Written by: Heather Clemenceau
Beneath the facade, commercial horse racing subjects horses to catastrophic injuries and sudden deaths. Young thoroughbreds, standardbreds, and quarter horses die every week on racetracks from injuries sustained while training and racing. Remember Barbaro? He was euthanized at 3½ years old due to an injury he sustained at the Preakness. Eight Belles was euthanized at 2½ years old due to catastrophic breakdown after a second place win at the Kentucky Derby. And when Rachel Alexandra lost her last race she was shipped off to be a baby making machine. She suffered grave complications at the birth of her first foal.
The majority of racehorses will not survive past the age of 10 and only a small fraction will ever be “good enough” to race. Approximately 70% +/- of all racehorses are thought to end their lives in a slaughterhouse.
A new study was just published using 13 years of data from the Ontario Racing Commission Death Registry. The ORC database was implemented on January 1, 2003; owners, trainers and veterinarians were, from that point forward, required to notify the Commission within two days of the death of any racehorse (Thoroughbred. Quarter horse, or Standardbred) where the death occurred within 60 days of the horse having been entered or qualified to race in Ontario Canada. If the death occurs within 14 days of the horse having been entered or qualified, post-mortems are mandatory and may include gross pathological examination results, histopathology, parisitology, bacteriology, mycoplasmology, virgology, and toxicology.
Of the 963 horses in the database, a postmortem was carried out on 56% of those or approximately 539 horses (presumably those horses who died within 14 days of a race or during a race). Of these 539 horses:
68% died/were euthanized due to musculoskeletal injury (such as tendon or ligament injuries/broken legs/pelvic fractures/spinal cord injuries etc). This represents approximately 367 horses.
16% died suddenly due primarily to cardiopulmonary lesions (possibly cardiac failure/pulmonary failure/pulmonary haemorrhage/blood vessel rupture). Approximately 86 horses examined by post-mortem died spontaneously.
4% died following an injection (possibly IV injection/performance-enhancing compound/anaphalactic shock). Approximately 22 of the 539 horses were killed by an injection.
Of the 963 horses in the ORC database, post-mortems were not completed for about 424 of them, since presumably this was not a requirement by ORC rules. The cause-of-death is unknown, but they will not be forgotten.
The fact that these injuries and deaths occur are not surprising – the suffering of these and many other racehorses represents all that is detrimental to their welfare. Studies that break down the injuries and deaths are always useful for showing how healthy horses are pushed beyond their physical capabilities. Since the profit motive is priority, horses are drugged so they can race while injured and physically compromised. Naturally, these statistics do not include any horses who died or were euthanized outside of the 60 day window established by the ORC or were sent to slaughter at any point after their racing career ended. The database reflects the fact that the approximately 74 horses who died each year in Ontario alone were only those that were required to be reported to the ORC according to the regulations noted above.
The racing industry promotes false imagery of race horses retiring to lives of luxury as pets, well-cared-for riding horses, or studs. While some race horses find good homes, the vast majority are slaughtered for meat even though virtually all of them contain veterinary drug residues prohibited by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.