The Code of Silence in Horse Racing

A horse race is a contest of speed between horses that are either ridden by jockeys or pulled by sulkies and their drivers. It is one of the oldest sports in the world and it has evolved from a primitive contest of speed or stamina into a modern spectacle with sophisticated electronic monitoring equipment and immense sums of money at stake. The basic concept remains the same, however: a horse that crosses the finish line first is the winner.

Behind the romanticized facade of Thoroughbred racing, a world of injuries, drugs, gruesome breakdowns, and slaughter lurks. Horses are pushed beyond their limits and forced to run at speeds so fast that they frequently sustain injuries, such as a condition called exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, which can be fatal. They are forced to train and race far too young, before their skeletal systems have matured enough to handle such intense exertion. They are doused with cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask their injuries and enhance their performance.

They are not allowed to speak for themselves, as human athletes can, and are unable to say no. Their trainers decide what they should do and they are not permitted to quit. This compulsion to race, even when injured or mentally compromised, is what has plagued the sport. It is what explains the need for a code of silence among horsemen and women that is so prevalent in the industry.

The code of silence is most acute when it comes to addressing the many abuses in the industry. It allows a small group of cheaters, who are never caught because of the secretive nature of the industry and its insider status, to stain the integrity of the sport for everyone else. It also gives an easy excuse to those who don’t want to take a bold step toward serious reform, such as more funding for drug testing and a commitment to punish those who break the rules.

Ultimately, the only way to fix the problems in horse racing is for people in the industry to admit that something is wrong and start making changes. The good news is that growing awareness of the problem has fueled a number of improvements, including increased funding for drug tests and an end to the insider’s code of silence.

The mudslinging, name-calling, and attack ads that have characterized this election season have made it hard to keep focused on the issues. Yet, as the race for president continues, we should all remember that the real horse race is between America and its disillusioned citizenry. It is time to stop the charade and bring back the honest, transparent debate that our country was founded on. Then we can truly make America great again. The New York Times editorial argues that we should not confuse hostility toward PETA with dismissing the organization’s work. Instead, we should call for the kind of bold reform that will set the entire sport free.