Why horse racing is so dangerous

Photograph by Rob Carr, Getty

By Rachel Fobar

Why horse racing is so dangerous

Racehorses—like these, racing at the 2017 Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland—frequently die as a result of limb injuries.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published May 17, 2019. It has been updated.

Despite its popularity, horse racing is a dangerous sport for both horse and jockey. In the first four weeks of the race season, five horses have died at Santa Anita Park, a California racetrack, including three in as many days over Martin Luther King Day weekend.

In the U.S., 493 Thoroughbred racehorses died in 2018, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. (Data for 2019 have not been released yet.) From December 2018 to late January 2020, more than 40 of those deaths were at Santa Anita Park.

In fact, most of the horse deaths at Santa Anita Park in recent months were due to limb injuries.

Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, says the deaths may be because horse racing has become more competitive.

Horses aren’t getting the rest they need, especially in temperate places like southern California, where the animals race year-round, he says. ( Read how horses are evolving to be faster.)

“It’s hard to keep an athlete absolutely at the top of their fitness 12 months out of the year.”

The unprecedented spate of fatalities at Santa Anita has also placed renewed focus on the safety of the sport.

For instance, in March 2019, bipartisan U.S. lawmakers introduced a federal bill, the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019, that would create a uniform national standard for drug testing racehorses. The horse racing industry is currently regulated by states.

The Jockey Club, which works to improve Thoroughbred breeding and racing, supports the bill.

“It’s time we joined the rest of the world in putting in place the best measures to protect the health and safety of our equine athletes,” the organization said in a statement.

Deadly injuries

While a broken leg is easily treatable for humans, it’s often a death sentence for horses.

That’s because horses have so little soft tissue in their legs that the bone often tears through skin or cuts off circulation to the rest of the limb, leaving them prone to infection.

In some severe cases, the bone shatters, making it nearly impossible to reassemble. (Read how horses are smarter than we think.)

Even if the horse’s bone could be set, it wouldn’t be able to support weight for several weeks. If horses can’t distribute their weight relatively evenly, they risk laminitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of tissue inside the hoof.

In general, if a horse can’t stand on all four legs on its own, it won’t survive and will be euthanized, Arthur says.

And when a horse falls, its jockey is often hurt, too. A 2013 analysis of about five years of California horse racing data showed 184 jockey injuries from 360 reported falls.

A breathtaking race with one of Sweden’s best jockeys

Most of the falls occurred during races and were the result of a “catastrophic injury or sudden death of the horse,” the study found.

The drug controversy

Trainers have been accused of making an already risky situation worse by drugging horses with performance-enhancing substances or painkillers, animal welfare advocatessay.

Such drugs allow horses to run faster and power through the pain. For example, the drug furosemide, popularly known under the brand name Lasix, is a “performance-enhancing drug cloaked as a therapeutic medication,” according to a March report by the Jockey Club.

While it’s prescribed to treat bleeding in the lungs, the medication also causes urination and, consequently, weight loss. Lighter horses run faster, and Lasix has been shown to help horses run three to five lengths faster. The legality of each drug varies by state. (Read about the most detailed history of horse evolution ever assembled.)

While some animal activists feel such drugs should be banned, others in the horse racing industry believe better self-regulation is the answer.

To that end, the proposed horse racing legislation would establish an independent, self-regulatory body—affiliated with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency—to regulate racehorse medication, list which substances are and are not permitted, and ban medications within 24 hours of racing.

PUBLISHED January 21, 2020


Sign Petition: These Horses Made Their Owners Millions, Then They Sent Them to the Slaughterhouse

by: Care2 Team
recipient: Australian Department of Agriculture, Parliament of Australia

Sunny Fame, Only Money, Rapid Feet are the names of just some of the thoroughbred racehorses that have been killed in Australian slaughterhouses this year. These horses were once fierce competitors on the race track, but once their owners decided they have outlived their use, they were shipped out to slaughter.

The racehorses are then butchered for human consumption or turned into pet food.

This is happening, despite the practice being against the rules laid out by the sport’s regulatory body Racing NSW which states that all retired racehorses should be rehomed.

A recent expose has uncovered that these horses are being killed on a massive scale with one New South Wales abattoir killing 300 racehorses in just 22 days. The horses are not only dying but suffering. Undercover video shows that the thoroughbreds were teased, beaten and abused before ever being killed.

Perhaps what is most disturbing, is the fact the Racing NSW knew that it was going on for more than a year and did nothing.

The fact that possibly thousands of horses are being slaughtered per year, despite regulatory agency prohibitions proves that these self-imposed industry “slaughter bans” are toothless. Without real government legislation to ensure that racehorses aren’t sent to the knackery, racehorse owners and breeders have no real incentive to dispose of the horses the way they see fit.

The lack of federal regulations on killing racehorses means that Racing NSW’s rule will likely not protect thoroughbreds from being sent to the knackery. The only way to do so is for the federal government to pass a ban on the practice altogether.

Australia has a responsibility to protect its horses from abuse and murder. Currently, that is not happening. But we can change that. Please add your name to the list and ask the Australian government to ban the slaughter of racing horses.


Sign the Petition: Ban Chuck Wagon Races in Calvary



On July 14, 2019, three horses were euthanized after sustaining serious injuries during the final night of chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede’s Rangeland Derby. In total, six horses were killed—making this year’s 10-day event the deadliest in almost a decade.

Rodeos and rodeo-type activities, including bull riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, and chuckwagon racing, are exhibitions of animal cruelty that are sanctioned in the guise of competition. The animals used in these events suffer egregious psychological and physical traumas like broken limbs, cardiac arrest, crushed tracheas, and more.

The people involved in rodeos and rodeo-type activities suffer serious injuries as well. A study out of the University of Calgary found rodeo contestants are 20 times more likely to suffer catastrophic injuries than football players.

The Calgary Stampede has the opportunity to evolve and be a cruelty-free, family celebration sans animal exploitation. Last Chance for Animals vehemently condemns all rodeos and, with the latest conclusion to the Calgary Stampede resulting in the deaths of six horses, is calling for an end to this barbaric “sport”. LCA urges the City of Calgary to prohibit the use of animals in rodeos and rodeo-type activities like Rangeland Derby’s archaic chuckwagon races in the city of Calgary.


Feinstein Calls for Enhanced Safety Reviews at All California Horse Racing Tracks


Feinstein Calls for Enhanced Safety Reviews at All California Horse Racing Tracks
2-3 minutes

Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) this week sent letters to California Governor Gavin Newsom and the owners of the Del Mar and Los Alamitos horse racing tracks urging an expansion of the enhanced safety review the governor implemented at Santa Anita Park.

“The extra layer of review you established to examine each horse’s medical records and racing history is a prudent step to ensure racehorse safety. I urge you to implement it at racetracks throughout California for the remainder of the year,” Senator Feinstein wrote.

Full text of letter to Governor Newsom is below.

June 18, 2019

The Honorable Gavin Newsom
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814

Dear Governor Newsom,

I write in support of your agreement with The Stronach Group to require an enhanced safety review of horses before they race at Santa Anita Park. While this policy is currently limited to Santa Anita, I ask that you extend the protocol to all horse races and tracks in California for the remainder of 2019.

The 29 fatalities experienced at Santa Anita this year have brought into focus the danger horses face when competing at a high level. Statistics show that most horses who suffer a fatal injury while racing are found to have had a preexisting condition that may have contributed to their breakdown. We should pursue any reasonable measures to detect those preexisting conditions and prevent horses from racing when they are at-risk of catastrophic injury.

The extra layer of review you established to examine each horse’s medical records and racing history is a prudent step to ensure racehorse safety. I urge you to implement it at racetracks throughout California for the remainder of the year.


Dianne Feinstein
United State Senator


$225,000 Granted By ASPCA To Equine Rescue Groups To Rescue & Rehabilitate Retired Racehorses – World Animal News


December 14, 2018

This week, the ASPCA (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) announced that it has granted $225,000 to nine equine rescue groups to support their efforts to save and rehabilitate retired racehorses.

Launched in 2010, the ASPCA Rescuing Racers Initiative has awarded over $2 million dollars to prepare retired racehorses for new homes after their racing careers end.

“The ASPCA is dedicated to ensuring horses nationwide have good welfare, and through the Rescuing Racers Initiative we are able to provide much-needed grant funding to the many groups around the country that provide critical resources to former racehorses,” said Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President of Equine Welfare for the ASPCA in a statement. “While their racing careers may have ended, these retirees still have much to offer as they transition into new homes, and we are pleased to support the efforts of these groups as they rehabilitate and retrain these horses for life off the track.”
Selected recipients include a wide range of equine rescues, each being awarded a grant ranging from $10,000–$45,000 to support their work. Recipients of the 2018 ASPCA Rescuing Racers Initiative include:

CANTER, Michigan
Friends of Ferdinand, Indiana
Kentucky Equine Humane Center Inc., Kentucky
MidAtlantic Horse Rescue, Inc., Maryland
New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program, Kentucky and Ohio
ReRun Inc., New York
The Exceller Fund Inc., Kentucky
Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, Kentucky

The ASPCA Equine Welfare department is focused on ensuring that horses nationwide are protected, which includes working collaboratively with stakeholders in both the rescue community and equine industries to help at-risk horses safely transition to new careers and homes, increasing safety net support for horse owners, and enhancing anti-cruelty efforts. The ASPCA’s efforts to ensure that equines have good welfare also includes supporting humane legislation and advocacy, as well as field rescue and targeted equine grants. In 2017, the ASPCA awarded more than $750,000 in equine grants to assist 91 equine organizations across the country.



Petition · Minister for Finance : Stop grants of 64 million to the Horse and Greyhound Racing fund in 2017 · Change.org


Petition · Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom: Outlaw Horse Racing In California · Change.org


Urge ITV To Stop Broadcasting the Grand National | Take Action | PETA.org.uk – 1


Bucks County woman charged with rigging horse races by administering performance-enhancing drug | WPMT FOX43

HARRISBURG, Pa.– Attorney General Bruce L. Castor, Jr. today announced the arrest of a Bucks County woman following allegations that she rigged thoroughbred horse races by administering a performance-enhancing drug to horses.

Marian Vega, 25, was charged with one count of rigging a publicly exhibited contest following an investigation by the Office of Attorney General’s Organized Crime Section and Gaming Unit. The investigation followed an investigation by the state Horse Racing Commission.

According to a criminal complaint filed in support of the charge, Vega illegally administered the drug Clenbuterol to horses while she was employed at the Parx Casino and Racing venue in Bensalem, Bucks County.

“People expect that horse racing not be fixed,” Attorney General Castor said. “The evidence here shakes people’s confidence that equal horses compete on an ‘even running field’ in these events.”

According to the criminal complaint, the investigation showed Vega, a groom at the racing facility, clearly administered Clenbuterol beyond accepted guidelines. The drug is a controlled therapeutic medication prescribed to horses with respiratory disease, investigators said, but it has the effect of a performance-enhancing drug when administered outside the permissible guidelines.

Testing on multiple horses confirmed the presence of Clenbuterol outside the permissible guidelines, investigators alleged in the criminal complaint. It is further alleged that Vega was found in possession of a bottle containing the drug during this investigation.

Vega, of the 3100 block of Knights Road, Bensalem, was released from custody after her bail was set at $20,000 unsecured. A preliminary hearing is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 31.

Attorney General Castor thanked the state Horse Racing Commission and the state Department of Agriculture for their work on this investigation.

Vega will be prosecuted by Chief Deputy Attorney General Erik Olsen of the Office of Attorney General’s Organized Crime Section and Gaming Unit.

SOURCE: PA Attorney General’s Office

Don’t Allow Increased Whipping of Race Horses



California is planning on amending its current anti-whipping regulations to allow jockeys to whip their horses more. Horse racing is cruel and unnecessary; the least we can do is keep the whipping to a minimum. Demand California keep its current regulations.

Source: Don’t Allow Increased Whipping of Race Horses

Protect Race Horses From Mistreatment



Two horses died at a recent horse racing event. Fatalities are frequent in the horse racing industry, as owners often over-medicate their horses in the weeks before a race. Sign this petition to demand the establishment of national standards that will provide greater care for the welfare of horses in the racing industry.

Source: Protect Race Horses From Mistreatment

The Kentucky Derby Represents Animal Cruelty; Horseracing Kills Horses; 1,000 (Dead) Reasons Not to Bet or Watch Today

Horseracing Wrongs

My great challenge here is to get people – the American public, or at least a tipping-point section of it – to see through the distractions, the deceits – the lies. This, of course, is no easy task, for if nothing else Racing boasts a finely-tuned propaganda apparatus. How else to explain the fact that an industry that regularly (every day) maims and kills animals for $2 bets has been able to survive – even thrive at times – for 150 years? Masterful manipulation – “The Sport of Kings.”

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Today is Kentucky Derby Day, a day in which the racing ruse is at its most obscene. Bob Costas and NBC Sports. Mint juleps and loud hats. “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.” And all the while, the Racing people talk of the primacy of their “athletes.” We care (love, in fact), they say; our horses’ well-being shall not be…

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Ban the Cruel Grand National Horse Race

Four horses have died in the first two days of the Grand National horse race. Demand that this cruel event is banned immediately, along with horse racing in general.

Source: Ban the Cruel Grand National Horse Race

Ask Model to Stop Promoting Cruelty to Horses

A model who claims to be passionate about animal rights has recently signed on as a horse racing ambassador. Racing is a cruel industry where horses are whipped, drugged, abused and sent to slaughter. Urge this model to stop promoting cruelty to horses.

Source: Ask Model to Stop Promoting Cruelty to Horses


People Who Claim to Care About Horses Have Sold Them Out—Act Today! | Action Alerts | Actions | PETA

People Who Claim to Care About Horses Have Sold Them Out—Act Today! | Action Alerts | Actions | PETA.


James Cromwell: Horse Racing Is a Blood Sport | PETA.org

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_n5INKU-BacJames Cromwell: Horse Racing Is a Blood Sport | PETA.org.