Pain at the Starting Gate for Horses... Dogs... Pigs... (a synopsis)
An Animal Rights Article from


The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
June 2014

Regardless of where the horses, dogs, pigs, or other animals are forced to race, animal racing is nothing more than an inherently cruel industry that focuses on huge sums of money for the winners—the human winners that is. Little attention is given to the inhumane treatment of the participants—the nonhuman animals. The animals are commercial products, nothing more. Their lives, their health, and their safety are put in jeopardy for the gain of a few dollars upwards of millions of dollars.

Winners and Losers

For all the famous races we have ever heard of—Kentucky Derby, Preakness, etc.—there are thousands of smaller races taking place every day somewhere in this country. Horse racing, often referred to as the “sport of kings,” can take place at Churchill Downs or at small-town race tracks at the edge of town. Regardless of where the horses, dogs, pigs, or other animals are forced to race, animal racing is nothing more than an inherently cruel industry that focuses on huge sums of money for the winners—the human winners that is. Little attention is given to the inhumane treatment of the participants—the nonhuman animals. The animals are commercial products, nothing more. Their lives, their health, and their safety are put in jeopardy for the gain of a few dollars upwards of millions of dollars.

To produce at least one “winner,” many animals have to be born. What happens to the “surplus”—those not suited to racing? Many are killed outright as infants; others are sent to slaughterhouses or research laboratories, where they are eventually killed once they are no longer useful to researchers. Since horses and dogs do not race more than a few years before they are “retired” from the track, what happens to these animals? Some are sent to stud, while others are sent to research laboratories, slaughterhouses, or auctions. Some are just shot in the head.

Racing horses and dogs are often started on the track before their skeletal system has finished growing. Therefore, they can be subjected to injuries due to the stress on their system, which cannot take the repetitive pounding racing requires of its athletes. Those who are seriously injured are rarely treated. They become surplus and are thus disposed. Even those with minor injuries rarely get the time they need to heal but are fed pain killers sufficient to allow them to continue racing through their injuries.

Horse Racing

Thoroughbred racing is a multi-billion dollar business. These lean, sleek horses, however, are only valuable if they are able to race. If a horse is too old (old being over three years often), or has had minor injuries that keep him or her off the track, the horse is rarely treated to even the most basic of veterinary care or to a comfortable retirement. A money machine, as these horses are viewed, that has thrown a cog is thrown out. They are sold at auction and shipped for hundreds of miles on land and sea, often without food, water, or basic care in crowded conditions reminiscent of slave ships, before their lives are ended in foreign slaughterhouses, usually in Japan, Canada, and Mexico.

Others are sold from owner to owner and wind up in increasingly worse situations. People like the glamorous idea of owning a race horse but soon realize the costs involved can be prohibitive—as much as $50,000 a year. So, if the horse cannot race, the horse cannot make his or her board and keep. The horse is then sold again and again or is abandoned or neglected. Some are sold to riding schools or trail riding businesses, or they may be sold to lesser known race tracks and be forced to continue racing even if injured.

What of those horses who are injured but their owners still want them to race? Is there a way to force a horse to race? Actually, there are many ways. They can be drugged so their pain is masked enough for them to keep racing. Many drugs are legal in one state but not in another. Since many of these horses are shipped around the country to run in various races, they may receive injections of legal drugs in one state that would be illegal in another. They can be given bronchodilators to widen their air passages so they can run harder, faster. Batteries can be concealed under the horse’s skin. These deliver shocks when a horse is not running up to par.

Many thoroughbreds are genetically unsound—they have been bred for their high speed and their spirited, sometimes high-strung, nature. Their bones become lighter for speed, but less likely to hold up to impact. Because of owners' needs to make money, many of these horses’ skeletal structures are not totally formed before they are forced onto the race track, usually around two years of age. As a result, many are injured and some have to be euthanized because of bone-breaking injuries that end their careers. The 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro and the 2008 Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles both suffered such fates. In fact, Eight Belles, who suffered compound fractures of both front ankles at the end of the Derby, was shot on the track where she collapsed. It has been estimated that 800 thoroughbreds die from racing-related injuries in North America yearly.

Dog Racing

When we think of dog racing, two images come to mind: greyhounds and huskies. Greyhound racing is slowly being outlawed across the United States. However, The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race® still goes strong in Alaska.

Greyhound Racing

Greyhounds were valued by Egyptian pharaohs for their grace, beauty, and gentle manner. Today, however, they often live their entire lives in kennels barely large enough for them to turn around in. They have little human contact except during training and when taken out of the kennels on race day. They have short careers and are usually shot at the end of them if they are not rescued.

Greyhounds, frequently shipped all around the country in unventilated trucks, arrive at the race track dehydrated, exhausted, and sometimes too sick to race, which means they are typically killed immediately. Those who survive are forced to race in all kinds of weather. They are given very little veterinary care, if any at all, as that would cut into the track’s profits; and they are fed poor quality food—again a profit-margin issue. Like race horses, greyhounds are given performance-enhancing drugs. They suffer a variety of injuries, including broken legs, cardiac arrest, spinal cord injuries, and broken necks.

Those who are not profitable on the track but can still bring in a dollar to the owner are sold to research laboratories, turned into breeding stock, or sent overseas where racing conditions are worse than in the United States. Only the lucky few find their way into adoption groups to be rescued.

Because no statistics are kept, the guess is that anywhere from 20,000 to as many as 50,000 greyhounds are born each year and anywhere from 20,000 on up are killed either as puppies unsuitable for racing or retirees whose racing careers are over. Most greyhounds leave the track by age four at the oldest.

The Animal Welfare Act, enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture, does not include greyhound racing. The industry is basically self-regulated.

When we think of greyhound racing, we think only of the tragic lives these dogs live. But there are other animals who suffer, too. Rabbits are often used to train greyhounds. They become lures and are killed by the dogs when caught. Nearly 100,000 live rabbits and other small animals are literally torn apart in live-lure training.

The Iditarod

The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race® is supposed to commemorate an event that took place in 1925—the bringing of much needed serum from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska, where diphtheria was threatening the population. However, this event did not happen in one continuous, arduous run. It was a relay from station to station. Today, the race that covers 1,150 miles in 10 to 17 days is one long grueling endurance test where dogs die.

Since 1997, 29 dogs have died, including 3 dogs in 2008 and 5 dogs in 2007; 130 have died since records started being kept. There are no statistics for those who die during preparation for the race or from complications after the race. The dogs who do survive suffer from pulled muscles and stress fractures. They become sick with diarrhea, dehydration, intestinal viruses, bleeding stomach ulcers, and hypothermia.

What is life like for a dog in training? The dogs are frequently kept in outdoor kennels, often continuously chained, except when they are removed for training. They are at the mercy of severe weather conditions and predators since they have no way to find protection or to escape. These dogs have little socialization with other dogs or with humans as most mushers have as many as 100 dogs. Countless dogs have to be produced before a few good sled dogs are found. The ones who “wash out” of the program are often shot or drowned. Mushers typically forego treatment for their animals as that would cost too much. Typically, if a dog is injured or sick, and does not recover on his or her own, the dog is killed.

The cruelty these dogs experience begins shortly after birth when puppies as young as four months are permanently tethered outdoors in preparation for their year-round training. The only time most of the dogs are ever off their tethers is when they are hitched to dogsleds for training. Their training is often brutal, causing some dogs to be eliminated from competition, and possibly destroyed, because of injury and illness.

Pig Racing

There are a number of traveling pig racing shows in the United States. Usually, the races precede some sporting event—a baseball game, rodeo, or other festival, such as a county fair. Usually there is no betting placed on the animals. This is for “entertainment” and not to make money. The result is the same; animals are exploited for human entertainment. Other animals may also be used in these races, for instance small dogs.

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