What is a Horse Race?
Horse races are contests of speed or stamina between two horses and can be run on a variety of surfaces. The sport is a major spectator event and can involve enormous sums of money. It has a long history and has evolved from primitive contests between individual animals to the modern spectacle it is today, with large fields of runners, sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and vast prize money.
The most prestigious horse races are called classics and were first established in England and France. Later, the United States followed suit with the Belmont Stakes, Preakness Stakes and Kentucky Derby to form America’s Triple Crown series of elite races. In Europe, the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe is the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing.
There are many types of horse race, but the most common type is flat racing where the horses are guided by jockeys on saddles. The rider, or ‘jockey’, must follow a specific course and jump every hurdle (if there are any) while riding the horse. The jockey must remain on the horse throughout the entire race and must not leave the saddle.
Thoroughbreds are bred to be fast and strong, and the race is often won by the horse that covers the most ground in the shortest amount of time. There are a number of different strategies that can be used to improve a horse’s chances of winning, including training methods, feeding programs and the use of medication. In addition, horses are often given ‘weight allowances’ based on their age and sex.
Most races are contested over distances between three-fourths of a mile and a mile and a quarter. A horse’s front and back legs move in unison, so to prevent them from breaking stride, they are usually given hobbles – straps that connect the left front leg to the left rear leg. However, there are some races which require a ‘pacing gait’, in which the horse’s front and back legs move on alternate sides. Pacers are not required to wear hobbles.
Horses typically achieve their peak performance at the age of five, so most races are open to horses up to that age. However, escalating prices for breeding and race entries have led to fewer races being held with older horses, especially those over four years old.
Despite these improvements, the race industry continues to be plagued by cruelty and abuse of horses, with growing numbers of people choosing not to attend horse races and supporting the decline in popularity of the sport. However, increasing awareness of the issue has been fueling these improvements and promises to continue to put pressure on the industry. There are numerous organizations that support the campaign to ban horse racing, such as PETA, which investigates cruel training practices for young horses and reveals gruesome statistics on the number of American racehorses sent to foreign slaughterhouses each year. To learn more about this campaign, click here.