Horse Racing: Breeding for Trouble

What’s more, in North America these young horses are unnaturally supported with the use of drugs – forbidden in other countries of the world – that mask skeletal weaknesses and other biologically inbred deficiencies. In effect these horses are allowed to achieve artificial success and then are ushered into the breeding shed to pass on these flaws to future generations of expensive progeny.

“This gradual softening and weakening of the breed has led to the use of more medications to keep these horses running sound, among them the corticosteroids injected into injured knees and ankles. The cortisone reduces inflammation and allows horses to run pain-free on the damaged limbs or joints, a dangerous practice, if done repeatedly, because it can lead to a more serious injury and to the much-feared catastrophic breakdown.

“When I started going to races in the 1950s, I hardly ever saw a fatal breakdown on the Chicago dirt tracks; but when I started covering the sport in 1972, in New York, I began seeing numerous breakdowns during a race meet, sometimes two or three a week. One veterinarian told me that this was no accident, that this was the time period when cortisone began to get widespread use on U.S. racetracks, the first signal to me that drugs were a culprit in the sudden increase in catastrophic breakdowns.” – William Nack

“Medication is a symptom,” Parker said. “They need medication because they’re not sound to begin with. Why else would you give it to a horse?” – Ellen Parker

On the Brink of Extinction?

If the racing industry intends to remain solvent, how far will they go to achieve this goal at the expense of the very creature that it is dependent on? Or is it beyond repair?

The “Sport of Kings” is in desperate need of a major overhaul especially in terms of the safety and humane treatment of the Thoroughbred. One wonders why the breeding industry seems oblivious to this component until one realizes what drives it – MONEY!

Sadly these economic forces take precedence over the welfare of the horse. Poor judgment and irrational breeding practices over the past 5 decades or so has finally taken its toll. With the formation of syndications, over-booking of fashionable stallions and shuttling between the Northern and Southern hemispheres, the industry has all but destroyed its life blood.

If this ceaseless inbreeding is allowed to continue will the average horse only race once then be discarded or retired to the breeding shed? And what about those who don’t make the grade – the redundant? What is crucial in reviving the breed is the need for out-crossing to regain the diversity once present. Unfortunately this would require the Jockey Club stud books to “open” to allow these sturdier horses in.

As Ellen Parker says:

. . . . “that ain’t gonna happen. Breeders are stuck with what is in there now. The Jockey Club sees itself as a guardian at the gate, protecting the purity of the breed from the mongrel hordes, the Quarter-Horses and Standardbreds and all the other hybrids who eat grass. Intruders are not welcome. Post no bills, Tonto. Take a hike. The door is closed.”

There are many lessons to be learned about what has taken place since the commercialization of the horse racing industry. However most importantly one must first and foremost think of the horses and the harm that has been cast upon them as a result of greed, desire for short-term gain and dearth of reliable breeding knowledge.

Eight Belles headstone at Churchill Downs by Vivian Grant.
Eight Belles headstone at Churchill Downs where she is buried. Photo by Vivian Grant.

“Which brings us to the bottom line: Thinking outside the box and doing the right thing takes courage and a willingness to ride out the storm. Taking short cuts has all but ruined this wondrous creature born of desert sires and mares who carried knights into battle.

“The breed has not evolved, it has devolved. Those who care about more than the sale price of their yearlings had better get moving because by the time you are ready, there will be nothing left to use . . . . we are nearly there now.

“What I had foreseen twenty-four years ago is happening every day before my eyes and I do not care for the landscape. I do not know what to say to people who ask me how I can support such a sport, how I as a horse lover can even watch it anymore. It is getting harder and harder to find answers to those questions.” – Ellen Parker

© Int’l Fund for Horses

Full Document with Sources, Pdf, 10 pp

4 thoughts on “Horse Racing: Breeding for Trouble”

  1. i agree Suzanne, i was watching when this horrible tragedy happened i will never forget Eight Belles , this kind of disaster makes my blood run cold, this one could have been avoided… run mares against , geldings or stallions should never be allowed in the first place a mare will run herself to death just to beat a stallion…………… This is fact and all thew trainers know it……………………….. Rest in Peace Beautiful Eight Belles………..


  2. This is not only heartbreaking, it is infuriating – just like so many other things that are happening to our horses. And, sadly, I haven’t a clue as to what to do about it.

    As long as the God Mammon is worshiped to the exclusion of everything else by those who control the futures of our breeds, things can only get worse. I have NEVER watched horse races for fear of what I might see. It’s bad enough to read about it and see pictures. To watch it happen… I can’t stand it.

    Things like this make me ashamed to be a human.


  3. I had never seen this actual picture before, how very very tragic. I remember Robby Albarado saying, at the time, it was the worst thing he had seen in horse racing. And I believe he was right. RIP Beautiful EIGHT BELLES. You will NOT BE FORGOTTEN.


    1. The pictures of the horses that gave their lives for the sport of racing are some of the most heart-wrenching of the many atrocities that are committed against the horse.

      Of course slaughter is ultimately the worst.

      Why does this continue to happen? It is the lowest of low that we have cast upon the noble and ever-trusting animal that the horse is and has been since the dawn of time.

      Too painful to think about, at least for me.


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