Owning a horse – even a part-ownership share of as little as a 10% of a syndicate or company – is unfortunately becoming popular among the Indian middle class who see race horses as an investment and a means to raise their social standing. It is claimed that the “passion and thrill for races” follow. Snootiness also follows! Horses, mares and foals are but incidental.

In 1996 the Supreme Court ruled that wagering on horse races is a game of skill, not just luck, and as such does not constitute an illegal form of gambling under the 1888 Police Act, nor under the 1930 Gaming Act. This together with off-course and inter-track betting, live TV coverage and acceptance of bets over the counter at different locations, boosted the popularity of horse racing in India, more so with the advent of online and telephone betting with bookmakers covering horse races on Indian tracks. Almost year-round a horse race is held daily some where in the country and simulcast transmission takes place between all the clubs where both pool betting and traditional bookmakers operate.

Actually, horse racing is a throw back to the British Raj and aristocratic club culture. There are several Turf Authorities of India. How some turf clubs have managed to retain ‘Royal’ in their names is a mystery. By becoming a member of a Turf Club the nouveau riche manage to achieve and bask in a new found prestige and status that they crave. Only those with a direct interest in racing, but no more than a few thousand are members of any Turf Club. The Royal Western India Turf Club (RWITC) under which fall the Mahalaxmi Racecourse of Mumbai, the Pune Racecourse, and the Delhi Race Club, is considered the most exclusive. Others which are no less exclusive in their own cities are the Hyderabad Race Club, the Royal Calcutta Turf Club, the Bangalore Turf Club, Mysore Race Club Ltd, the Ooty Racecourse at Udhagamandalam, The Nilgiris, and the Madras Race Club (its Guindy racecourse at Chennai, set up in 1777 is India’s oldest racecourse).


The state government of Punjab also hopes to construct a state-or-art Turf Club at Ludhiana for horse (and dog/greyhound) races, despite objections raised by the Animal Welfare Board of India and the state’s Animal Husbandry Department, who were approached by Beauty Without Cruelty. It is nothing short of gambling politics because state governments gain fantastically in taxes. For example, in 2013 the RWITC paid Rs 45 crore for Mahalaxmi Racecourse by way of taxes covering wagering in horse races, rent, property tax, betting tax, entertainment tax, and licence fee.

Horse racing is indeed an industry of which the horses are the exploited work force, made to run at a fast desired pace to the winning post. Whips and bits (D shaped metal pieces put in their mouths, joined to bridles to which the reins are attached) are used to control them. Flat lead pieces are placed in leather cloth on both sides of the jockey’s saddle to ensure the load (jockey and tack included) they carry is as per the weight allocated to them. (Known as handicap, it is done to give each horse an equal chance to win because the horses with better chances of winning are made to carry extra weight.) Their vision is restricted with blinkers so they concentrate and eventually run straight on the track. They are even muzzled over their noses and lips to stop them biting or eating.

So-called Sport

The lay person basically knows a horse can walk, trot, canter and gallop, and associates the so-called sport of horse-racing with the natural prowess of the horse and the skilful control that its rider exercises over it to make it run even faster. He is also aware that there is money involved in the sport in the form of legalised gambling.

However, he does not consider the activity as an objectionable exploitation of the animal because there are usually no visibly obvious signs of suffering on the part of the horse. In addition, he is unaware of the preparation the horse has to undergo for racing, of the strain it must experience in having its endurance stretched to the artificial limits of racing (are horses ever seen running at breakneck speeds in nature?), and because he underestimates the lengths man will go to in fulfilling his greed for big money.

Horseracing is big business in which the horse is always the loser. It is manipulated gambling where races are more often than not “fixed”. Rightly so, the State Government of Tamil Nadu views it as a purely gambling activity.

In addition to the Turf Authorities of India, some other institutions that are part and parcel of this big business are the Race Horse Owners Federation of India, Western India Trainers Association, Jockeys Association of India, National Horse Breeding Society of India, Racing Academy of India, and Indian Association of Equine Practitioners.

The intense exploitation and cruelties attached to horse racing are not always obvious. To begin with, hundreds of race horses have known to suffer from colic and this is one of the main causes of their premature deaths. Moreover, due to lack of funds for their fodder and neglect, some horses have actually died of starvation. How strenuous racing is for the horses is evident from the fact that every horse loses around 2% of its weight during a race. For example, a 2-year old horse weighing around 450 to 500 kgs may lose 8 to 10 kgs of weight during a single race or during practice on the track.

Insiders see the way the horses are grossly exploited to benefit breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys,
bookmakers (bookies), punters (gamblers/bettors/wagerers), vets, syces and others.

5 Myths

OneGreenPlanet has listed 5 myths the horse racing industry spreads:
1. Racing horses are respected athletes.
If horses really were respected athletes would they be stuffing them with drugs in order to perform when it is illegal to do so?
2. The exercise horses get from a race is healthy for them.
There is a big difference between healthy exercise and collapsing after finishing a race.
3. Death is rare in the horse racing industry.
Totally false. Poisoning is quite common. For example, in April 2023 the Police in Nashik began probing a horse’s death since the owner lost 5 animals since 2018.
4. Racing professionals understand horses and their needs very well.
They do not understand the physical limitations of horses and only think of profit.
5. If we didn’t use horses for our own benefit, what purpose would they have?

Horses do not exist for humans. They do not deserve to be exploited for so-called sport or entertainment.

Stud Farms

India allows only Indian bred racehorses to participate. This has given rise to nearly 100 stud farms in different parts of the country with some people owning more than one stud farm.

Stud Farms are where one stallion services a dozen mares. Horse breeders do not consider horses as animals, but as commercial commodities – their sole aim is to produce “classic winners”. Feeding and corresponding growth, coupled with planning techniques in horse breeding, are what makes these so-called farms flourish.

But, not all stud farms flourish. For example, in December 2013 a Delhi based animal welfare organisation rescued 49 thoroughbred race horses from a stud farm in Aligarh. They were gaunt, wounded and starving – 20 had already died (the owner claimed weed poisoning) and 6 from among those rescued also died soon after.

Drug Abuse

Most people are unaware that the racehorse is often subjected to continuous gross drug abuse – although not always detected and therefore not disqualified – to prepare it for the exacting demands of the race. In October 2011, 10 persons were booked in Pune for feeding a banned substance detected under random sampling to three race horses.

Earlier in the year (January 2011) 3 top horses under different trainers were tested positive at the Mahalaxmi racecourse in Mumbai, for the drug Boldenone in their urine. This drug Phenylbutazone, also called Bute, is given to 90% of the world’s race horses since helps them race despite injuries. The drug effectively relieves pain but this relief is temporary and the problem remains as it was. Besides being a pain killer, Bute has anti-inflammatory properties and may be used to race unsound horses with injured limbs as important races can not be jumped. This leads to aggravation of the injury and in some cases permanent irreparable damage. Possible side effects include kidney damage, internal haemorrhage and oral lesions.

Furosemide, a drug sold under the brand name of Lasix, relieves hypertension and oedema. Its function as a diuretic agent (increases urine output) is often misused to dilute chemical substances in the horses’ system, e.g. narcotics, thereby preventing detection.

Hormone injections are administered to keep muscles “up”. Performance enhancing drugs that go undetected in human male athletics are compounds like the luteinising hormone which works indirectly stimulating the testes to produce testosterone which in turn bulks up their muscles. This does not work for geldings (castrated racehorses) so they tinker with another source of testosterone, the adrenal glands by administering androstanediol and androstadienedione drugs that block aromatase which naturally regulates testosterone levels. The added advantage for the doper is that the levels of these two drugs are undetectable for a couple of days after administration.

Moreover, anti-cycle drugs such as progesterone administered to the mares are a safety measure to stop the mare from coming into season at the time of an important race.

In India, the horses’ blood, urine and sweat are tested after the race is run, to check for doping. Drug usage persists despite this peremptory measure. Users employ utmost caution and secrecy. As explained, drugs like Lasix help avoid detection. According to some leading Indian veterinarians, the lab facilities for the testing of drug abuse leave a lot to be desired.

On 15 October 2013 in supercession of all previous notifications regarding Medication, Treatment and Anti-doping Control Rules, the Stewards of all the Turf Clubs of India notified new regulations and procedures which can be read here.

Drug abuse not only occurs in horse racing as mentioned above. In February 2012 the winning horse (owned by the Abu Dhabi’s royal family) of the toughest equestrian event, the 160 km endurance race, was tested positive the following day for propoxphene, a painkiller to enhance performance. Five years later the FEI or Fédération Équestre Internationale (International Federation for Equestrian Sports) suspended the Indian veterinarian for intentionally injecting the banned substance and handed a 2 year ban on the rider which was reduced to 18 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

In 2015 when a horse (named Mohican Sun) broke a blood vessel, its urine was tested and found positive for Venlafaxine. Similarly, in 2019 when a horse (named Excellent Sorrento) that broke a blood vessel after participating in a race on the Pune Race Course had to have its urine compulsorily tested for prohibited drug substances, it resulted in cobalt being detected. Earlier in 2016 a couple of Australian horse-trainers and a veterinarian had been banned by the RWITC for administering cobalt to horses.

That’s not all…

Besides drug abuse many of the medical treatments rendered to horses for different ailments could make animal lovers squirm. One of these techniques is blistering. Many times young horses, with immature bone structures, may develop sore shins because of heavy exercise and training schedules. This is remedied by creating a blister on the affected area by the application of certain mercury compounds or in some cases using red-hot white iron. The resultant blister creates a big swelling which oozes liquid and finally results in formation of scar tissue. Blistering is very painful. Light or heaving blistering may be resorted to depending on the need. Though other less painful alternatives exist, blistering is generally opted for because it is comparatively quick (3 to 4 weeks) and almost always guarantees results. In certain cases blistering may have to be repeated up to 3 times if the desired results are not obtained. A mare unable to bear the pain of blistering had killed herself by banging her head against the stable wall.

The term gelding is used to denote a castrated horse. (An un-gelded male horse under 5 years is called a colt.) Castration is done so that the horses’ genitals do not interfere with his racing career. The majority of racehorses around the world are geldings since they do not develop the temperament of a stallion (horse used for breeding).

Certain horses are referred to as roarers and are so called because the horse has undergone a sophisticated operation making a hole in his throat up to his windpipe. This hole has a tube fitted into it. The reason is that horses need ample air or oxygen to run fast and some horses breathing through their noses or mouth are unable to take in enough air to be winners, so a simple tube through a hole in the throat does the job.  

Horses may also be bled to control toxic symptoms. Bleeding leaves the horse weak for days, but the aim is to brighten the horse with the production of new blood.

Some trainers in the West and almost all Indian trainers employ what is called a factory system of training. In India this system is used simply because no other options exist. Under such a system, horses spend most of their time in the stable cubicle. They are only released for a heavy early morning training session and an afternoon session intercepted with activities like rolling or swimming. Horses in such conditions often display signs of nervousness like repetitive jerky movements of the head, crib-biting, etc. Such high strung behaviour is quite obvious when they are walked from their stables to the racecourse even if they have blinkers on to limit their field of vision.

Horses are put through a good amount of exercise to stay healthy and fit so like athletes, race horses are made to undergo swimming and treadmill run workouts. The latter takes the weight off their forelegs and corrects their rhythm. They are pushed to perform up to 70 kms per hour on the treadmill, because a race horse is expected to run a distance of 200 metres in roughly 15 seconds.

Like humans, horses differ in temperament. Certain reluctant ones are made to run by pushing them. This method involves surrounding a lazy horse by his more active contemporaries. As the others run the lazy horse that did not respond to hands and heals riding or even a manual whip, is forced to keep pace. Some times the use of an electric whip or jack motivates horses into moving.

In Mumbai horses run with aluminium shoes which are lighter compared to steel, but need to be changed by a farrier (horseshoer) before each race.

In order to circumvent dwindling numbers in the stands, in April 2015 the RWITC held its first night-race in India at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse. The poor horses had to put up with a 15,000 person crowd, fireworks, and race under floodlights. It is unfortunate for the horses that the RWITC has been permitted to hold evening racing carnivals between 4 to 8 pm under flood lights, and that as many as 19 dates have been fixed during the first four months of 2016.

Certain Death

While the life span of a thoroughbred (purebred horse) is 20 to 30 years, its racing career is merely 5 to 6 years. If during a race its body capacity is stretched beyond its limit of endurance, it suffers a breakdown – it may bleed from its lungs (is called a bleeder) or more likely its legs shatter under the strain of racing. With a fractured leg, its life is not thought fit to be allowed to continue for one more day and it is destroyed – usually by a bullet in the head. Racehorses with broken bones are euthanized because they won’t recover sufficiently well to race again. This happens ever so often: the horse suffers a fractured fetlock (ankle) after stumbling or collapsing due to being overstrained during the course of a race, all because it has been driven, strongly ridden or whipped by the jockey (to please the trainer and owner) to run faster and still faster. At least one horse collapses on the tracks every season and the horse and jockey both get injured. The horse either succumbs to its injuries or is put down. Sadly the focus is not on the welfare of horses, but on winning lakhs of rupees in prize money and trophies of silver and gold.

For example, a class one horse was disguised by being painted black and was run as a class five horse. Just as he won, it began raining, so to avoid public humiliation, the trainer quickly spirited the horse away, killed and cremated it.

Young horses stand a better chance of winning, so older ones are made to retire. Retirement involves selling the horse to an amateur riding institute where it would be mercilessly whipped to death; or more likely, to the Haffkine Institute or Serum Institute which produce serums and vaccines for which the poor horses are systematically bled – to death – for blood money. If no buyer is found, the old horse is abandoned to die of starvation. Taking a horse all the way to the Sonepur Cattle Fair (near Patna) when on Kartik Purnima animals are sold is almost out of question. Following the Government ban on the sale of wildlife, each year has seen lesser animals traded, however a few hundred horses were sold (mostly to middlemen) in 2018.

Abandoned race horses are ever so often seen loitering on roads in The Nilgiris, in places such as Udhagamandalam (Ootacamund/Ooty). The problem is aggravated at the end of every racing season when some race horses are sold off (got rid off for a pittance) to ponywallas who abandon them in a couple of months. They are unable to feed them the way they were fed as race horses, and the horses can not adjust to such vastly different living conditions. Also, having grown up ‘gated’ the horses find it difficult to suddenly face traffic on roads or so many people plus give rides to tourists who visit the hill station. When their health deteriorates, the animals once used to so-called pampering, are abandoned and forced to rummage through garbage bins or eat roadside grass for survival. Animal welfare organisations do their best to help, but they are forever rescuing abandoned horses. One such case was in 2013 when CUPA rescued two throughbreds abandoned by a riding school in J P Nagar in Bengaluru. The third died, but the two that were brought to the CUPA shelter with immense difficulty survived after been given nourishment and medical aid – they had not been fed for three weeks because the owner had gone abroad and the staff had left due to non-payment. It was therefore good to know that in September 2020 the Department of Animal Husbandry and the Nilgiris SPCA announced that any retired race horses found to be used for joy rides on the streets will be confiscated and sent to an infirmary; and persons involved would be fined Rs 50,000/-. BWC hopes other hill stations in India follow suit.

Abandoned horses are more likely to be inflicted by deadly equine infections. For example, in 2017 after as long as 11 years horses (mules and donkeys) in Maharashtra were reported to have contacted Glanders. However, every few years we hear of the outbreak of this disease in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

Abroad it’s as bad. After their gainful racing careers are over, racehorses that are too old to breed, show jump or do simple trail riding are sent off to “kill auctions” – that is, end up in abattoirs.

However, equine-assisted education seems to be catching on for some retired horses abroad and was even introduced to India 2018. It claims that horse therapy helps in motor skills, mobility and communication of autistic persons and children.

Bad for Horses, Bad for Humans

British royalty’s patronage and the promotion of a fashionable lifestyle on race courses, lapped up by India’s race-going socialites, cover up the truth built upon the blood and sweat of race horses. Bute and Lasix administered, whipped to run fast and faster, with metal spurs digging into sensitive parts (even for a photo-shoot) horse racing can hardly qualify as a sport, leave alone the sport of kings.

Interestingly, no one remarks on how the human form is demeaned by the demands of horse racing: jockeys in order to match their highly strung mounts, need to be small in stature and light in weight which is achieved through a starvation diet when young. (This could very well be termed a deliberate deformity inflicted upon a human being.)

In August 2014 the Supreme Court declared “The activities of the appellant Turf Clubs is in the nature of organised and systematic transactions, and further that the said Turf Clubs provide services to members as well as public in lieu of consideration. Therefore the Turf Clubs are a ‘shop’ for the purpose of extending the benefits under the ESI (Employee’s State Insurance) Act.” The Court also noted that horse-racing clubs conduct racing which is an activity of entertainment, and also provide various services to the members and spectators who enjoy racing and betting for a consideration. BWC feels this judgement proves that cruelty and exploitation of animals is a forerunner to exploitation of humans. It is estimated that 50,000 to 60,000 persons across India are employed for horse breeding and racing with black market hedging in 2018 on the rise.

Horse/Jockey Tack

Horse/jockey tack basically consists of saddles, stirrups, reins, bridles, nosebands, bits & tongue ties, blinkers, bib forks, halters, harnesses and whips. They are mostly made of leather derived from cattle. (Breathing aids or nasal strips, ear hoods and ear plugs for sound control, vision control hoods and shadow rolls are also considered a part of the tack.)

Besides the obvious leather saddles on which jockeys sit, girths are strips made of leather (and elastic) put under the horse’s belly and to which the saddle is attached. A leather cloth with pockets that holds flat pieces of lead is fixed on either side of the saddle for handicap races. The bridle is made of thin easily breakable leather that fits over a horse’s head to which the metal bit in its mouth on one end and reins on the other side are attached. The other restricting gear stated above, could also made of leather.

Tanneries in Kanpur process hides into heavy leather saddles and harnesses which are also exported to equestrian markets in Europe and USA.

Prior to 2001, during the course of a race a horse was usually whipped 40 times with a leather-cum-whalebone whip. Since then the Turf Clubs were forced by government to make shock-absorbing and lighter aircushion whips mandatory. Also, jockeys are not allowed to raise their hand above their shoulders, or whip a horse more than 8 times during a race.

Technology may also be used. The rider wears a special helmet equipped with a microphone and music, whereas the horse is fitted with headphones through which it hears the rider’s voice along with some so-called horse sensitive music which is said to make it respond to commands better.

Marwari Horses and other Indian breeds

In March 2019 the Indigenous Horse Owners Association (IHOA) presented the Marwari Horse Show’s fourth edition at Pune Race Course. The IHOA showcases the prowess in racing, endurance and equestrian events of these horses. They are replenishing and rebuilding their stock because they wish to dispel wrong notions about them particularly that they can not race like thoroughbreds.

In their fifth edition in 2020 the IHOA declared that efforts were underway to revive the Bhimthadi breed of horses which once served the Maratha army but were now on the verge of extinction.

Malkangiri Ponies

In January 2023 the district administration of Swabhiman Anchal (Odisha) conducted a rural derby competition using Malkangiri Ponies as part of the Malabanta Mahotsav to coincide with the Hockey World Cup held in Bhubaneswar.

Without formal training in horse-riding young tribal boys begin riding horses before they are even 10 years old.

These sturdy horses have been around for more than a century and have adapted to the terrain, withstood drought and shortage of food. They are used for transportation of farm produce from fields to homes to markets as well as construction materials to hilltop villages. However with the construction on roads in the area, many horses that were abandoned died during the rains.

No Real Love

Horse racing is based on power, prestige and prosperity with glitz, glamour and fillies on the side. The end justifies the means – as long as one gets away scot-free.

When in 2022 horse races resumed after two years (had been cancelled due to the pandemic) the RWITC in collaboration with an online gambling company organised an event in Pune to attract a young crowd.

If human beings who owned horses really loved their animals, they would let them graze peacefully. Greed for profit makes horse racing undesirable because it some how manages to cloak cruelty with respectability.

Page last updated on 03/06/23