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Abuse of Yearlings and 2-Year-Olds in Training

Horses begin training and racing while their skeletal systems are still growing and are unprepared to handle the pressures of competition racing on a hard track at high speeds. The accelerated training schedule to prepare young horses for the annual 2-year-olds in training auctions and the Triple Crown Season, coupled with the use of drugs on physically immature horses, results in deadly injuries. One study concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him or her from finishing a race, while another study estimated that three thoroughbreds die every day in North America because of catastrophic injuries sustained during races.

In the spring of their second year, thoroughbred racehorses are forced to perform in reckless speed trials known as “under tack shows” to impress prospective buyers at auctions. Although many of these horses are still chronological yearlings, they are forced to sprint an eighth of a mile at speeds faster than they ever will again in their lives.

Not only does pushing these undeveloped horses to run at extreme speeds result in catastrophic breakdowns at auctions, many horses also suffer career- and life-ending injuries training for these events. Equine veterinarian Dr. Sheila Lyons, who has been featured on the cover of The Blood-Horse magazine, wrote:

Pushing these immature 2 year old horses for speed before they have reached physical and mental maturity is recklessly dangerous and systematically damaging for the animal while also proving to be unreliable for the prospective buyers as a predictor of future racing ability. 

PETA went undercover at under tack shows in 2011, and the breakdowns we witnessed were shocking. At the Fasig-Tipton auction on May 19, 2011, our investigator saw Hip #396 suffer a compound fracture of her cannon bone while sprinting. In the video, pieces of bone can be seen splintering from the filly’s leg as subsequent strides put weight on the exposed bone. And on June 19, at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auction in Ocala, Florida, the heat index wavered between 104 and 108 degrees Fahrenheit when a colt, Merciless Cat, suffered a fatal burst aorta while sprinting. There is a wealth of evidence proving that sprinting at excessive speeds puts young horses at risk for injuries and catastrophic breakdowns. These risks are compounded by extreme temperatures.

PETA has written to the four major auction houses—Fasig-Tipton Company, Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company, Keeneland Association, and Barretts Equine Limited—asking for immediate reforms. Please add your voice today to prevent more young horses from suffering terrible deaths.