Joined just to talk about this topic. Doing a paper on it for law school actually. Found it interesting that in the last several years there has been a huge increase in studies done to improve the safety of horse racing. One of those studies went over surfaces and which is best, etc. The study also found that 2-year-olds have the lowest ratio of breakdowns. Here is the quote from the study:
The Jockey Club released statistics that show the breakdown of fatalities according to age of the racehorse. Two-year-olds had the lowest incidence at 1.51 per 1,000 starts, and 5-year-olds the highest at 2.45.
So, how do you remedy the fact that the younger horses had the lowest incidence while 5 year olds had the higher? If so few 2 year olds are breaking down then it is hard to say that it is really hurting their growth and if they aren't breaking down within a year then it is really hard to say that it is because of the soft bones. Instead they often break down 3 years later. I am not convinced that 2 year old racing is as cruel as many make it out to be.
Also, you mentioned Ruffian... I think that horse really is the counter-argument for banning racing or even young racing. Ruffian loved to run and was a true competitor. She was never behind at any pole in any race she ever ran in. She couldn't stand to be passed. She won, at a record setting pace, despite having an injury to her hind leg. Then in her match race she pretty much refused to stop running despite her injury. If that doesn't show that many of those horses love to run and compete then I don't know what does. So many people argue that the owners of horses don't care about them, but I don't know how you can read the stories of trainers, jockeys, and owners and pick up that vibe. Maybe there are some that don't, but you don't dedicate your life and money to something and not care. Read the story of Ruffian again and tell me her owners, trainers, and jockey didn't care about her. Read how they all cried about losing something that they knew was so special and amazing. They weren't crying because they wouldn't win anymore stakes races with her. They were crying because they knew they lost something special that they all loved.
Always love statistics. So easy to tailor them
(what's more popular, cats or dogs?.....there are more cats in the US, but more dog owners in the US. Cat lovers say cats, because there are more cats. Dog lovers say dogs because more people own dogs)
Yes, older horses in the racing industry have the higher number of breakdowns and that's because we start racing them young.
We'll use a human statistic to point out why.
How many 21 year old people suffer from bulging disks or other back problems?
Now consider how many of the older people have back problems because of the damage they did to their backs by lifting improperly when they were young. (a bit over simplified, but it's just for pointing out)
Some degree of damage is being done to every horse that starts racing too young. They might not break down, but damage is still being done.
Using the racing industries statistics, explainations, etc... is a bit like using the tobacco industries information on smoking. Do you honestly think they are going to admit that they are wrong. And if they have to, they will go with the easiest, and least damaging for them, course of action (complete with their own least damaging information for, or against, whatever they have done, or will do). Never add any truth that's damaging
That's why, when compared to most of the medical community, both the tobacco and horse racing industries medical "experts" are in the minority.
Not saying that the link you provided was in support of the racing industry. It only provided a limited level of information about the statistics gathered. And if you wanted to you could use their information to make a better argument for not racing until a horse reaches 72 months, since injuries started declining at that age.
As for Ruffian, and so many other horses that love to run. Most light breeds love to run, but not as often, as far or as hard as they do in the racing industry. They do it a lot when they are young because it's a survival trait that kept them alive for longer than recorded history...preparing for escaping from danger. But a colt or filly running across the pasture on it's own does not maintain a full speed run for over 1/2 mile as hard as they can go. They'll only do that for two reasons. One is to escape a perceived danger (and they'll stop when they feel it's safe, so distance would usually be shorter). The other is because we ask it of them to, have conditioned them to it, and if the psychological connection is there....because they want to do what they believe we expect of them. I can't imagine any equine medical expert that's going to tell you that, if left to her own devices, Ruffian was going to go racing across a field for over a mile as hard as she could run just because she liked to run and not slow down if something hurt. She was taught, trained and conditioned to run as hard as she could when she was on a track with a rider on her. Just like my mare was taught, trained and conditioned to stop cattle from breaking away from the herd when we moved them, so that if one did she needed no encouragement to cut them off and force them back. We train horses for what we want them to do. If we do it well enough they in turn will do what we ask.
If you look at the growth rate of the horse's skeletal system (and all horses develope at the same rate within a few months...colts take a little longer) they don't finish growing until after 5 years of age. The back is the last to firm up.
If you want a true test of the what the industry is trying to say about older horses breaking down more then young....you can't get one. Why? Because to make an accurate comparison you need to compare horses that where raced at 2 vs a horse that was trained and conditioned slowly up until it was 5, so that there was not damage done from overworking too young, and then raced. Well, no one is going to spend the time and money to do that. It's a lot of money for 5 years of preparation on a horse that still might not be a winner. This in an industry that expects to make money before 5 years or they're out.
You also have to add to these statistics that a 6 year old is stonger and faster than a 3 year old. So you have a horse who is having damage done at a young age from being run very hard. Then that same horse, if it's able to, is still racing as it grows older. Running harder and faster. Things that suffered minor damage earlier can then become major.
If the industry really believed it's own line, then explain why Colts that are big winners are retired early. They know the truth and their actions show it. Winning colts are retired so that they stay sound enough to breed. They know that everytime a young horse races damage is done and the risk of a breakdown increases. If the colt's a winner they can make money breeding, so they pull them out. Otherwise they would keep racing, because they could make the purse money as well as the stud fees. The onlly horses that are kept racing even as winners are geldings, because their only value is to win a purse, and fillies, because you can't breed her 50 times a year and collect 50 fees. Although if the mare is a big winner like Ruffian you can look at breeding them to a Secretariate and if the offspring is sound and well formed it could command a staggering price, because of the potential present for the bloodlines.
There is no shortage of statistics out there for every position. Common sense would make the industries statistic suspect. The same common sense would make the anti-racing statistics suspect.
Unless you can find one that matches the major medical information. While I've found some of the anti-racing positions a bit radical, I have to concede that more of their information is sound and taken from the general equine medical community. There are also more people who have left the industry as a result of what it does to horses. Like former smokers, they can at times be the very outspoken opponents of TB racing.
(too long...to be continued