The Ugly Misdeeds and Truths of Horse Racing
Last Updated on 2023-05-06 by Guy Taylor
First, before I continue this blog it is not an animal rights blog, this is purely a reflection on the realities and cruelties surrounding horse racing and the damages it does to the horses. Not only physiologically but psychologically too. It takes a lot of hard work and grit to retrain OTTBs because of what they have had to endure in the past, not only at the hands of their jockeys, both on and off the racetrack, but also at the mercy of their so called ‘trainers’, but also at the hands of their owners who are only in it, not for the welfare of their horse, or horses/racing stock but the fortunes that can be made within the realms of race horse stock.
But through a lot of patience and love a race horse can be successfully rehabilitated, all it needs is a chance, which it deserves.
It has been a popular misconception across the class divide for millennia, going as far back as Roman times that horses enjoy racing, many people even tend to use wild horse herds as an excuse to justify this increasingly barbaric so called sport, across the industry. In the UK alone, at the time of originally writing this piece, this year the industry had lost 80 horses, excluding the horses that lost their lives during training. That number has obviously shot up astronomically and can be viewed at the horse racing death register which can be read here.
This is proof alone that the entire industry itself does not know what it is doing and that their self-purported equine welfare does not exist.
My History With Horsemanship:
I am a natural horseman, I have never once attended a riding lesson, everything I learnt about riding I taught myself and everything I have learnt about horsemanship I have either learnt from the horses I have worked with or the horsemen and women I follow. So when it comes to working with horses, although I have a whole heap to still learn and catch up on, I think I am fairly aware of what I am doing and what I am talking about, with a burning fire to always learn more about pure horsemanship from the legends, more so in the sphere of Western Horsemanship.
I have, both at different times had two of my own horses, both of them which I was given. One thoroughbred named Ladies Man who was a four year old gelding so still growing who was green and from racing stock (but he thankfully never made it far enough to be pressed into that barbarism but had an incredible character). He was bay, around 15.3hh. I sadly had to re-home him before I could train him up. And then after him a Welsh Pony mix stallion, around 15.2hh so a fraction smaller than Ladies Man, an eight year old so still in his prime, dark bay and eloquently named Beauty. He was extremely powerful and stubborn but we worked well together and was a natural working cow horse, with incredible cow sense and could cut as well as any Quarter Horse I have ever watched cutting, I have no idea how that came to him as, as far as I am aware he was not trained as a working cow horse. I had to re-home him though because of work reasons.
I have however worked with numerous other peoples horses before I got him. Including a South African breed, a Bosikop called Ziggie who was a skewbald (paint), 16hh. He and I forged a great bond in the time we worked together. His previous owners before his new owner had mistreated him and I was going through a bad phase in my life at the same time so essentially, to cut a long story short we fixed each other. If there is any horse I would give anything to work with again it would be him. He was, without a shadow of a doubt the horse that changed everything for me and my approach to horsemanship. He taught me the value of truly bonding with a horse, building and restoring its hope, faith and trust.
- Ziggie and I in Zimbabwe during a trail ride in 2002. Though our time together was short it was without a doubt the turning point in my horsemanship journey.
Working With Horses:
When one is working with a horse you take note of everything and just as it takes note of our body language we take note of theirs. We take note of their reactions and we take note of how it reacts towards us. A horse is an inherently intelligent creature which is acutely aware of his or her surroundings. It takes note of the human or humans in proximity at the same time as focussing on the person it is with. A horse is aware of everything, including a fly landing on its back.
A horse from the racetrack, whether retired or rescued is however a very different story and whilst I personally do not have experience of working with ex-racehorses I know people who do, such as Mexican based American trainer who you can follow here, along with her two incredible ex-racehorses, Razz and Silver. The story of Razz, like that of any OTTB is a sad one but the bond between him and his partner is one that all of us horsemen and women hope to find.
One thing I have come to learn in the equine world is that although each horse is different, all ex-racehorses have one thing in common, they are all broken in some way, shape or form from the physiological, emotional and mental stress they have had to endure at the hands of their so called trainers and their jockeys who have little to no understanding of horses in their purest forms, either that or they do but all they are thinking about at the end of the day is their pay cheque, winnings and reputation, both on and off the track with next to zero consideration of the horses welfare.
Now, I know some people who say, they are just horses. No, they are not “just” horses, they are an extension of who we each seek to become. It is just the same as a dog is not just a dog, a cat is not just a cat. They are our friends, our partners, our family. So a horse is not just a horse and it just goes to show how those who say that have little to NO experience with any horse, not just a racehorse or an OTTB (off-the-track thoroughbred) but all horses, regardless of breed or background.
The relationship between a horse and a human can transcend any other, especially when bonds and mutual trust converge into one. Horses, like any animal are not meant to be broken or bent to our will which is what horse racing essentially does, in all its forms. Horses want to trust and like us want to hope which is how we meet halfway as we are both creatures with the same reactive spirits. We both have fight or flight instincts which is how we can meet halfway in building a bond with a horse. Horse racing essentially breaks all that away, it stamps on everything that a horse is, wants, needs and deserves. Which is a lot more than being broken and bent to human will, demand and control.
The racing industry likes to use how horses react as a herd in the wild to justify racing to find an argument to use on why horses like to race but that is very easily debunked. How do you debunk it? Easily, you let the horse tell you just how much he or she does not enjoy racing.
In all its essence in this case the relationship, or any potential relationship between horse and human flies out the window because the horse is broken inside. There are even some cases that I know of where the horse has been so broken that it was unfixable which all boils down to human will and complete disregard for their otherwise extremely loyal and trusting equine partners welfare.
Further Human Misconceptions:
Certain individuals, as well as groups and associations have long held the further misconception that when a horse is pulling and tugging at the reins that they want to be let loose, and that at the end of the race when they are still tugging on their reins that they want to keep going. This of course could not be further from the truth.
The truth is that horses are eager to please, they are in a hurry to get out of those gates at the start of the race because for one there is nothing worse than being stuck in a confined space, for which they are not designed; that and when they are constantly being cropped or whipped during the race that horse is going faster, not because he or she wants to go faster, he or she is trying to get away from that whip, which brings to light the flight aspect of their natural instincts.
Then there is the end of the race where the horse is saturated in sweat, pulling at the reins and mouthing at the bit. That horse is physiologically and mentally stressed, as well as exhausted, the horse is telling its jockey “no more”.
The fact that the entire industry loses so many horses is because horses are not designed for that stress, in both physiological and mental parameters. If you want to use the wild as an argument we will then turn that around, which is easy to do. If they love racing so much, how come there are far less injuries in the wild? It is an entirely unjustifiable argument and as I said to a friend of mine at the time of originally writing this, I know six year olds who can provide a much more adult response on why horse racing should NOT exist.
I have a friend in the United States who monitors herds of wild mustangs who can prove that that argument on horses is dreadfully flawed. Furthermore, how can one logically differentiate between a thoroughbred and a mustang in the wild? There is not one single thoroughbred that you will find naturally in the wild, for one the mustang is a lot more capable of dealing with the ruggedness of the wild than a thoroughbred would be. But not only the mustangs, what about the wild horse herds in the UK, all across the Americas, Canada included, as well as Mongolia and in various other places around the world? You cannot use thoroughbred’s as an example, it is illogical.
So bearing all this in mind, might it not be fairer in that case to just put the horse out of its misery? No, absolutely not, not even as a ‘last resort’. Last resorts are a human way when we give up and decide that there is no other choice, but there is. A race horse is often retired young and therefore has a shot at a decent life outside of the racing world, it could be retrained to become a show horse, a trail horse or indeed, as I have witnessed in Zimbabwe, horseback safari horse and like most horses once they have been given a second chance they will be eager and willing to please. No horse deserves to go to a horse slaughter house, or is so commonly known as a kill pen. They all deserve a second chance. Even if a horse is broken they deserve a chance and even though it could take anywhere from six weeks to eighteen months to retrain that horse to show him or her that we are not the enemy, that there is no way that they will ever be reintroduced to the racetrack and that they have a great shot as a long, healthy, friendly way of life.
The industry not only needs to become highly regulated but it needs to be entirely dismantled.
As a horseman, even with the limited amount of experience I have, compared to the likes of Chris Cox, Buck Brannaman etc I am fundamentally against this racing life and it, for the sakes of the horses cannot be allowed to carry on.
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