Technology and the Horse Race

horse race

The sport of horse racing has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina between two horses into a world-wide spectacle that draws in huge crowds and involves immense sums of money. But its basic concept remains unchanged: A horse who finishes the fastest is declared the winner.

The horse racing industry has been a major beneficiary of technological advances in recent years. It is now possible for trainers and veterinarians to monitor a horse’s progress on the track with thermal imaging cameras, MRI scanners, and endoscopes; X-ray machines can identify a variety of minor or serious health conditions; and 3D printing technology can produce casts, splints, and prosthetics to help injured or ill horses.

These advances are also helping to reduce the number of horses who need to be retired from competition due to injuries or age-related issues. In addition, improved nutrition and exercise physiology have led to an increase in the athleticism of both man and horse. Since the 1950’s, both Emil Zatopek’s concept of interval training and Roger Bannister’s four-minute mile have brought new knowledge to the fields of sports science and human performance. This increased athleticism has not only changed the appearance of a fast racehorse, but it has made the horses’ performances more sustainable over time (Harris 1998) and arguably improved their inherent physical ability as well.

Even so, there are concerns about the welfare of horse racing and the treatment of its athletes. In particular, horse races are notorious for their long training periods and grueling schedules. These lengthy workouts can be difficult for horses, which must build up a sweat to maintain their fitness and endurance, and they often suffer from injuries and illnesses during the process.

In addition, there are a number of allegations of animal cruelty in the sport. PETA has launched a number of investigations into abusive training practices for young horses, drug use by trainers, and the transport of racehorses to slaughterhouses in foreign countries.

Nevertheless, it is a mistake for the sport’s legions of apologists to try to dodge or deflect criticism or blame the messenger. Virtually no one outside of racing cares how PETA got its video for the same reason that they do not care how any activist gets any undercover footage of alleged animal abuse: They are interested in the substance of the evidence. And this latest video is profoundly disturbing. It should serve as a wake-up call for all of us. For more on this story and other horse racing news click the Horse Race button above.