Horseracing is one of the most ancient forms of sporting competition. Since horses were first domesticated around 6,000 years ago, there have been events to determine which riders and horses could complete challenges ranging from flat races to archery competitions.
Today, there’s an incredible variety of equine tournaments, from tent pegging to polo to dressage to rodeo to vaulting. In fact, horseracing competitions like the Cheltenham Festival, Kentucky Derby, and Grand National are some of the most popular sporting events in the world in terms of viewership and wagers.
Still, not everyone may understand horseracing as well as they think they do — especially if they only tune in once a year to the flashiest competitions. Sometimes, these types of bandwagon fans may have only the loosest understanding of the sport, its history, and the context surrounding it.
This isn’t unique to horse racing. In fact, most illustrious competitions with a limited number of participants receive the same type of treatment from spectators. In the world of poker, for example, there’s a sentiment from pros that the game, like horse racing, is misunderstood.
There’s a shared feeling that the movies never get it right, often portraying myth and legend as fact. Sure, Hollywood may benefit from a more spectacular retelling, but the idea that poker players must have a good poker face to win is just as untrue as the idea that betting on a grey horse on a rainy day is a sure thing.
Sound familiar? Keep reading for some of the most common horseracing myths.
Horses Are Forced to Race
The idea that horses are forced to race and whipped to do so is an urban legend of yore. While it’s true that horses and riders face danger when they compete, longtime fans of the sport know that horses are born with a competitive spirit. If they don’t want to race, horses stop and no force will get them moving again.
Thoroughbred horses, in particular, have been bred for their racing spirit. Carefully-logged stud lines trace a horse’s lineage back to some of the earliest competitors with a fire for racing—it’s literally in their genes to be powerful and interested in racing.
Horseracing is Only for the Wealthy
Once again, this myth is wildly outdated. In fact, many thoroughbred horses today are co-owned by a variety of investors. To be fair, the costs associated with purchasing, housing, training, and racing a horse are astronomical; the total cost hovers between $250,000-350,000.
However, many people today rally together to cover the costs. The idea that horseracing is only for the wealthy negates how the industry has changed in the last half-century, and how it’s projected to continue evolving in the coming years.
Jockeys Must be Short
This myth makes a lot of sense. After all, if a horse is to run faster, jump high, and move with more grace, a jockey shouldn’t overburden the steed in terms of weight. In fact, most jockeys competing today stand between 4ft 10in and 5ft 7in and weigh around 110-120 pounds.
However, it’s important to note that there’s no actual height limit imposed on jockeys. The tallest jockeys today include Louise Moeller, who’s 6’1, and even Manute Bol, who’s 7’6. Both have lower weights, which makes them easier for the horse to carry.
Horses Resist Training
One of the most damaging myths in horseracing is that horses are forced to train and face punishment for failing to perform. However, there are now rules and standards that are measured scientifically to protect a horse’s health; jockeys can be any height, as mentioned above, but they must be of a certain weight according to their horse’s weight.
These types of rules are designed to protect the horse’s health. They also include restrictions on whips, which are now scientifically proven to not harm the horse. Similarly, race officials routinely visit racing teams to check on the welfare of their horses.
Some in the public have a false idea that horses resist training. The truth is that some aren’t cut out for competition based on personality or physicality — they aren’t forced to train at all.
Rather, trainers and caretakers can spot a racing horse in their first year based on their personality. From there, each horse will start to display its own unique racing style, which can be leveraged by jockeys and trainers for strategy.