Readers Respond: Racehorse Awareness

More than 1,400 readers of TheHorse.com responded to a poll asking, "What do you think is the most pressing issue facing the welfare and safety of racehorses?"

results of poll on racehorse welfare

Results were as follows: 
  • Injury Rates: 60.33% (853)
  • Medication/steroid issues: 35.01% (495)
  • Environment and lifestyle: 28.36% (401)
  • Trainer and handler education and licensing: 23.62% (334)
  • Genetic durability: 20.23% (286)
  • Other: 17.96% (254)
  • Shoeing/hoof care: 12.38% (175)

Read more about the recent summit on the welfare and safety of racehorses.  

Results of weekly polls from TheHorse.com are published in The Horse Health E-Newsletter. Published every week, this e-newsletter offers news on diseases, veterinary research, health events, and in-depth articles on common equine health conditions and what you can do to recognize, avoid, or treat them. Sign up for our e-newsletters using the form above or on our e-newsletter page.  

Look for a new poll on TheHorse.com every week!


  • horses are raced too young and bones are fraglie
  • what about the welfare of ex-race horses?
  • They are forcing them to run full out while they are too young. It's not natural or healthy.
  • All above. In Austr. too many foals bred each year & too many "wasted" ie killed race bred horses
  • I worked at the race track and I have seen these horse beaten, abused, drugs given to run faster
  • the horses are valuable they will be taken care of
  • Finding good homes & second careers for retired racehorses - rescue & retraining.
  • Race horses should be bred as a whole animal, not just for speed
  • Horse Racing should be banned - it's cruel
  • Lots of trainers out there.. but very few horsemen.
  • I have an ex-race horse and when i received her she was scared skinny and could not pick up her feet
  • where they will end up after they retire/finish racing
  • as long as money is involved, the animals welfare will be secondary to profit!
  • they hand out trainers licences like popcorn at the county fair then they want you money to wager??
  • Other: Horse's after race carrier. Finding homes qualified to handle x-racehorses.
  • Loss of humane regulated slaughter in the US is the worst thing for all US horses' welfare.
  • Retirement for racehorses is a very pressing issue. Breeders/owners could set up a retirement fund.
  • What happens to them when they can no longer race.
  • These horses have too much stress on joins @ early age.
  • the horses are to young to race
  • safe home upon retirement
  • everything!!
  • We dont' put young children in rigorous physical training, so why do we do it to horses?
  • Life after the track - so many are discarded used milk cartons by uncaring owners
  • VIABLE METHOD OF DISPOSAL OF UNWANTED HORSES WITHOUT COST TO OWNERS!
  • the early agae at which they are raced is the biggest risk to their health.
  • are in stalls most of the time, lack of ground manners lead to uncontrollable horse
  • horses worked too hard, too young
  • The fact that they are throwaway horses if they are injured or slow.
  • racing horses TOO YOUNG track surfaces need to be addressed
  • The amount of injuried racehorses going to slaughter!
  • the fact that they run babies before there bones are set
  • owners pressuing trainers to compete
  • they run too young
  • Too young,waiting >1 yr for everything would help
  • Are multiple issues. Age training starts, injuries, med/steroid use, envionment lifesyle all problem
  • The MOST important issue in my opinion is the moronic age at which they start "training"
  • rACING IS CRUEL AND DESTROYS MANY HORSES MENTALLY AND PHYSICALLY. i WISH IT WAS OUTLAWED. I HAVE A
  • After race career life
  • Horses are not disposable items. Look at what happened to Barbaro.
  • racing too young; overbreeding
  • exercising a young horse is a good thing, racing them is not. give them a chance to grow.
  • they start/work them too young
  • Racehorse people are flooding the market with too many horses. They race them too young .
  • I should be illegal to race/compete immature horses!
  • Starting them too young
  • Long toe-under run heel has become so common on the track many think that is normal
  • Stop racing them so young and you will have sounder horses, less problems.
  • Race horse"rescuers" enable the owner and breeders to keep the cycle of poor training and breakdowns
  • post track career prospects of quality life
  • I think that the industry is trying to break these yo horses to without them being physically ready
  • Greed. Breeding for disposable horses.
  • Injuries & slow performance appear to lead to the auctions, then chance of slaughter
  • working young horses too hard before bones are fully deveolped
  • running too young resulting in breakdowns
  • TB's are trained WAY too early in life - that's why they break down. Making money comes b4 health
  • i think the horses are too young to be racing and the industry doesnt care about the horses at all.
  • I hold 3 TXRC Lic./ Race Horses in general are started way too young !!!!
  • Care of horses when their racing/breeding career is over.
  • what they do after racing.....
  • The horses are raced as babies! Is it any wonder the injury rate is so high?
  • The pressing issue is what happens to the poor horses who don't make it and aren't adoptable!!!
  • starting them too early. Wait till they are 3 y/o to start. They will last longer in life.
  • track conditions
  • These horses are started too young. They can't possibly be developed by 18 months.
  • all of the above and they shouldn't be raced until they are at least four
  • racehorses life better than bkyd pets,been there done that
  • Too often it's about the money with little regard for God's majestic creature, the horse.
  • i think they are started too young
  • someone needs to take responsibility for all of these horses who break down/aren't fast enough!
  • Findnig suitable homes for them after they retire
  • What happens to the horses that don't "make it"
  • being sold to auction
  • Disposability and lack of responsibility.
  • as well as bacis care
  • As I see it, the biggest problem is what to do with all the rejects that don't make it on the track.
  • Life after racing
  • These horses should not be ridden until they are at least 4 years old!
  • retirement
  • TBs do not hold up as well as they used to. Bone is not as heavy as it was. Racing to young.
  • They are being pushed to fast without proper conditioning earlier in life.
  • Education from qualified and experienced teachers will help prevent all of the above problems.
  • I think the horses are started too young, while joints and bones are still forming.
  • Slaughter
  • Horses is my love, I can't stand to see them mistreated. They are an independant animal.
  • All of the above
  • retirement options!
  • Should not be raced until bones are more mature
  • As always the root of all evil is money. People are more concerned with profit than humaneness
  • Throw away thoroughbreds is a pressing issue for racing.
  • It needs to be mandatory to make it a rule of thumb to retrain races horses instead of waste talent!
  • i think way to much med's. What did they do before we got our hands on them???
  • I say injury rates first - because many times use of meds masks early injuries, so includes that
  • CARE AFTER RETIREMENT
  • people ignorant in the physical and mental welfare and care of the horse have control of so many
  • I have seen too much abuse of TB's
  • Disposability and the problem of unwanted horses
  • Racing surfaces, not utilizing diagnostics to check horses' legs/heart (ultra sound,etc.)toe grabs
  • What happens to the retired horse? Not enough retirement farms for the horse who cannot be used.
  • Better trained horsemen make better decisions re: all these issues.
  • "throwaway" horses--a high percentage
  • Those who don't make the grade can end up in a tin !
  • what happens to them when they can't race due to injury
  • Track surfaces and maintenance along, as well as trainer useage of meds to train
  • euthanasia rates
  • too intensive work for such young animals-all for the almighty dollar
  • What happens to these horses when an unsuccessful racing career is over? Neglect & starvation. Few g
  • RACING as it is practiced is HARMFUL to horses. They run them too hard, too young, period.
  • started to young when knees aren't closed and bones soft
  • non-horse person owner education
  • Riding horses at too young an age! This affects most of the other problems.
  • The use of toe grabs in the US. AU does not have them.
  • Starting their racing careers at too young an age.
  • inconsistant surfaces are a major reason for breakdowns,yet there is no training for care
  • Can anyone convince me horse racing is good for horses?
  • being pushed at such a young age
  • racing them too young!
  • The industry needs to look at what to do with these horses after their racing career.
  • d unsound-THAT IS GREED. Standards must be kept high
  • oiver breeding to get the one that can race and dump the rest
  • Retirement
  • I think they start training at to young of age
  • Are they trying to race horses that are immature?????
  • Having more adoption after racing career.
  • Not haveing slaughter limits the care received by a lot of horses that deserve a better end.
  • pressing issue - life after racing
  • The fact that these horses are broken in and raced at such a young age. 2 yo are still growing!
  • where they end up when no longer wanted
  • slaughter
  • unwanted horses
  • Racing too young
  • retirement
  • too many injuries b/c horses started too young
  • They start to young!
  • I think that they are started too young.
  • responsible breeding. Less breeding.
  • The most pressing issue is what happens to them when they are no longer winners.
  • What to do with retired race horses
  • Greed taking precedence over the safety of the horse.
  • starting horses too young
  • more $ needs to trickle down to the lower levels for the good of all the sport
  • A lot of the other issues would be elimated if trainers would adopt better proven training methods
  • overbreeding - people are in it for the money, not the horses
  • The "throw away" mentality when one is no longer suited for work as a racehorse.
  • too young when worked hard
  • These horses are asked to work with too much weight years too soon.
  • TB legs are at a greater risk of break down.I think the 2 year old class should b more reg/stoped
  • Funding for retired horses
  • Maybe if horses were started a year later, there would be less "breakdowns"
  • What do we expect when racing creatures who are not physically mature enough for the stresses!
  • too many end up slaughtered
  • Because of economics they are put to work too young and not allowed to mature somewhat
  • The biggest challenge facing racehorses is finding a safe and productive life AFTER post-career
  • INJURY RATES. KEEP THINKING OF BARBARO. YOUNG HORSES, STRENUOUS SPORT. NO GUARENTEE.
  • New blood BADLY needs to be added. Throughbreds are becoming badly interbred!
  • Overbreeding and too many cheap, unwanted and discarded ex-racehorses.
  • Racing to young. My barrel racing horses start at 5 and are winning in their 20s
  • imhumane to run horses before knees close!
  • life after racing
  • why do they think they have to ride and race babies who don't even have solid bones yet??
  • I dislike how the horses aren't even full grown when they race.
  • TBs are the 2nd most slaughtered with QH 1st. Stop it!!
  • young age disgraceful
  • After career homing. too many shipped to slaughter
  • they are started racing waaay too early, when they're not even halfway done growing
  • Finding a safe home when retired.
  • age at which they start training
  • I think age is a huge factor. They run too young.
  • racehorses are a disposable market. If you can't run your gone. Owners want fast horses They cull
  • was track groom for yrs. lifestyle for people + horses high stress lack of turnout starting too youn
  • Most pressing issue: Two-and-three-year-olds are not mature enough physically to race!!!
  • Surplus of used up or unwanted racehorses
  • OVER BREEDING!!!
  • Legeslative support for a profitable livelyhood for trainers.
  • the glut of horses not fast enough to make it as a race horse - what happens to them?
  • Horses are being raced too young
  • Also related to injury is what becomes of the horse once they leave racing.
  • Forcing YOUNG horses to stress their bodies too far, which causes problems that last their lifetime.
  • TB should not be started as early as they are. It should be against the rules to start them and rac
  • These animals are just kids we expect a lot from.
  • lack of retirement / exit strategy for horses
  • Race horses are still treated as money makers only not living beings. Im a lic trainer.
  • I believe the most important issue is what to do with these horses after their careers are over!
  • low quality breeding resulting in an overabundance of low quality animals
  • Numbers bred vs number that make it to the track
  • Over breeding causing a glut in market during a bad economy
  • I think racing should be banned. 2 year olds running marathons, makes no sense to me!!
  • overbreeding and finding homes for retired horses
  • Need to delay racing till the age of 4. There should be no racing of 2 & 3 yr. olds, need to develop
  • Options for life after racing.
  • The racing industry needs to focus more on the welfare of the horses.
  • Most important is the horse's fate AFTER it is retired. Plan for this before breeding!
  • Retirement
  • Too many drugs are being used on these horses that cannot be detected by current technology.
  • unwanted racehorses is a bigger problem
  • The training of horses that are not mature is the most pressing issue, imo.
  • Proper Retirement of Race Horses
  • Age, wait till they are OLDER! Babies shouldn't be raced, but allowed to grow & mature.
  • Overbreeding ~ no place for the old retired horses to go!
  • the perception by too many owners/handlers that the horses are a disposable means to an end
  • GREED
  • racing them too young before they are fully developed
  • Too many horses being bred
  • life after no longer competitive at the track
  • horses are trained and raced too young for their bodys to handle the stress!
  • Biggest issue is that horses are competed before skeletal maturity at age 6.
  • They start them way too young, their bones don't even have time to mature that is most causes injury
  • They are started WAY TOO young!!
  • over breeding and dumping thousands of "used" horses to suffer so folks can make a buck on a flutter
  • What do you do with them after there racing days are over?
  • Far too many being bred that shouldn't.
  • ALL these issues are pressing
  • I think they work the horses to hard, to early
  • Selection for unsoundness, i.e.e, selection for speed only
  • numbers of unsuccessful, unwanted horses
  • racing at 2 and 3 years old
  • overbreeding
  • # of people and horses involved in racing needs to decline
  • what will happen to the horse when it is no longer able to race
  • They need all the help they can get. Welfare of retired racehorses should be a priority
  • horses being sent to slaughter after racing
  • joint damage, riding there legs to hard at too young!!!!!
  • TB halter, improve shoeing and trained staff would be very important to achieve less injuries
  • i own a racehorse and I made sure he went to a good trainer and an excellent stable. He is a king.
  • overbreeding
  • over breeding and the number of race horses going to slaughter is a very important issue.
  • Um, AGE and racing too young???? hello!!!
  • Not much of a life for many of them during racing careers or after.
  • They need to stop working FOALS! Maybe then they won't shatter bones simply galloping later in life!
  • Post-retirement re-training & adoption/rehoming.
  • Race horses are put to work long before their bodies are mature enough to handle the physical stress
  • breaking down on the track, which should never happen
  • We need more fans.
  • Racing animals too young and medicating for "soundness" ruins animals. Needs changing.
  • We have lost touch with what is good for horses and sound competition practices are.
  • I REHABED 7 TRACK HORSES ALL INJURED FROM CRAPPY TRAINING AND SHOEING
  • I am opposed to racing horses as 2yr olds. Their bones aren't ready and it uses them up too fast.
  • They're pushed too hard, too young. Their first races should be at 3, not 2.
  • Training and Racing horses that are too immature physically to withstand the stress.
  • actually, I think it is over breeding.
  • Where knowledge ends, violence begins... Too many old fashioned ideas prevail at race tracks.
  • Over production as in most breeds.
  • They need to be considered as living animals not disposable.
  • TRACK SURFACES !!!!I
  • Their bones are not even fully developed when they begin racing...ridiculous
  • Management of what happens to the ones that aren't winners
  • Most important is a 2nd career after the track
  • an excess of horses that get dumped on the market when they aren't competitive
  • Raced too young (2-3 yr olds)
  • Racing the horses a bit older may help?
  • I think racehorses are started to young and pushed harder than their bodies and minds are ready for
  • Starting them way too young, & not breeding for soundness
  • futurities at 3yrs, derbies at 4
  • post-racing placement in homes with the proposed ban on slaughter as a viable means of disposal
  • track safety, overuse of drugs, racing horses too old to race, not enough rest between races,whiping
  • Horses are started too young. It's a money sport without concern for the animal.
  • Contributing to the unwanted horse population
  • Lay them up until they're healthy enough to race drug-free. Breakdowns will then drop.
  • I think the ONE major issue I have always had is the age at which these horses are started.
  • Injury/Meds/lifestyle. My horse(exracer) was raced and not feed over and over.Not rite meds given.
  • I think they are started WAY too young!!!
  • All of those pertaining to the health of horses in the face of this sport. You didn't mention deaths
  • 2yr olds are too young, if racing started at 4 yrs, believe injuries would greatly diminish
  • Overbreeding; some horses can't race and need retraining and a market for them.
  • strating them too young, before their bones have finished forming.
  • This horses are started too young - a shame there are thousands retired at "6" yrs old!
  • two years old is to young to put the strain of racing on a horse.
  • racing them too young, before the bones and joints mature.
  • abusing medication is at the top of the list because injuries can come with ANY discipline
  • I think all horses should be allowed to live like horses: barefoot and out in herd 24/7
  • The industry needs to solve the problem of what happens to the horses when it can no longer race.
  • HUGE yearlings/hormones?, horses started way too soon. Need to revisit ages to race.
  • lack of proper training before tracking makes it harder to find them second carreerr
  • what happens to racehorses when they no longer race
  • All of the above
  • The age that they start the poor things. How about letting the body mature before riding them??????
  • poor/inadequate conditioning
  • Their retirement after racing, it's getting more attention but still needs more support.
  • AGE AGE AGE!! They are riding them when they are 1, they are too young!!!
  • Started too young
  • I think it's horrible when racehorses are no longer able to race and they just discard them!
  • Racing at TOO EARLY an age. Should not race beofre age 2!
  • Need to change age to start racing to at least 4yo.
  • Started way too young! Too many horses bred to get one winner. Lots destroyed.
  • I think pretty much all the above. But my biggest concern is they start those horses way too young.
  • Overbreeding & disposable after retirement - slaughter
  • starting too young
  • Concerns regarding the injury rates due to the work load of young horses
  • racing way too young!!
  • I think that horses should not be started until they are 3 and the Triple Crown races should be for
  • what happens to those who don't win
  • Starting to race at 2 is way too young!
  • all of the above, plus the industry itself.
  • Gambling - why dont they just do it with virtual horses in a computer program.
  • horses are no longer bred for conformation, thats why they break down
  • young horses are pushed to make money, genetic pools are getting smaller.
  • success at the horses expense is cowardly,thoughtless and selfish
  • No racing till the horses bones have all matured. Race only barefooted, never shoes.
  • no shoes would be better for soundness and less injuries. think they should ban horse shoes
  • There are many Thoroughbred breeders who knowingly breed unsound horses
  • My OTTB mare Kick and Howl survived 3 yrs on the track. Most horses are "run hard and killed "
  • to have him race. It ruins his life.
  • Where do all the x-racers go? Need homes.
  • They are ridden way too young. Not physically mature nor mentally.
  • Increase the minimum race age to 3; today they are raced too young!
  • Track surfaces and the use of synthetic track vs dirt.
  • In my experience, injury is the #1 cause of early retirement.
  • What happens to the horse after it is done with it's racing career?
  • What about all the "retired" racehorses???? Where do they go?
  • Too many horses being produced every year, with few places for them to go when their careers end.
  • where do all the unsuccessful horses go?
  • The puppy mill factor of excessive breeding of thousands with no plan of a lifelong committment
  • These horses are broken and raced way too young. We should follow the exammple of Australia.
  • This is an industry that produces way too many unwanted horses that end up at rescue farms.
  • Trainers need to learn to give time off....It's easy to train everyday.
  • They race them too young and they are used up and discarded at rescues (if they are lucky)
  • Financial pressure to run horses far too youn
  • Overbreeding, too many going to slaughter!
  • heaves is a big thing, I have had an expacer who was always heevy.
  • 2 is too young, bred for one trait, speed
  • Too many horses breaking down on track
  • Early retirement of injured horses perpetuates fragile horses
  • Quality of life after racing. 100K slaughtered every year.
  • Worked too hard at a far TOO YOUNG age!
  • Starting these horses into trainging MUCH TOO YOUNG
  • All of the ABOVE!
  • The most pressing issue is that they are raced at all-cruel from start to finish!
  • Overuse and unnecessary use of drugs leads to abuse and sour horses.
  • horses working too young
  • The age at which they are broken an ridden should be made criminal-it causes long term complications
  • too many horses being bred, too many being destroyed
  • horses are started too young. Let their bones develop before racing them as 2 and 3 year olds.
  • track condition safety
  • There is no incentive to create a healthy environ only a fast horse.
  • SLAUGHTER is the BIG issue
  • thea age that racing starts, if the horses were older there would be less physical problems overall.
  • This can be a very cruel industry
  • Seems to still be the abuse of steroids and other drugs
  • Stallions should NOT be producing 100+ foals a year. Breeding needs to be limited.
  • starting them too young
  • Age horses first run
  • horses are competing far too young
  • I think that we have to realize that we can't breed out soundness for more speed.
  • too much work too young
  • Being stalled 23 out of 24 hours/day leads to the excessive number of injuries
  • Tragic to see them breakdown, durable ones can go on to make nice sport horses
  • Being sent to slaughter at the end of their careers
  • Breeding needs to be limited. Each year more horses are bred then are wanted if not track suitable
  • difficult to watch races where horses are injured frequently
  • These are babies being pressured as and adult. Sad the almighty $$ wins out over maturity!
  • I am appalled at how non-performing horses are discarded.
  • the footing that they run on and the age at which they are expected to compete
  • Disposable attitude of breeders!
  • responsibility for retired horses
  • Retirement
  • moving from the track to a second career
  • I think it all is related to how young they are & that they're not fully formed yet.
  • Whatever are breeders doing????
  • Injuries not only take away the anticipation of racing, but also they devalue good horses.
  • As long as we race juveniles training, track injury, race surfaces are critical
  • the single bigges thing endangering racehorese is HUMAN GREED
  • What happens to the horses after racing?
  • TBs are a big accident waiting to happen, I should know, I own one. Love them, but not for amateurs.
  • What to do with the ones that don't make it
  • they start them too young
  • HAVING TO PUSH THESE YOUNG HORSES SO HARD WHEN THEY ARE NOT PHYSICALLY & MENTALLY MATURE & INJURIES!
  • All of the above and OVER BREEDING
  • Racing horses that are too young & their bones are not fully developed.
  • I own 2 ex-racers, and injuries are the reason most are destroyed
  • track surfaces
  • Slaughter is the most pressing issue by far! Too many retired TBs wind up at the slaughter house.
  • They are started way too young--before their knees are closed and leg bones are mature!
  • The production of throwaway horses with no plan for their lives after racing.
  • The policy of starting colts at 1 & 2 yrs old is just short of cruelty!! They need to be mature!
  • I think they should not race until they are 3yrs of age or Older, their bones are still developing
  • They should not race horses until their bones have had a chance to mature
  • Racing at too young an age!
  • Racing them so hard so young
  • racing before their bones have matured
  • Horses should be started after age 3, not before.
  • We're breeding soundness out of our horses, and then keeping them running with drugs. BAD NEWS!
  • overbreeding & resulting going to auction & being bought by kill dealers, crowded stockyards.
  • Also catastrohic injuries, post-racing life.
  • I think it is inhumane that they start these colts so young before bones are ready. Too much injury!
  • We need to control breeding.
  • Injuries could be kept to a minimum if racehorses weren't raced until they reached 3 yrs. of age.
  • Starting horse who are not fully developed. Much to young.
  • After retirement retraining and welfare
  • the retirement issue
  • It seems as though thoroughbreds are not as sound as they used to be, they don't last as long.
  • too many horses are fatally injured these days; medications need to be monitored more closely
  • Retirement and retraining
  • As horse properties give way to development, horses are kept in more unnatural conditions.
  • Horse mature at 5 years. To start racing before that age is not giving the horses to be thier best.
  • Feeding, care, and medical care.

About the Author

Erin Ryder

Erin Ryder is a former news editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care.

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