Comment: There is no way around it: horse racing is immoral

Recent stories, including in the Times Union, about the massive subsidy of the US horse racing industry have laid bare the economic unsustainability of racing in the 21st century. Lost in all this money talk, however, is the giant moral elephant in the room: How can we, a supposedly evolved society, continue to justify the abuse and killing of horses in the name of entertainment and, worse yet, , for bets of $2?

Horseracing Wrongs has documented more than 8,000 deaths on US tracks since 2014. We estimate that more than 2,000 horses are killed racing or training across the United States each year. That’s an average of nearly six each day. Aortic rupture, pulmonary hemorrhage, blunt force head trauma, broken necks, severed spines, torn ligaments, shattered legs. In addition, hundreds more die at their posts.

Worse yet, two separate studies indicate that each year, between 10,000 and 15,000 worn-out or simply unwanted racehorses are bled to death and mercilessly slaughtered (killed, that is) at the end of the “race.”

In New York, since 2009, when the state began publishing data, more than 1,600 horses have perished at the 11 commercial racetracks (this figure does not take into account deaths at private training facilities). Saratoga Race Course, maybe the crown jewel of American racing, averaging nearly 15 kills per summer; Belmont Park, the site of the third leg of the Triple Crown, can boast more than 100 deaths in the last two years, easily among the highest totals in the nation.

The murder, however, is only part of the story. There is also the daily cruelty:

Would-be racehorses are torn forever from their mothers and herds when they are mere babies. Sold, usually at the tender age of one, then broken, an industry term meaning to become docile and submissive, alone and terrified, they begin their servitude.

The typical horse does not reach full musculoskeletal maturity until around six years of age. The typical racehorse is pushed into intensive training at 18 months and races at two. On the maturation chart, a two-year-old horse is the rough equivalent of a six-year-old. Time and time again in our reports, we see four, three and even two-year-old horses dying from chronic conditions like osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease, clear evidence of the relentless beating these young bodies are forced to absorb.

Racehorses are kept locked up, alone, in tiny 12 by 12 stalls for more than 23 hours a day, a cruelty all the worse for being inflicted on naturally social herd animals like horses. In a 2019 State Senate hearing, prominent equine veterinarian Dr. Kraig Kulikowski compared this cruelty to keeping a child locked in a closet for more than 23 hours a day. Virtually all of the horse’s natural instincts and desires are thwarted, creating emotional and mental suffering that manifests with crystal clarity in the stereotypes commonly seen in confined racehorses: grating, sucking wind, swaying, weaving, walking, digging. , even self-mutilation.

Racehorses are controlled and subjugated through, among other means, collars, nose/lip chains, tongue ties, blinders, mouths and, of course, whips. Very public flogging administered to racehorses would land a person in jail if done to his dog in the park. But on the track, it’s just part of the tradition.

By law, racehorses are literal chattels: pieces of property to be bought, sold, traded, and disposed of when and how their people decide. In fact, the average racehorse will change hands several times during its supposed career, adding anxiety and stress to an already anxious and stressful existence that leaves most racehorses with ulcers.

As far as how the animals are treated, horse racing is no better than dog racing, if not worse for the kill. But while dog racing is all but dead — by the end of this year, only two tracks will remain in the entire country, and dog racing is outright banned on moral grounds in 41 states — horse racing persists under the umbrella of the sport (in fact, the “Sport of Kings”). Please don’t let this brilliant but misleading marketing cloud your better judgment. If it looks like animal cruelty, sounds like animal cruelty, and feels like animal cruelty, then that is exactly what it is.

Patrick Battuello of Albany is the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs,