The Kentucky Derby is this weekend, kicking off another potential Triple Crown run in the horse racing world, and millions of people who otherwise have no interest in horse racing will make an effort to watch dozens of horses gallop around a dirt track because huge amounts of money are at stake.
While the event, which has been dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” is full of glamour, race horses in general have an entirely different experience, especially the ones that don’t make it to the Derby, Preakness or Belmont. While the horses in these races are treated like celebrities by an adoring public for a few weeks, most race horses are leading lives that are far from glamorous.
Although technically banned in the United States, there have been many documented instances of unwanted race horses, the ones who don’t win and who aren’t celebrated on Derby Day—who are being shipped to other countries that have not outlawed slaughter. Each year with more than 60,000 horses competing on race tracks annually, there are a lot of “losers” who are forced to “retire” every year at a fraction of their entire lifespan. The Unwanted Horse Coalition estimates that there are 170,000 unwanted horses in the United States annually.
The average race horse competes for seven years, enduring grueling training, painful injuries and constant drugging. That’s if they don’t die from all of the above, first.
Since profits are the priority, not animal welfare, horses are drugged so they can race even when injured. A New York Times article listed the most common ways used to enhance a race horse’s performance: bronchodilators to widen air passages, hormones to increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells, cone snail or cobra venom injected into a horse’s joints to ease pain and stiffness, and a “milkshake” of baking soda, sugar, and electrolytes delivered through a tube in the horse’s nose to increase carbon dioxide in the horse’s bloodstream and lessen lactic-acid buildup, warding off fatigue.
Even the celebrated race horses, such as American Pharoah, who won the Triple Crown last year for the first time since 1978, aren’t free from greed and exploitation after their days on the race track are through. The New York Times recently reported that American Pharoah, is still being exploited by his owners to haul in massive amounts of money, $600,000 a day or $30 million annually, by breeding him for five months of the year.
So what can you do to make a difference? Telling others to stop attending horse races is just as important as supporting worthwhile rescue organizations. Many people don’t think about the thousands of horses who don’t compete in the Kentucky Derby and where they end up! Use your voice to stand up for horses and spread the word.