Horse races have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. They weren’t just used for pulling buggies or coaches; they were also used as warhorses and, to prove their steeds’ superiority, warriors pitted them against each other in races. Today, horses are still used as race steeds, but they’re also an important part of our lives. The sport of horse racing has evolved from primitive contests of speed and stamina into an enormous entertainment business, attracting hordes of avid fans and offering huge sums in prize money for those lucky enough to finish first.
But behind the curtain, there’s a dark side to horse racing that has been uncovered by investigative journalism and a series of scandals involving animal cruelty, safety, and doping. The industry’s deep-rooted, often sexist culture, combined with the fact that horses have a very limited capacity to communicate and can be severely injured by the blows of humans perched on their backs, means that many animals are pushed beyond their limits.
In some cases, horses are even forced to run when they’re sick or have injuries that prevent them from competing normally. And, while trainers have a responsibility to ensure that their horses are healthy and sound, they often use cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask pain and artificially boost performance.
Despite this, there are a number of ways in which horse racing has developed to improve the welfare of the animals and to protect it from abuse. Some of the most significant changes have come about through technological advances with thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners and X-rays helping to spot health issues before they become more serious, and 3D printing technology providing casts, splints, and prosthetics for injured horses.
Another major change has been the rise of female jockeys. However, the sport’s entrenched culture has yet to fully embrace diversity. As a result, women continue to be disproportionately represented in low-wage positions.
In addition, most races are now handicapped, meaning that the weights that horses carry are adjusted depending on their age and other factors. For example, a two-year-old competes with less weight than a three-year-old, and fillies are given allowances or even extra weight penalties. This system aims to create fairer and more competitive racing. However, it has been criticized by animal rights groups as an attempt to manipulate the odds in order to profit from betting on the sport.