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This is the Dark, Cruel Underbelly of the Horse Racing Industry

This is the Dark, Cruel Underbelly of the Horse Racing Industry

Trainer Steve Asmussen is one of the most successful thoroughbred trainers in the horse racing industry, with 6,700 career wins and $214 million in purses to his credit. He knows how to get the very best performance out of the horses he trains.

The problem, according to a just-released undercover investigation, is the appalling things his staff reportedly does to ensure those victories. Horses that can barely stand are drugged, shocked and quite literally held together with superglue to make them run and win.

The tricks of the racing trade are cruel. If you love horses, those training techniques will nauseate you. In fact, they’ll make you cross the Kentucky Derby and all other horse races off your “must attend” bucket list forever.

Death and Heartbreak at the Racetrack

Every week, an average of 24 horses die at racetracks around the United States, according to a 2012 New York Times investigation. “These deaths often go unexamined, the bodies shipped to rendering plants and landfills rather than to pathologists who might have discovered why the horses broke down,” the newspaper reported.

In addition, a staggering 10,000 race horses limp off to slaughter each year when they become too incapacitated to run any more. Much as the thoroughbred industry would have us believe they love these horses, the statistics belie that claim. Race horses are money making machines. That’s it. That’s all.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) decided in 2013 to mount its own first-ever investigation from inside the industry. PETA sent an undercover representative to work in Asmussen’s stables in Churchill Downs, Ky., and Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for four months in the spring and summer of 2013.

Armed with a secret camera, the investigator captured over seven hours of damning footage. PETA shared its video evidence, plus a 258-page report containing notes, medical documentation and input from veterinarians, with the New York Times. Convinced, the newspaper broke the story on Mar. 19, causing an uproar in the horse racing world.

Watch the highlights in PETA’s undercover video here:

“We wanted to know exactly what happens to thoroughbreds in a top racing stable,” Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president for PETA, told the New York Times. “It was devastating to see sore, exhausted, drugged horses every single day. Some were in so much pain it hurt them even to stand, yet they were trained and run anyway.”

The Syringe is the Top Training Aid

According to PETA, racehorses “are given an aggressive, daily regimen of pain-masking drugs and treatments.” The practices PETA documented on video include these:

  • Administering thyroxine, a prescription-only hypothyroid drug, with the apparent intent to speed up horses’ metabolism.
  • Injecting a banned-in-Europe diuretic called Lasix into “basically all” Asmussen’s horses running in New York. Lasix is apparently a performance enhancer that can mask the presence of other drugs and dehydrate horses so they’ll drop weight and run faster.
  • Scarring on horses’ legs from the application of liquid nitrogen and other “blistering chemicals” apparently to get blood flowing to sore legs.
  • Administering a variety of drugs such as muscle relaxers and sedatives to horses which demonstrated none of the symptoms of the conditions requiring such treatment.

Injecting a horse's joint. Photo courtesy of PETA, taken from investigative video.

“We witnessed a horse so sore it hurt him even to stand, thyroid medication dumped into horses’ daily feed, and horses who had been blistered with chemical paint in a bizarre attempt to stimulate healing,” says PETA. ”Even at this top level of racing, the syringe is the top training aid, and if the horses get out alive, they’re broken.”

A Hoof Held Together With Superglue, Jockeys Shocking Horses with Buzzers

Consider the life led by Nehro, the second place finisher at the 2011 Kentucky Derby. As seen in PETA’s video, Nehro had significant problems with his feet. It was so bad, his hooves were breaking apart and had to be held together with a combination of filler and glue so he could run. According to the blacksmith in the video, “His foot is a little bitty nub.”

PETA also caught on video a conversation in which Asmussen trainer Scott Blasi referred to one of his jockeys as a “machine rider,” a term which means the jockey illegally uses a concealed buzzer to shock his mount into running faster.

This is the life of a racehorse. We imagine thoroughbreds live well and love to run, but the truth is far darker. Racehorses run and run, continuing to race well past the point when normal pain and injuries should stop them. They’re forced to race until they completely break down and nothing is left.

No one who loves horses would do something so wretched to these magnificent animals.

Leg burns from liquid nitrogen. Photo courtesy PETA, from investigative video.

Remember the cruel and painful “horse soring” practices committed against Tennessee Walking horses that investigators uncovered in 2012? No matter what type of racing is at issue, it can never bear close scrutiny without revealing tales of pain and torment.

For now, Asmussen’s name has been dropped from the Horse Racing Hall of Fame’s voting ballot. PETA has filed complaints against Asmussen and Blasi. The New York Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission are investigating.

There will be an Asmussen-trained horse in the 2014 Kentucky Derby, by the way. One wonders what that horse, Tapiture, has endured on the road to this monumentally popular race. It can’t be good.

The horse racing industry is not all mint juleps, gorgeous clothes and high society. It’s sadness, pain and death for some of the most beautiful creatures on Earth.

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Photo credit: Thinkstock

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126 comments

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4:55PM PDT on May 26, 2014

It breaks my heart to see how humans take advantage of the animals that are almost helpless, voiceless, weak and why humans use them and destroy them, this world is more cruel to them every day.

1:32PM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

Horse racing has always been, as horse showing, an ugly industry. Jockeys starving themselves or being killed or permanently disabled, horses being put down needlessly and/or being culled before they even have a life, and many more atrocities other than included in this video. If you've spent any time in the stables of a race track, you either get sick to your stomach or so jaded you're less than human, all so bookies and gamblers can make money. Just like dog fighting, it needs to end.

9:39PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

(cut off)...........Maybe the ASB people need to get involved with another breed, or better yet, with no animals, period. No offense meant to those involved with ASB's that do not resort to such practices, and there are many.

When my daughter was 11, and we had just gotten our first horse, I signed her up for riding lessons and it turned out to be at a TWH show/breeding/training stable. It was nationally recognized. I often wandered thru the barns and looking that the horses while she was getting her lesson. I had to ask what those weird "things" were on the horses' tails (they were tail SETS) and why the horses were standing on platforms (they had several thicknesses of pads between the shoes and the soles of their hooves. All the show horses were stalled like that, and never came out of their stalls except to be ridden INSIDE, in the arena. None of them could have been put out to pasture or taken on a trail ride. At the time, I didn't know how abusive that was.

9:35PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Yes, Rosemary, I remember them. The horses were "sored" by applying caustic substance on the pasterns (not the use of liquid nitrogen as stated in this ridiculously false article) and it burns the hair and skin, and then so-called "training aids" in the way of chains and heavy beaded "anklets" and straps are applied which cause tremendous pain to the horse. That results in the horse elevating it's front legs higher than naturally would be done (a horse will raise it's foot to avoid the pain) and that ends up being what they call "The BIGI LICK". It's an unnatural gait and one that the TWH's fans seem to like. They are born to do a "running walk", but not the "big lick". The beating and other cruel things have little purpose but frustrated and ignorant handlers taking their tempers out on innocent animals, and some under the stupid impression that a frightened or beaten horse shows "more ANIMATION". I've seen it personally with ASB's as well. They keep them at shows hidden behind heavy draped or blanketed stall fronts, in the dark. Then 30 seconds before they have to enter their class, they're taken out and fired up, sometimes with a trainer shooting them with a fire extinguisher. I'm not just repeating a rumor, I've seen it done at shows where MY breed of choice (the Arabian) was exhibited with ASB's and Morgan Horses. Arabians and Morgans are animated and spirited without having to be scared out of their wits. Maybe the ASB people need to get involved with another

3:17PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Diane, I've just thought of something. You remember those revolting videos of the abuse of Tennessee Walking horses. I know what the soring was supposed to do, but I never did grasp what they thought they could achieve by thrashing the horses, unless they wanted thoroughly bad-tempered horses.

3:12PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

Diane, that's interesting!

6:05AM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

horrible

9:28PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Rosemary, all horse shows that are sanctioned by USET (formerly AHSA) must have strict drug rules in place, a show vet on premises and random drug tests administered. It's mandatory that a show champion and another in a class be tested. One time (this was decades ago, BTW), my best friend at the time had 3 or 4 of her horses at a breed show and her stallion was shown at halter (amateur owner to handle) and she rode him in Western Pleasure as well. He took a 3rd place in his halter class and a 2nd in W/P and yes, got "random tested". He tested positive for cocaine! My friend had given him part of her Coca-Cola during the lunch break. He loved canned pop and she always shared hers with him. Nobody had thought a thing of it at the time.

12:33PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Oops "'My stallion horse "

How did that happen? I meant, of course, to say simply, 'my stallion'. It's not wrong; it just looks as though I don't know as much as I do.

12:30PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

@ Dianne D

"We need to go after and shut down horse and dog racing and horse, dog, cat and other animal shows."

I don't suppose you'll come back and read this, but, please! They are not all bad! I know about the horrors of showing Tennessee Walking Horses, because they are expected to move in an unnatural fashion, but what about horses who are expected to display natural action? I'm in a situation where I'm told a lot about 'dark' underhand skullduggery in the world of showing Shire Horses.

There's an exhibitor who said: 'My stallion horse lost that championship because XXXX... nobbled him. He did...

Guess what?


Keep guessing....


Keep guessing some more....


'He fed my horse a Mars bar!'

Yes, really. Chocolate is a stimulant for horses But do you think that horse was unhappy because he got to enjoy a Mars bar????

It just goes to show that showing and so on isn't always cruel.

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