Beneath its glamorous façade, commercial horseracing is a ruthless industry motivated by financial gain and prestige.
What is concealed from the television-viewing punter and champagne-sipping patron are the unremitting challenges the racehorse is forced to endure often in its very short life.
The suffering starts at a very early age. At approximately 6 months, it is separated from its mother and the training for racing begins. The average racehorse will race for less than 3 years before being discarded. (1)
Rather than allow nature to take its course and let mares conceive naturally and give birth in the summer months when the weather is mild, foals are born as close to August 1st as possible as this is the date that thoroughbred horses age is determined by. This allows maximum time for race training.
This unnatural cycle is achieved through adjusting temperatures, artificially lengthening days through the use of lighting and injecting drugs such as ‘prostaglandins’ into the female. When they reach fertility – often only weeks after giving birth, mares are forced to stand for a stallion in order to produce another foal for the following season. Under natural conditions, mares normally produce a foal once every two years.
Thoroughbred foals are separated from their mothers at approx. 6 months of age. The foal then commences a training regime and is generally fed a high protein diet to prepare it for sale and future racing.
The foal will be “broken” – meaning it will be taught to comply with human commands through learned helplessness techniques – which compels the horse to obey due to fear, pain or both. The horses that rebel against the oppressive training methods will be forced even more harshly into compliance. If they fail to comply, they will be deemed rogue horses and discarded.
The mother (brood mare) is taken away and prepared for the birth of her next foal. She will be pregnant for more than 90 percent of her life. Brood mares are mostly discarded once their stud days are over. Studs will often demand breeding horses be killed when they are discarded to prevent breeding by future owners.
Yearling for sale
Most of the money in horse racing is not made through racing but by breeding. A sire or dam that produces winners on the track becomes extremely valuable. Redoutes Choice, for example, Australia’s leading stallion has demanded as high as $330,000 per serve and serves up to 190 mares in a season.  Each year approximately 13,000 foals are born in Australia  and many thousands are sold at sales like the yearling sales.
Foals born with the right attributes are looked after extremely well. However, minor deformities can render a horse worthless and may mean a very early death. Some cosmetic deformities may be operated on or treated but this risks further injury to the young horse.
To make the foals more attractive to bidders at the yearling sales, horses are subjected to a regime of exercise, a high protein diet and sometimes drugs to increase their appeal and profitability.
It is not uncommon for yearlings to be purchased for a price in excess of $50,000. In April 2006 at the Sydney Easter Sales a yearling was sold for three million dollars. (4)
It is also not uncommon for horses at thoroughbred sales to be bought for only a few hundred dollars and killed for meat, either for human consumption or pet food.
Horse sold for $400 for meat at William Ingliss
Once sold, the yearling becomes the property of the owner or syndicate whose motivation is to see a profit. In reality, less than two percent actually do.
In preparation for its first race, the yearling will commence a training regime, which will place enormous stress on the immature skeletal frame and make it prone to early breakdown. This causes many lower limb ailments and injuries including fractures, pulled ligaments and strained tendons. Many horses suffer injuries well before their first race.
As running at high speeds over long distances is not natural to horses, many show resistance to conventional training methods. As a result, pain and fear are used to force the horse into submission. Various devices and methods, some legal and some illegal, will give the horse no option but to comply to the demands of the trainer.
In order to compete in races that offer the highest prize money, most horses are raced as 2 and 3 year-olds though some will race as young as 1 year and nine months. This is despite the fact that the horses are still physically immature and prone to injury. Many horses disappear altogether from racing early in their career as injuries render them worthless.
Horses competing in a race.
Though illegal in Australia, some will have their injuries masked by drugs which will enable the horse to race a little longer until the injuries worsen and the horse inevitably breaks down.
Fact: The average career of a racehorse is less than 3 years
Race horses are mostly confined to a stable where they will spend up to 22 hours per day unable to socialise with other horses; their only reprieve being training. In this artificial environment, many horses will develop symptoms of neurotic behaviour like wind sucking (grasping an object by the teeth and sucking in air) and weaving (swaying the head, neck and forequarters from side to side) They will also suffer from many common illnesses like stomach ulcers and respiratory diseases.
Racehorses awaiting slaughter.
The fate of racehorses after racing is one of the industry’s dirtiest and best-kept secrets.
Keeping an unviable racehorse is not an option as their owners seek to make a profit at all costs. Their lives are cut short by greed as they are discreetly disposed of.
Many are sent to saleyards where most are bought by knackeries; the owners extracting the last few dollars out of their investment. Some racehorses are sold as cheaply as $150.
In some cases, studs and racing stables have arrangements with knackeries and horse brokers and sell them directly on request.
While some ex-racehorses find loving and caring homes, the vast majority will be killed after their careers come to an end.
References:  Australian Racing Fact Book 2010  Racing and Sports 15th April 2007 http://www.racingandsports.com.au/breeding/rsNewsArt.asp?NID=102673  Dynamic Syndications News 20/4/2006