It’s April 1st, one month away from one of horse racing’s most esteemed races: The Kentucky Derby.
From the outside, the Kentucky Derby seems a pretty picture of frou-frou hats and mint juleps. The energy is electrifying as people place bets on which horse they foresee winning the race. Jockeys sport colorful “silks,” representing their farm . Horse’s coats gleam in the sunlight .
However, behind this frothy veil of innocence lies a world shrouded in darkness and dispute. A world accredited as cruel and inhumane. A realm where jockey’s starve themselves to meet weight limits and where horses receive injections of steroids and other supplements; where crops or “whips” are used on horses to increase speed.
Does this sound like “the sport of kings” to you?
While I will not pretend that the world of horse racing is all sunshine and daisies, I will stick up for it, in the sense that if horseracing is inhumane, then so too, is nearly every other sport in the world.
As mentioned earlier, horse racing goes hand-in-hand with the slogan, “the need for speed.” With this notion comes the discussion on weight limits, the use of crops and other muscle or energy enhancing supplements.
Maintaining low weight is one of the many challenges that jockey’s face in the sport. The thought process behind this is that the less weight the horse has to carry, the faster it will run. In an effort to keep weight down, many jockeys resort to skipping meals, going to sauna’s and even vomiting. In fact, many race tracks used to have “flip bowls” in which jockeys would vomit before a race.
Now, I would venture to guess, that this sounds unappealing and downright dangerous to most of us. However, I argue, that while it’s fair to have that belief, it doesn't necessarily make this aspect of the sport inhumane. Weight maintenance is not new to the sport, and athletes are aware of this when they choose to become a jockey. In other words, it is their choice; No one is forcing them to partake in these activities. Therefore, the question of whether it is right or wrong is mute.
The use of steroids and other illegal performance enhancers is another aspect associated with horse racing. Now don’t go all crazy thinking that I am going to promote the use of these substances; I like a fair game as much as the next person, not to mention the health that is jeopardized of whoever or whatever is using these substances. Yet while I disagree with the use of them, the use of steroid and performance enhancers is not unique to horse racing. These substances run through the vast expanse of sports from running to biking to swimming, etc. Perhaps you’ve heard of Gu? Gu is an energy enhancer that comes in a gel-like form so that it can be easily consumed. Never heard of Gu? What about music (this is not a trick question)? Studies show that music has the ability to increase heart rate and create emotional responses, which in turn, have an effect on performance output. With that begin said, people are so against horse racing because of the “rampant’ use of performance enhancers, which is fine, but if you’re going to call the sport inhumane because of that reason, the same thing needs to be said of all of the other sports where substance use or performance enhancers such as music or GU are prevalent.
The use of the crop is another hotly debated topic in horse racing. The crop is a handheld tool that jockeys use to tap the horse in an effort to increase speed. While some argue that the crop does not hurt horses if it is used correctly, other studies s show that horses skin is thinner than originally thought, and that it becomes raised when hit with a crop. In all honesty, I’m not sure how I feel about the tool. I’m not a horse, and so I can’t tell you if it actually hurts to be smacked with a crop. I can imagine there are more comfortable thing s in the world. However, it’s not as if the jockey’s are using it maliciously; If it really hurt the horse that badly, I can imagine that it would react much differently than it does. On the same hand, similar to the observation used with performance enhancers, while coaches don’t necessarily hit their athletes, I’ve heard many of them yell at their team before, to the point where it became unnecessary. I’ve seen parents at the pool with their little kids, pushing them beyond what seems to be their limits. While these notions don’t hurt the athlete physically, I can imagine that they are mentally degrading. Is that not, in a sense, the same thing as physically hurting something?
I’m not sure that I’ve made a convincing argument here. In fact, I’m not necessarily arguing that horseracing is inhumane or humane. However, what I am trying to point out, is that the sports world in general is corrupt. So, while you can call horse racing inhumane for the above reasons, then the way that I see it, is that all sports then are on some level, inhumane, because the above issues are present in most sports, regardless of the steps taken to ensure that this is not the case.