Aptly dubbed ‘the sport of kings’ because of the kind of crowds horse racing galas are reputed to reel in; from ministers, celebrities, even the Queen, horse racing has been a long held tradition of many civilised cultures since before cars were invented. To this day, fans throng into horse racing events, the biggest including The Grand National and the Cheltenham Festivals held every year in the United Kingdom (more info about Cheltenham Festival UK 2017).
Epic scenes have been depicted on the screen of the same sport; perhaps the more notorious being that of Charlton Heston anti-climactic chariot race to the death in the popular classic Ben Hur.
Hollywood has managed to depict the mighty stallion in numerous battle scenes were either the rider or steed is involved in a horrific accident, much to the cringing delight of moviegoers. Soon after the popcorn is all gone and the theatres empty, the graphic images of supposed animal cruelty watered down by the disclaimer: ‘no animals were hurt during the making of this film’ are soon forgotten about.’
What You Didn’t Know
Well, in this article, we delve deeper into the world of real horse racing and handling as we try to peel back the glamour usually associated with the sport of pro horse racing. You’ll be quick to discover that Hollywood isn’t that far off in their sometimes bloody portrayals of just how grisly even fatal accidents can be both to the rider and more so, to the horse.
According to animal rights crusaders PETA, which stands for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an average of 25 race horses die weekly in the United States, where another perhaps very famous race happens every year: The Kentucky Derby in the US.
In the United Kingdom, however, where the sport is equally if not more famous, an unreported number of jockeys and their ponies suffer serious injuries, fractures, and even death. This is largely due to a hurdle on the track called ‘Beckers Brook’. Safety measures have been put in place to lessen the falls of the riders and injuries to the horses by the organisers but still…the carnage persists. But, this is not the main issue at hand.
Horses Are Not Treated As We Believe They Should
Rationally, some degree of injury is to be expected with the horse as with any other professional sport of this nature, so this only seems to lessen our gaze on the matter as merely ‘occupational hazards’ common in many events. However, the condition of the animals prior to and during these events is what is most upsetting to many animals (read: horse sports fans and animal rights organisations everywhere).
Many earth shattering investigations conducted by the already mentioned bodies, and eyewitness accounts from match days, reveal shocking truths as to how the animals are kept by their owners. There have been narrations of how the horses are drugged using performance enhancers, preferably steroids, before matches or in the stables before the grand races.
Banned Substances Are Still Used
Many of these natural enhancers are banned substances in this field and suspicions of the same could lead to disqualifications and penalties. But the owners of the animals are hearing none of this. Pain killers are administered to the steeds to make them impervious to or able to recover faster to the floggings and spurring these animals to receive on and off track. Maybe by way of example, we can look at one of the major drugs in Europe that is given to race horses and that drug is Lasix (banned in Europe).
Animals on this diuretic lose more weight through dehydration in order to run faster. The same is used to cover the doping case’s tracks in addition. With a sport that is known to involve high gambling stakes and a lot of pressure on the athletes, shortcuts are bound to be taken with little regard for the welfare and health of the horses.
Jockeys themselves do succumb to the many pressures that come with racing and many have been alleged to becoming involved in the use of alcohol, antidepressants (dealing with the loss of a horse) and other banned substances just to maintain an edge over the competition.
From the above study on race horses, it is clear that, to the owners and jockeys alike, it’s all about cold hard cash, which is sad because too many of the unsuspecting fans, racing is just one way of getting to see these majestic beasts in action, oblivious to what really happens behind the stables.