The 142th annual Kentucky Derby is coming up this Saturday, and while most people have already made up their minds about watching it, I'd like to address those who are on the fence. People who love animals but also love hats. People who were invited to an ironic Derby brunch and can't make up their minds between sleeping in and drinking mimosas. To those people, I say, don't do it. Don't support this barbaric tradition. Allow me to explain why you shouldn't watch the Kentucky Derby, or any other horse race, for that matter.
The "sport of kings" is no sport at all. And I don't mean that in a "bowling isn't a sport because you don't run" or "golf isn't a sport because it's hella boring" sort of way. I mean that it is a competition that animals are forced into against their wills. A sport is a leisure activity that humans participate in of their volition. Race horses have no free will. They are slaves, plain and simple. They're being pushed to the physical brink for the entertainment and profit of humans without any say in the matter. Horse racing is no different, ethically, from dog fighting, and to call it a sport is an insult. Those who do support it say the animals enjoy running, but there is no proof of this. There is more proof that they are often in physical distress.
The Horses Are Often Drugged
As Kate Papp, a veterinarian who worked with racehorses, explained to NBC News in 2014, "Everything that's given to the horse is with the main goal in mind, which is having them run well, win races, pay well to the owners and to the trainers." Race horses are routinely injected with steroids, tranquilizers, painkillers, and other substances (both legal and illegal) not for therapeutic purposes, but to keep them running when their bodies are telling them they need to stop.
They're Just Babies
The horses in the Kentucky Derby (and most horse races) are just 3 years old. Horses don't even reach maturity until they're about 6. Those competing in races generally need to have a year of racing experience and a year of training before that, which means that they're already doing more work than you or I will when they're only 1 year old.
Rejects Are Often Slaughtered
When a race horse retires, it's not to a nice pasture in the country. Race losers, barren mares, and other horses who can no longer be used for profit have one last chance to bring in a few bucks for their masters: they're sold at auction to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses, sometimes for as little as $10, and their meat is used for food, according to The Guardian.
Even Horses Who Don't Race Suffer
Thoroughbred mares have one job: cranking out profitable babies. Once a prized mare gives birth, breeders don't want to waste her precious time on nursing when she could be busy getting pregnant with another foal, so her baby is taken from her and turned over to a "nurse mare." It's bad enough that mother and baby are torn apart so soon, but consider for a moment how it is that the nurse mare is able to produce milk. She's just had a baby of her own, that was separated from her, in order to make that milk. And what of the nurse mare's foal, who's not good enough to race? Sometimes they're killed immediately, according to the Last Chance Corral, an Ohio horse rescue group. Other times, they're starved to death.
Race Horses Suffer Horrific Injuries
Proponents of racing will try to tell you that horses love to run. But race horses aren't galloping through a field of daisies with their herd; they're running faster and harder than nature intended, on drugs, on a hard, dirt track, before their bones are finished growing, and that spells disaster. When a race horse gets injured, it's not a simple matter of a quick trip to the vet and a few weeks of taking it easy. Take, for example (and this is far from the only example) the story of Eight Belles, who came in second place at the Triple Crown in 2008, only to have her ankles shatter at the finish line. The brutal compound fractures were so severe, Eight Belles wasn't even treated, but she was put to sleep right there on the track where she lay, according to The New York Times.
Tradition Is A Terrible Excuse
Much of the support for the Kentucky Derby seems to be rooted in the fact that it's a "tradition." Spend enough time on the Derby's website, and you'll run into buzzwords like "history" and "legacy" so often, they'll start to lose meaning. Horse racing has been around forever! It predates recorded history, for goodness sake! Well, there are plenty of "traditions" that civilized humans now renounce. Foot binding was traditional. Animal sacrifice was traditional. Bloodletting was traditional. More recently, displaying the Confederate flag above state capitols was traditional. But it's 2016, and we're not a bunch of savages — or racists — anymore (at least most of us are trying not to be). It's time to be honest about how primitive and vulgar the practice of horse racing is, and end it once and for all.