The Evolution of Horse Racing

A horse race is an equestrian event in which horses run around a course and bettors place wagers on the horse they believe will finish first. It is one of the oldest of all sports and has remained relatively unchanged for centuries. Today, however, the sport has undergone a number of technological changes and is highly sophisticated. It has also developed into a huge public-entertainment business and is governed by strict rules, regulations, and technological monitoring equipment.

The first horse races were match races between two or three horses, with owners offering a purse and accepting bets on the outcome of the race. Bettors would pay a certain amount of money to win the race; if they lost, they forfeited their stake. The agreements between the owners and bettors were recorded by disinterested third parties who became known as keepers of the match books. One of these, John Cheny of Newmarket, England, published An Historical List of All the Horse-Matches Run (1729). Other such records were consolidated by James Weatherby in his Racing Calendar (1873), and later by others.

As the sport evolved, it became more complicated, with larger fields of runners and increased betting. In addition, the use of performance-enhancing drugs increased. Some of these were legal; for example, the Romans used a mixture called hydromel to increase stamina. Others were not, and the penalty for cheating in a horse race was crucifixion.

In recent decades, many people have come to view horse racing as a cruel and unethical business. The animal rights organization PETA asserts that racing is “the Big Lie” because of the way horses are trained and raced: They are drugged, whipped, bred too young and pushed to their limits, often beyond. They are social animals, but spend most of their work lives in a stall. Those that do not win enough races end up in slaughterhouses, where they are processed into glue and dog food or sold for meat.

Most of the time, when a horse is not running in a race, it’s resting in its stall or standing in the shedrow. But a horse that is not at rest can become agitated and fretful, a condition called stall walking. The constant movement and anxiety can cause injury to the horse’s lower legs, which can lead to a fracture or tendon damage. To prevent stall walking, the horse is given a shadow roll (a piece of cloth secured over the bridge of the nose) to block out any shadows on the ground that might cause the horse to startle and shy away from or jump obstacles. This device is also used to help horses who are spooked by sound or wind. A horse that is spooked may also develop a spiral (fracture) of the bone, which is called a spavin. This can be painful and difficult for the horse to heal. This is why it’s important to keep a close eye on the condition of your horse.