What the Kentucky Derby is Like for Horses

Editor’s note: This Care2 favorite was originally posted on April 20, 2015. Enjoy!

On Saturday, May 6, millions of people will watch as beautiful, strong creatures power through a track, with millions of dollars sitting on their success. We’re talking about the Kentucky Derby, an annual race that was founded in 1872 by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr. and is one of America’s long-standing traditions.

Last year, 15.3 million people watched the Kentucky Derby. While those may not be Super Bowl numbers, that’s still a lot of people for an event that doesn’t even have a halftime show or buzzed-about commercials.

Tradition is a strong part of this race. The Kentucky Derby has its own drink: the mint julep. The beverage consists of bourbon, mint and sugar syrup. It’s served cold and is served in a souvenir cup, which was first offered in 1939.

The event attracts the rich and famous. Celebrities show up in derby attire, which is talked about on entertainment blogs following the event. Women showcase their giant hats with dresses to compliment them, while men adorn bright pants and ties. The “elite” attendees sit in “Millionaire’s Row,” a set of box seats that show off an attendee’s status.

While the entire event, dubbed “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports,” is full of Southern tradition and glamour, the racing horses have an entirely different experience. They are celebrated by the public, but lead lives that are quite the opposite.

Most importantly, horses can’t consent to racing. They just have to do it. They can’t tell their handlers or their jockeys that they’re in pain, tired or just fed up with racing. That decision is in the hands of the people with the money and the people who want the money. If a horse has a lot of wins under its belt (or, um, saddle), it will be forced to race until it has a lot of losses under its belt.

A number of cruelty allegations plagued last year’s race. Leading up to the 2014 Kentucky Derby, PETA released undercover recordings that showed the dark side of the derby.

In its undercover investigation, PETA found injured horses being forced to race, horses being doped, even horses dying from the grueling training they are put through.

The average race horse competes for seven years, enduring grueling training, painful injuries and constant drugging. That’s if they don’t die from all of the above, first. But what happens after the horse either stops winning or is too old to race? The age these horses retire is only a fraction of their entire lifespans. With more than 60,000 horses competing on race tracks, a high number retire every year. High-profile winners are usually sought after once they retire, but that doesn’t account for the high number of horses that aren’t winners.

While there are some horses that are re-homed or given new “jobs,” per se, there are many more that face a gruesome fate. According to the ASPCA, more than 160,000 horses — including race horses — were sent to slaughter in 2013. But just because the United States has prohibited horse slaughter doesn’t mean these horses are safe. Markets in Europe and Asia value horse meat and will pay for the horses. According to Nancy Perry, senior vice president of ASPCA governmental relations, “It is well-documented that many racehorses end up at slaughter auctions within a week of their last race, despite the fact that many tracks across the country have policies opposing this practice.”

Luckily, most Americans are against horse slaughter. A 2012 ASPCA poll showed 80 percent of American voters are against horse slaughter.

So, what can we do to help these horses?

First, don’t support horse racing. Whether it’s a large event like the Kentucky Derby or a smaller racing facility, these kinds of operations are bad news for the horses.

There are a number of horse rescue groups out there that need your support. They need donations and support in order to continue their work.

Telling others the facts about horse racing is just as important as supporting these worthwhile rescue missions. Many people don’t realize how cruel horse racing actually. Use your voice to stand up for horses and spread the word.

Photo Credit: roderickeime

156 comments

Telica R
Telica R1 months ago

Thanks for sharing

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Marie W
Marie W2 months ago

Thanks for posting.

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Melania P
Melania P4 months ago

Shame on the people who go to these places and bet!

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Margie F
Margie F7 months ago

Sad

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william Miller
william M7 months ago

thanks

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Brett C
Brett C7 months ago

Ty

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Brett C
Brett C7 months ago

Ty

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Philippa P
Philippa P7 months ago

Thanks.

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Clare O
Clare O7 months ago

If nobody needed horses there would be very few horses. Please remember what happened to horses when the automobile came into popularity. All those millions of vanished horses did not retire to sanctuaries. Nor were more horses bred to replace them.

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Clare O
Clare O7 months ago

No different to mustangs except these horses have had an expensively trained life.

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