The Darker Side of Horse Racing

Horse races are a fascinating spectacle that is well worth watching. The speed and skill of the riders, combined with the beautiful horses, make for a great show. But there is a darker side to the sport that many would like to see addressed. The high rate of animal deaths, particularly the infamous cases of Eight Belles and Medina Spirit, has raised questions about the ethics of horse racing. These incidents have also turned off new would-be fans who are concerned about safety and doping scandals.

The rise of horse races began in the 1740s, with growing colonial wealth attracting better breeding stock and English bloodlines. By the 1830s horse racing was a nationwide sensation and generated more interest than a presidential election. Races pitted Northern champions against Southern ones, and some of the events drew crowds in excess of 100,000 people.

As the sport gained popularity, its profitability grew as well. The development of pari-mutuel betting in the mid-20th century and color televised races helped boost audience numbers and turnover. But a lack of transparency regarding equine drugs and injuries remains a hurdle that prevents the sport from broadening its customer base.

Horses are subjected to rigorous medical and physical examinations prior to each race. This ensures that they are healthy enough to run, but it is impossible to completely eliminate the risk of injury. Horses are vulnerable to the same kinds of injuries that humans suffer, including fractures and ligament damage. They may also develop a condition known as laryngeal hemiplegia, which causes a whistling sound during exercise due to a paralysis of the muscles that elevate the arytenoid cartilages in the larynx. The resulting airway obstruction can be life-threatening.

In addition to veterinary exams, horses undergo extensive training before they are allowed to run. Some trainers use tools such as whips and tongue-ties, which are widely considered inhumane. Other equipment used to coerce horses into running, such as jiggers, delivers electric shocks that can cause pain and long-term distress. The use of jiggers is illegal in most horse racing jurisdictions, although some jockeys and trainers continue to use them.

Scholars have studied the effect of strategic news coverage on public cynicism toward politics, and have found that reports that frame elections as a competitive game discourage voters. This is especially true for young people, who often have limited experience with the democratic process and are therefore more prone to mistrust political elites. Similarly, research on horse race reporting shows that it encourages voters to skip races with a high chance of their candidate losing. This may lead to a decline in turnout, which ultimately undermines democracy.