Horse races are competitions in which horses compete against each other over a set distance on a flat racetrack. The sport has existed since ancient times, and has been practiced by many civilizations around the world, including Ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome, Babylon, Syria, Arabia, China, India, and Japan. The sport also features prominently in myth and legend, such as the contest between the steeds of Odin and Hrungnir in Norse mythology.
The modern racing industry has undergone a series of significant changes, some driven by new technology and others by a growing awareness among the public that horses are not commodities or tools for betting but are intelligent, sentient creatures with feelings and rights. The sport is now subject to the highest levels of safety, medical care, and welfare standards that would never have been imagined in the past.
Despite these improvements, horse racing is struggling with declines in fans, revenue, and race days. This is largely due to the public’s growing disapproval of animal cruelty in racing and the broader cultural, ethical, and legal shift toward the recognition of animals as sentient beings with basic human rights.
While the public has turned its back on the industry, racing enthusiasts remain loyal to their sport and are still willing to wager money and watch races. The problem is that they are not attracting new would-be fans, who are turned off by the sport’s history of drug use and racing scandals. The sport is also aging, with most of its customers being older than 60.
In order to be eligible to run in a horse race, a horse must have a pedigree that shows it is a purebred member of the breed for which it is racing. A horse’s pedigree includes its sire and dam, both of which must be purebred individuals of the same breed.
A common type of flat horse race is a sprint, in which the horses are forced to accelerate quickly from a standing start, often over short distances. In contrast, long-distance races, which are referred to as routes in the United States and as stays in Europe, test a horse’s stamina rather than its speed.
Throughout the course of a race, horses will make several pit stops, called rest stops, to let them eat, drink, and exercise before continuing on to the next stretch or finish line. These stops are designed to help a horse perform at its best during the race, but they can also be dangerous for the horse.
After a race, many horses are shipped to slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada where they are subjected to horrific living conditions and often brutalized during the process of being slaughtered. The only chance that these animals have to live a better life is thanks to the efforts of independent nonprofit horse rescue groups and individuals who network, raise funds, and work tirelessly to save them from a fate that would be unimaginable for any other animal.