Horse races are a form of sport in which competitors (usually a jockey and horse) compete against each other to be the first to cross a finish line. They are run over a variety of surfaces including dirt, grass and synthetic. Some are flat, while others are based on jumping hurdles or fences. Horses are bred, trained and fed to be fast and agile enough to win a race, and many are also forced to participate in unnatural activities such as being whipped into a breakneck speed at the track.
In the United States, all horses must be ridden by licensed jockeys. This requirement is enforced by law and a violation can result in fines or disqualification from a race. The sport is one of the oldest in human history and has a wide range of traditions. Some of these include betting, a wager on the outcome of a race in which the bettors share the total amount bet minus a small percentage fee for the management of the racetrack.
The most common type of horse race is a flat race, in which horses compete over distances between 440 yards and four miles. Shorter distances are generally referred to as sprints, while longer races are known as routes or staying races. In general, sprints are seen as a test of speed, while longer races are seen as a test of stamina.
Before a race starts, the horses are positioned in starting stalls or behind a gate. The gates then open and the race begins. In special cases, a horse race may start with a flag rather than a gate but this is only allowed if the starter deems it appropriate or if the stewards have granted permission to do so.
The horses are guided by their riders, who help them to navigate the course and over any obstacles on the path. In addition, the riders must guide their horses over any hurdles or fences if they are competing in a jump race.
While the majority of horse races are held at racetracks, some take place in open fields. While these races can still be very competitive, they are often less intense than the specialized racetracks. However, the open field setting does not prevent horses from suffering injuries. Injuries occur when the horse is not able to keep up with other horses in the race or when they are subjected to the excessive use of the whip.
While many people are fascinated by horse racing and enjoy watching it, it is important to consider the impact of the sport on both the health of the horses and the welfare of its riders. A number of advances have made it possible to minimize these impacts, including thermal imaging cameras that detect if the horses are overheating post-race, MRI scanners, and X-rays, as well as medical procedures such as decompression therapy. These improvements have improved safety while ensuring that the sport remains exciting to spectators.