What Is a Horse Race?

A horse race is a competition between horses ridden by jockeys over a set course with organized betting on the outcome. The first three finishers are awarded a designated amount of prize money. The sport of horse racing is an ancient one, with records of chariot races dating back to the 5th century bc in Asia Minor and a description of a steeplechase in Homer’s Iliad from the 7th or 8th century bc. The modern form of horse racing began in 1664 with the British occupation of New Amsterdam (now New York City), when Colonel Richard Nicolls laid out a 2-mile race course and introduced organized betting.

The modern race procedure begins with the jockeys, or riders, weighing in before the start of the race and presenting themselves to the stewards for inspection. Each is given a rider’s number and must be wearing a helmet, gloves, and a whip. They then enter the paddock, or stable area, to be prepared for the race by their trainers. Once they are ready to mount, they proceed to the starting gate for the race.

Once the race starts, the riders must maintain a safe distance between themselves and their opponents and follow the prescribed course, including jumping all obstacles (if present). They must then cross the finish line on their horse to complete the race. The horses may also be examined during the race by veterinary officials, who must determine whether they are carrying the proper weight and have not committed any rule violations.

During the course of a race, many horses fall, and some are injured badly enough to be put down. The death of Eight Belles, who collapsed in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, sparked public outrage and called into question the ethics and integrity of horse racing, but it has not changed how horses are raced. Horses continue to die catastrophically from the extreme physical stress of racing and training, as well as in training accidents.

In addition to falls, some horses are injured by other causes during a race, such as a collision with another horse or a jump barrier. The jockeys can suffer injuries as well, especially if they are riding a fast-moving horse or a horse with a high stride rate. Several riders have died during horse races in recent years.

Some horses are retired to pastures, but others end up in slaughterhouses, where they are cut up and turned into glue or dog food. The slaughterhouses are often in countries such as Canada, Mexico, or Japan, where horse meat is considered a delicacy. In order to reduce the number of horses that are killed in this way, animal welfare advocates have recommended a zero-tolerance drug policy, racing on turf tracks only, a ban on whipping, and racing horses only after their third birthday. In addition, some people have opposed horse racing altogether on ethical grounds.