Horse races are contests between horses or between humans and horses in which the goal is to reach a designated finish line before all other competitors. Depending on the type of race, the length of the contest may vary from two miles (3.2 km) to five furlongs (1600 m). Traditionally, Thoroughbred horses have competed in sprint races that focus on speed and long distance races that are more challenging tests of stamina.
Horse racing has been part of human culture since ancient times, with archeological records indicating that it was practiced in Ancient Greece, Rome, Babylon, Syria, and Egypt. The sport also played an important role in myth and legend, such as the epic battle between the steeds of Odin and the giant Hrungnir in Norse mythology.
In modern times, horse racing has been a prominent form of entertainment and a major industry that offers the opportunity for winning big money through betting on horses. Despite the success of the industry, it is not without controversy and a growing number of animal rights activists are calling for reforms that would better protect the welfare of the animals involved in the sport.
While there are some signs of progress, the industry must take more comprehensive and far-reaching measures to make horse racing a model that puts the best interests of horses first. A full restructuring of the business from breeding to aftercare must include a profound ideological reckoning about what it means to be a horse racing industry that prioritizes the wellbeing of these noble creatures at every level of decision making.
It is a difficult task to determine the winner of a race if no one horse crosses the finish line before all others. In this case, the decision is made based on a process known as photo finishing. In a photo finish, a team of stewards examines a photograph of the finish line to decide which horse broke the plane or finished first. In the event that a photo cannot be conclusive, dead heat rules are applied and both the first and second place horses receive a portion of the prize money.
A variety of technologies have been introduced to improve horse racing, including thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners, and 3D printing technology that produces casts and splints for injured horses. These advancements have helped to improve overall horse health and safety, and are helping to reduce injuries and breakdowns.
Unfortunately, these advances are being undermined by the continued exploitation of younger horses, a practice that involves abusive training methods, drug use, and transporting young, healthy horses to foreign slaughterhouses. The death of Eight Belles and the countless other horses who have suffered similar fates, are a grim reminder of the need for the horse racing industry to change its culture of cruelty. Donations from horse fans and gamblers are essential to the survival of racing, but they must be accompanied by a commitment from industry insiders to take the necessary steps to transform the business and its culture for the better.