Why Do We Kill Injured Racehorses Instead of Rehabilitating Them?

The deaths of 21 racehorses at Santa Anita Park have many people wondering why all those injured horses were euthanized. Unfortunately, this is a sad reality in the horse-racing industry. The lives of injured horses—especially those that suffer catastrophic leg injuries like many did at Santa Anita—are rarely spared. Here are some of the reasons why.

Broken Horse Legs Aren’t Like Broken Human Legs

So that racehorses can run faster, they’ve been bred to have very light legs compared to their 1,000-pound bodies, with ankles that are human-sized. When we break a leg, the bone doesn’t necessarily shatter. Due to their top-heavy physiques, that’s often what happens with injured racehorses.

Horses Don’t Handle Surgery Well, and It’s Difficult to Recuperate

Horses “tend to be disoriented when coming out of anesthesia, and they may fight casts or slings, possibly causing further injury,” notes The Horse Fund, an advocacy group dedicated to equine protection.

For their bones to heal properly after surgery, horses must remain very still for weeks. “They get pressure sores if they’re lying down all the time, things that are difficult to manage in people, let alone in a (1,110-pound) horse,” Jenny Hall, an equine veterinary surgeon, told The Guardian in 2011.

Like elderly people recovering from broken hips, horses would also be more susceptible to pneumonia. “When you’re lying in your wrong position, the fluids that accumulate in the lung don’t get cleared so well and that’s the point of infection,” Tim Morris, former director of equine science and welfare for the British Horseracing Authority, told The Guardian.

Horses are sometimes placed in slings as they recuperate, but this can lead to sores and internal issues because, Morris explained, “to take a meaningful amount of the horse’s weight, you’re then compressing its intestinal tract and everything.”

Recuperating Horses are Susceptible to Painful Laminitis

One of the deadliest possible complications for a horse recovering from a broken leg is when the crippling, incurable hoof condition called laminitis develops in the other three legs. This happens when the fibrous tissue that attaches the hoof to the horse’s leg becomes detached.

Instead of the horse’s weight being equally distributed among its four hooves, the recuperating horse “gives a third extra force to the remaining hooves and that comes under pressure,” Morris told The Guardian.

Surgery and Treatment for Broken Bones Can Be Very Costly

Because of the expense of treating injuries and the fact that the horse won’t ever be able to race again, most owners opt to have their injured racehorses euthanized.

One of the most famous exceptions in recent years was Barbaro, who won the Kentucky Derby in May 2006 and then fractured his right hind leg in over 20 places during the Preakness two weeks later. Instead of being euthanized on the spot, Barbaro was taken to the New Bolton Center at the University of Pennsylvania and underwent surgery.

Two months later, Barbaro developed laminitis in his right rear hoof and underwent several more surgeries. After he developed laminitis in his front hooves, he was euthanized in January 2007. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association then established the Barbaro Memorial Fund, which supported research to find a cure for laminitis.

New Medical Advances Could Mean Fewer Euthanized Horses

Among the advances in medicine that could help save the lives of injured horses are “better anesthetics, better pain relief, better technology to hoist horses, stronger implants, better understanding of bone biology and how it heals, better diagnosis,” Morris told The Guardian.

Partial amputation and prostheses can be an alternative to euthanasia in some cases, a 2010 study found. However, the researchers said the horse must use a sling while recovering from the amputation and must be able to adjust to the loss of the limb as well as constant treatment and handling by caregivers.

Most importantly, to prevent catastrophic injuries from ever happening in the first place, some veterinarians say there should be MRI scanners near every track. If vets scanned all horses before racing, we could reduce fatalities “to absolutely nothing,” Dr. Sheila Lyons, who founded the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, told the Washington Post in 2016.

Take Action

Safer racetracks could also mean fewer euthanized horses. After the 21st horse died at Santa Anita Park, officials said the track would be closed “indefinitely.” Please sign and share this petition urging the City of Arcadia and LA County to close this racetrack permanently.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo credit: clarencealford


vanessa w
Inez w6 days ago

Horse, 'Dream Alliance' owned by a town in Wales...
Now that horse had an injury and at the racecourse the vets were preparing to shoot the horse when the owners ran across and said 'oh hell no!'
The horse was raised on a allotment built on an old slag-heap in Cefn Fforest, a former mining village in south Wales.
Rather than giving up on him, the syndicate insisted that he be given the best care even if he could not race again.
Around £20,000 was spent on revolutionary stem cell treatment – which swallowed up his previous prize money – but he duly returned to the track. Just after Christmas in 2009 Dream Alliance won the Welsh Grand National at Chepstow by three-quarters of a length at 20-1.

So why do horses get shot? The long and short of it is nothing to do with above, it is all about money! These elite trainers and owners would rather cut their losses than invest and care.
Dream Alliance proved this!

Derek N
Derek N7 days ago

Ban ALL horse racing permanently - it is barbaric, cruel and sadistic!

Barbara S
Barbara S7 days ago


Mona P
Mona Pietsch9 days ago

Petition signed

Marija M
Marija M10 days ago

I agree with Ruth G. - so very sad killing horses...money again???

Renata Kovacs
Renata Kovacs11 days ago

Thank you for sharing..

Renata Kovacs
Renata Kovacs11 days ago

sad really Horses Not have much of choice They are made to race for money,
Then Not of use when hurt,,

Michael F
Michael F11 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

Leo Custer
Leo C11 days ago

Thank you for posting!