The Horse Race and Politics

Horse racing is a sport in which riders compete with horses over a specified course, jumping hurdles (if present) and crossing a finish line. The horses used are called racehorses and may be bred for racing or trained in other disciplines, such as show jumping or dressage. Horse races have a long history, dating back to the early Bronze Age in Asia and Ancient Greece. They have also been a part of the Olympics since 740 to 700 BC. They are also well represented in mythology and culture, including the contest between the gods Odin and Hrungnir in Norse mythology.

The word horse race is often applied to political contests, as in the phrase “a horse race.” It is an allusion to the close competition of athletic events that pit athletes against each other and the spectators who cheer them on. This kind of sports-like event has many similarities to a political campaign, with its mudslinging, name calling and attack ads. In fact, media scholars have found that horse race coverage far outshines any other campaign topic of substance in American presidential elections. The practice has been criticized for depoliticizing politics and trivializing it as a form of thrilling entertainment.

Advocates of horse race journalism argue that it is important for voters to be aware of the current leaders and their positions in a campaign. They also contend that using familiar sports language in coverage will help arouse interest in political affairs. They further assert that it is in the interests of journalists to portray politics as a horse race because this is the way that most people think about electoral campaigns.

Despite advances in treatment, horse racing continues to be dangerous for the horses that are used to make it happen. They are routinely pushed beyond their physical limits in an attempt to be fast enough to win, and the results can be devastating. Horses die from injuries and illness, most notably from the excruciating pressure on their bodies caused by running at high speeds. They are also poisoned by cocktails of legal and illegal drugs to mask their pain, cover up their injuries and artificially enhance their performance.

In an attempt to prevent further deaths of horses, Congress in 2020 mandated that all tracks adopt a uniform set of safety standards. The National Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, which began enforcing the new rules in July, has already seen the number of fatalities drop significantly. However, if the industry wants to truly protect its animals it will need to undergo an ideological reckoning that prioritizes the welfare of the horses at every level of the business. This will require a drastic change in the way that racing is managed, from breeding to aftercare and establishing a more natural, equine-friendly lifestyle for the racehorses that are used. This will likely include donations from racing industry folks and gamblers, but it is the only way that horses can get out of this death trap.