The activity of horse racing has an ancient origin. In ancient Greece and Rome, horse racing was a sporting event for the wealthy. Races involved both chariots and jockeys who rode horses without using stirrups. Equestrian events (such as four-horse chariots, two-horse chariots, and riders) were also a part of the ancient Olympics. Over time, horse racing has remained popular, and it has evolved to become a sport of gambling, thoroughbred horses, and upscale customs. Even the quaint horse barn has evolved to become a sophisticated hub where race horses are bred and kept.
During the 1600s, horse racing was popular in England. As British colonists began arriving in the New World, they brought this sport to America. Initially, the races were simple in nature, involving just two horses and riders racing over longer distances. These sprint races were eventually outlawed because pedestrians were being run over. People began using a select few horse breeds for racing. Breeding created the Narragansett Pacer, which was a popular horse among colonists. A race track was built and began operating in 1665 in what is now Nassau County, New York.
- The History of Racing
- Breed History 500’s-1700’s
The line of the American Quarter Horse originated during the 1750s when the foundation sire named “Janus” was shipped to Virginia. The foundation sire of the Thoroughbred breed, named “Messenger,” arrived in the United States in 1788. Horse racing became popular in Virginia with an abundance of stud farms operating to produce race horses. A few horse racing tracks existed in the northern regions of the United States, but generally Americans in the North did not participate in the sport of horse racing to the same extent that Southerners did. Many horse jockeys in the South were slaves. Although these jockeys remained slaves, some of them gained an elite status as they experienced success as jockeys.
- Off to the Races
- The Emergence of Popular Culture in Colonial America
- Life, Growth & Development in the Virginia Colony (1700-1760)
- Racing Reached Great Popularity by the 1700s
Long-distance racing became popular during the 1800s, with race courses spanning distances ranging between 10 and 40 miles. After the U.S. Civil War, the southern states could not continue horse racing at the same level due to the ravages of war. Horse racing moved north, and it took off at greater speeds than ever before. Jockeys who were former slaves continued to be active in the sport of horse racing. Over 300 race tracks were operating throughout the United States by 1890. The American Jockey Club was created in 1894. This organization was the governing authority over horse racing, and it was instrumental in eliminating corruption from the sport. The Kentucky Derby originated in 1875.
Legislation that prohibited gambling virtually stopped horse racing in the early 1900s. By 1910, only three states continued to allow betting on horse races. With the onset of the depression, the government began searching for any means of stimulating the economy. Gambling was a potential money-maker, and bingo was the first form of gambling to return to the American people. Horse racing and the parimutuel betting it involved were legalized in four states in 1933. After World War II, horse racing lost popularity, and this wane lasted until the 1970s. At this time, the horses racing in the American Triple Crown spurred a resurgence of popularity in the sport. Public interest declined after this time, and it remains minimal today.
Thoroughbred race horses trace back to three distinct British lineages: the Byerly Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Barb. Specific horses were brought to America as foundational sires, including “Medley,” “Shark,” “Messenger,” and “Diomed.” Thoroughbred breeders recognize that champions are likely to produce champions. Male Thoroughbred champions have a high value because they can mate about 40 times each year to produce more champions. Additional popular race horse breeds include the Quarter Horse and the Arabian.
- Ocala: World-class Thoroughbred Breeding
- Breeds of Race Horses in Michigan
- Light Horse Breed Types and Uses
Horse Barns and Facilities
The horse barn or stable is the facility that houses race horses. Housing and caring for race horses is an important part of the horse racing industry. A staff of veterinarians, horse trainers, and stable hands has the task of keeping the prized horses healthy. A quality horse barn now has the technology and advanced equipment necessary to give race horses high quality care. For example, horses can now receive therapy not unlike human athletes, including ice therapy with ice baths and heat therapy with infrared blankets. Horses have daily routines that include exercise, grooming, and feeding.