COMMENTARY | The 137th Kentucky Derby is set for Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. The famous horse race, dubbed "The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports," is bet on and viewed by millions of people. The controversy surrounding the unethical treatment of the race horses is as old as the race itself. For animal lovers, it is disheartening to see the inhumane treatment of horses for monetary gain.
According Syracuse.com, the United States has the highest mortality rate for thoroughbred horses. Veterinarians attribute this to the abuse of legal medications. Although the use of steroids was banned in 2008, there still exists a huge gray area of "legal" medications which are not monitored sufficiently in the States.
The NY Times reported that 3,035 thoroughbreds, standardbreds and quarterhorses died at racetracks between 2003 and 2008. The newspaper also reported that "of the approximately 15,000 licensed horse trainers, 1, 335, or 8.9 percent, have been cited for medication violation."
An animal training writer for Examiner did a piece last year calling the Kentucky Derby "A Carnival of Cruelty." Examiner Eve Alexander listed the following unethical factors in the cruelty of horse racing:
* Because prime races use 2- and 3-year-old horses, they start training at an early age. The race horses are forced to train and race before their skeletal system has grown in full maturity, which causes the animals to suffer from injuries. They are also forced to race while they are injured.
* Many shady performance enhancement methods are employed, such as bronchodilators, hormones, and cocktails to combat fatigue Batteries are even placed under a horse's skin, which shocks the animal if it starts slacking in a race.
* Lethal experimentations are performed on the race horses, including injecting the animals with deadly viruses; operating on pregnant horses, causing an abortion of the fetus; underfeeding; and stressing young foals forcibly.
* Jockeys overuse whips and spurs on the horses.
The public really took notice of the dark side of horse racing when millions of people watched Eight Belles die after her second place finish at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The filly was euthanized after both of her front ankles broke during the race.
While people may see the Kentucky Derby as an innocent, fun horse race, where women wear big hats and sip mint juleps, this idealization is hardly the reality. The horses that compete in these races are pushed beyond the brink- being rigorously trained while babies, forced to race while injured, whipped and shocked if not compliant, and killed after they can no longer rake in any money or titles.
It is not just the trainers who are responsible for such cruelty to the horses. Anyone who supports horse racing financially is guilty as well. So, think twice before you place your bet on this year's Derby. Your potential monetary gain comes at what cost?
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