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Photo Credit: Animal Aid

Horse racing industry pushes animals to the edge, often ending in euthanasia. (Op-Ed)

Horse racing is a sport with eager, willing participants, but none of those participants are the horses themselves. These animals are treated like profitable material goods, not as living, breathing creatures with hearts and souls. “Wastage” is the term used for horses that do not fit the rigid criteria and do not perform well, and they are culled in response. Both foals and adults that never make it to the racetrack are thrown away like trash, as are older horses that can no longer compete. An ABC 730 investigation found that the industry engages in widespread slaughter despite their “commitment” to animal welfare. Current racehorses face the threat of catastrophic injuries, such as broken necks and legs, which results in emergency euthanasia.

Racehorses are also struck with whips in an effort to make them run faster and compete better, but these whips cause the animal pain. While there are rules in place for what kinds of whips can be used and how many times a horse can be struck, these rules pale in comparison to the trauma inflicted on the animal.

Horses are incredibly social animals, yet competitive racehorses are often kept in close confinement, which leads to anxiety and stress. Horses under duress engage in stereotypical behaviors such as crib-biting (repetitive oral behavior where the horse sucks in a large amount of air), and weaving (a repetitive behavior where the horse sways on its forelegs, shifting its weight back and forth). These signs are visible in behavior, yet no changes have been made to improve the quality of life and conditions for these animals. Isolation and constant abuse make horses have emotional issues that manifest in health problems.

Mental health problems are also an issue. Yes, horses can have depression. A study in the PLOS ONE Non-profit Journal found that working horses can have “’depression’ correspond[ing] to a multifaceted syndrome: apathy and loss of interest, lower reactivity but higher anxiety. These horses surprisingly displayed higher emotional responses when facing a challenging situation (novel object in a familiar environment), suggesting, as in depressive humans, a higher level of anxiety. Such emotional reactions have been shown to be influenced by genetic (breed, sire) and environmental (type of work, management) factors in horses, with high interindividual differences in all horse populations tested.” Racehorses are especially susceptible to depression; they exhibit withdrawn behaviors such as a lack of interest, lower cortisol levels, and the refusal to eat.

These beautiful, majestic animals should be respected and loved whether or not they compete effectively in a sport made for human enjoyment. Horse racing results in pain, agony, and eventually death.

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