have owners that know what they're doing.

I'm with the rest of you who have posted. how can anyone be so cruel to an animal who has been tamed from our ancestors and have the kindest, most loyal hearts? everyone says horses are the beasts but really we corrupt human beings are the true beasts.

I have owned horses since i was two and i have not found one yet that would hurt me intentionally, so as much as i would like to say about this subject, i don't think i will finish because it breaks my heart to see all those beautiful creatures being destroyed by ignorant people who have no heart for horses. so i leave you few caring people out there with my words. --the horse loving cowgirl b-bow

By anon172005 — On May 02, 2011

i am a kid horse lover doing research on if horse racing is inhumane. i believe that it may not hurt some horses, but for others it can be a short, torturous life. Humans should make more laws on the welfare of race horses. Stop animal cruelty!

By anon167115 — On Apr 11, 2011

"When a champion horse is finished racing, the horse is usually retired to stud, or turned into a broodmare" And what about the horses that aren't champions? They're turned into dog food.

By anon105540 — On Aug 21, 2010

Obviously, there should be more inspections and rules for horse racing. How can any caring human being whip a horse to win a race when that horse is too young or in pain in some way? Humans seem to be using anything they can for money.

Torturing an animal to win a race is just not acceptable. It's no different than people running slaughter houses, who torture the animals even before killing them. Or factory farmers who torture animals so they can make more money. All animals feel pain and anxiety, and we humans have to stop terrorizing and start feeling compassion.

We have become the animal terrorists of the world. --pzpf

By anon53050 — On Nov 18, 2009

yes, some horses are born to run but not at the age that racehorses are broken, and they should have a much longer life than they do. why not do cross country or show jumping? aghh i hate people who bet on horses. don't they realize that they are just selfish and the amount of pain horses go through?

By anon31420 — On May 05, 2009

I believe this article makes people out to be the "good guys" when in essence they are the *reason* these horses live in pain. The bottom of the article shows the *true* horse racing mentality of people involved.

Horse racing has been going on for many years and unfortunately I know it will never be stopped. I believe there should be some association or general laws over horse races. For every race the laws and regulations are different. They need to have one single board or list of rules for all horse races that are in the best interest of the *horse*, not the rich people who don't know what else to do with their money.

By anon19462 — On Oct 13, 2008

It would appear from what is written here that horse racing itself is good for horses since they are born to run, the problems mentioned are all with humans and not horses, then again there are always problems with anything Humans are involved with. So the answer to the question is a loud no.

If the intent is to make note of human cruelty the question should be rewritten to something like How many humans involved is the Horse Racing business indulge themselves in animal cruelty and how much of that is rooted in greed and the lust for money?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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