What motivates a horse to run in a race? It’s unnatural for a racing horse to race. That sounds peculiar but it is unnatural for horses to gallop over long distances to near exhaustion. Dr. Desmond Morris provides his reasons as to why horses race. There may be other theories. What are yours?
Penned up and forced inactivity
The horse has been kept in stables, inactive for a long time. It seems that they are deliberately penned up and not allowed to run around a field. They become frustrated. They have regular runs but this does little apparently to relieve their frustration. The runs wet the horse’s appetite for freedom.
And if it is suggested that a racehorse might enjoy being turned that into a field for a taste of desired freedom and activity, some trainers might disagree on the basis that if they are allowed to roam freely, they will lose their desire to race fast. They are boxed up to the extent that they are starved of any kind of physical activity. This leads to an explosion of energy when they are finally at the starting gate in a race. And they will run to exhaustion at which point they are whipped or either pulled up.
And because they burn up an excess of energy to the point of near exhaustion they are rested for long periods in between races. They appear to be incapable of racing again for days. This supports the unnaturalness of their existence and how they are deliberately kept in this unnatural lifestyle to maximise their performance in a race.
Wild horses do not or cannot flee rapidly every few days against danger. And they don’t flee quite so far as they do on a racetrack. It is said that in the wild the natural predator of wild horses such as wild dogs, wolves and large cats would give up chasing a horse much sooner than the end of a typical race. This once again supports the unnaturalness of the horse race.
To a horse the race is mindless and meaningless and simply an explosion of pent-up energy as mentioned. They are not behaving normally when fleeing from a predator or engaging in a panic escape from the attentions of a predator but simply expressing themselves physically after being restrained for so long.
This is not be entirely true, however, because when a rider uses the whip, it causes pain. The pain is reminiscent of the claw of a large cat such as a cougar in America attacking domestic horses in a fenced field. Feeling this pain, the horse naturally uses their best efforts to escape and in making that extra effort they run faster on the track.
Pursued by a predator
It is believed that another reason why horses race is because in their mind they have the belief perhaps through a fantasy that they are being pursued by a predator although as mentioned it would not happen like this in the wild. The racetrack is an entirely artificial setting.
Two reasons why they race
In conclusion, race horses race because of a combination of two conditions (1) fleeing from an invisible predator and (2) an explosion of energy after being thwarted in using a normal amount of energy.
I’d love to hear the views of others. Below are some more pages on horses.