A horse race is an event in which humans perch on horses’ backs and compel them, using whips, to sprint at breakneck speeds. It’s an unnatural act, and it’s not even remotely safe for the horses. Behind the romanticized facade of horse racing lies a world of injuries, drugs, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter. It’s time for racing to decide if it’s willing to take the complicated, expensive and untraditional steps required to actually protect horses—steps such as a profound ideological reckoning at both the macro business and industry levels, and within the hearts of horsemen and women.
The most common form of horse race is a match race, in which two or more horses compete against each other. The earliest recorded matches were wagers based on a simple formula: the owner who won the race would provide the prize money, or purse. Agreements were recorded by disinterested third parties, who became known as keepers of the match book. Eventually, owners agreed to place bets with each other directly, but this didn’t occur often. Generally, bettors placed their bets with a syndicate of owners and were guaranteed a certain percentage of the total bets placed on a particular race.
After the emergence of modern thoroughbred racing, races began to be classified according to their prize money and other factors such as sex, age, training, and track conditions. One of the most important categories is handicap races, in which each horse is assigned a weight to carry during the race. The weights are adjusted based on the horses’ age, sex, birthplace, and previous performance, among other things, with the objective of making all the horses in the field as equal as possible to each other.
While Thoroughbred horse races are the most common type of horse race, there are also steeplechase and polo matches, as well as other forms of racing such as endurance or show jumping. The sport has a long and distinguished history, with records of horse races found in ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, Babylon, Syria, Egypt, and elsewhere. It is also a major part of myth and legend, as evidenced by the contest between Odin’s steed Hrungnir and the giant Helgi in Norse mythology.
Despite the fact that there are many different types of horse races, all of them have some similarities. Horses are usually trained to perform a specific job, which they must do over and over again. This can be extremely stressful for the animal, and it is not uncommon for them to experience a traumatic breakdown or to die from their injuries. Moreover, many horses are slaughtered after they stop racing because their owners do not have the resources to care for them properly once they retire from the sport.