Can you run a horse to death?

Listening to a commentator during yesterdays Belmont Stakes, it was said that the winner, Afleet Alex, was so far ahead at the finish, that he could probably run forever. Thoroughbreds are born and raised to run. If a jockey kept prodding and whipping his horse, kept him going round and round the mile and a half track, would the horse finally give up and stop on its own, or could the jockey literally run the horse to its death.

Horses can run fast only so long. There is a limit, and if you try to press them, they will run until they collapse. If not treated, they will die.

I think we got our answer this year.

Is that true of all horse breeds, or do have some horses not bred for racing the good sense to refuse to run further, before collapsing?

I can’t think of an animal that would not die if pressed beyond its resources, including human beings.

Breed doesn’t have much to do with it.

If you have trained the horse, and gained it’s trust & confidence, it will do everything it can to do what you ask of it. Including overworking itself, even to the point of physical injury.

Just like human athletes do for their coaches, or children do for their parents.
P.S. The way you phrased this question seems rather insulting. How about these similar questions:

  • Are there Olympic athletes who have to good sense to refuse risky medal attempts?
  • Are there soldiers who have to good sense to refuse to go into dangerous battles?
  • Are there parents who have to good sense to refuse to go back into a burning house for their children?

You might consider being more careful about your phrasing. I think that if you asked that question of Barbaro’s owner Gretchen Jackson right now, you would get your face slapped, or worse.

One big difference: animals aren’t given a choice.

I thought that was the question in the OP - would a horse choose to stop before exhausting itself, possibly to death, or would it choose to obey the rider?

Horses can have been run to death. Breed doesn’t seem to matter much.

Donkeys and mules, on the other hand, have been known to call it quits at a certain point and refuse to go further. This is why they are called “stubborn”

A chance to answer the OP and recommend a great book.

‘Seabiscuit’ by Laura Hillenbrand is a truly wonderful ‘non-fiction novel’ (much, much better than the movie was). I’m not into horse racing at all, but the book had me gripped from first to last and is exceptionally well-written. Highly recommended. From the book it seems clear that yes, it is possible to put a horse under so much strain that it will suffer and, in the worst possible cases, eventually die. It is also clear that some horses are extremely stubborn and won’t do anything they don’t feel like doing. So, yes, it is a concern because it can happen, but not all horses can be coerced into exerting themselves to this extent.

dont you mean… parents do for their children… !!! I have difficulty getting my kids to do anything round the place, but have had to carry tired children half way round town until my back has given up. :confused:

How could anyone forget old Rooster Cogburn running poor Little Blackie into the ground to save the snakebit Kim Darby…

My guess would be going around and around on a mile and a half track by himself, the horse would eventually slow down and stop. There would be no point to keep going, and the jockey’s whipping wouldn’t have much of an affect at a certain point. If the jockey kept whipping him to the point of pain, the horse would know he could toss the jockey off, and then stop.

If there were many horses racing around and around, then some would most likely have the desire to be in front or catch the leaders and they might not give up until they couldn’t run any longer. As long as there was another horse to beat, some would just keep going. Some are that competitive. But most would run as long as they were in the hunt and had a chance to beat the others. Once a horse could see he couldn’t keep up, and the others got too far away, he would continue to slow down, and eventually stop, knowing he coudn’t reach them anymore.

The jockey’s use of the whip is more to keep the horse focused and give signals to of when to speed up and pass than it is to force the horse to run faster. The horses aren’t running because they are whipped to the point of pain. They run because that is what they are bred to do. They have a desire to be out in front. The good horses learn to listen for signs from the jockey as to when to speed up. Some horses can never learn to do that, they can only run all out. The good ones learn to sit off the pace or even stay in the back, knowing a time will come when the jock says, “let’s go!” and the horse can run all out and overtake the others.

If you ever see a race where the jockey falls off shortly after the break, often that horse will just run along with the others, just as if the jockey was still on him. It is not unusual for some of those horses to cross the finish line first, as they don’t have the 110-130 pounds the others are carrying. Sometimes these horses will run with the pack, but not want to take the lead. They finish right behind the winner. And sometimes the horse is just plain confused, or was injured when the jockey fell off, and those horses run towards the rail and slow down to let themselves be caught by the outriders. Once I saw a horse jump the rail and run straight back to his barn and stop there.

With injuries like Barbaro’s, usually the horse is so pumped with adreneline, he doesn’t feel pain when the ankle breaks. They keep running, not knowing they are hurt. Barbaro’s jockey is given much credit for being able to pull Barbaro up as quickly as he did. Many times the horse is so focused on running, even though they only have three legs to really run on, they just keep going. Prado knew Barbaro would keep trying, so he had to work hard to stop him. Barbaro showed how much he wanted to run when he broke through the gate early I think. He had never lost a race. He worked hard for many of his wins, and looked ready to win again. Amazing that a such a competitive spirit was able to be stopped so quickly. That is what most likely saved him to this point.


Well, you can run a horse *to * death but you can’t make him die.