Are racing horses male or female?

The short answer is that racehorses can be either male or female: both can participate in most races and there are examples of great racehorses in either category.


However, it is easy to see why some spectators may be confused – there does tend to be more male horses than females competing in British racing. Let’s delve into the complex world of gender politics in racing and find out why this is.


Are there races which only allow horses from the same gender?


Although most races mix males (stallions) and females (mares) and allow them to race shoulder-to-shoulder, there are some races that only allow horses from the same gender. For example, the Secretariat race is for males only, and the Ruffian race is for females only.


These are definitely exceptions to the rule. Horse racing is a unique sport in that males and females regularly compete against each other, from the owners and trainers to the jockeys and horses themselves!


So, why are the majority of racing horses male?


Horse racing should be applauded for including both genders in the sport at the same time, but it is still estimated that there are around 63% male horses on the tracks of British racing and only 37% females – an almost 2/3 male dominance! There are several factors that may explain this.


Size matters here: male horses are typically a tiny bit bigger, and therefore a little stronger, than females. Stallions tend to be slightly more muscular also, with their necks being curved and stronger than mares. Adult males weigh in at around 1500 to 2000 pounds, whereas mares typically come in at the 1200 mark. Although these may seem like small nuances, they can make all the difference in a race.


Another key difference is hormone interference. Just like humans, female horses have periods, meaning that roughly every 20 days their hormones could interfere with their overall performance. When in season, female horses can experience sudden changes in temperament or display erratic behaviour. In a sport which leaves no room for error, it’s easy to understand why many pick the more reliable male horse.


Pregnancy is something owners take into consideration when buying and training horses. Naturally, winning equines are bred to hopefully produce winning offspring, but this impacts the female horse much more significantly than the male.


It takes around 11 months for a female horse to complete one gestation period, and they can only compete within the first four months of their pregnancy. It soon becomes tricky to maintain a consistence training schedule, and pregnant females are removed from the track to focus on breeding.


On average, stallions also tend to be around 30% faster than mares, so it’s no surprise that they are often chosen by owners.


Are female racing horses given enough respect?


Don’t count female horses out! Although the above factors should be taken into consideration, female horses are often not given enough credit. Mares continue to compete against their male counterparts and often win. In fact, some of the world’s best racehorses have been female!


Winx, for example, is the world’s all-time money winner with 37 first-place finishes and a world record of 25 Grade 1 wins. Zenyatta was the first female horse to win the Breeders’ Cup, is the all-time leader in Breeder Cup earnings, and in 2010 won Horse of the Year. Black Caviar was one of the greatest racehorses of all time up until her 2013 retirement.


It is also untrue that stallions live for longer than mares due to their size. Male and female horses tend to have the same life expectancy of around 25 to 30 years. What matters is their health conditions and the type of horse they are, not their gender.


Female horses are also less aggressive than stallions, meaning they make excellent riding and working partners.


All in all, there are pros and cons to both genders, and it’s great to have a sport which includes both at the same time.


Where can I catch a good race?


The horse racing industry has recognised that the public want to see mares in races. After all, in what other professional sport do we get to see ‘girls’ take on ‘boys’ so often?


At Newbury Racecourse, we race a variety of horses – all genders welcome here! Check out our horse racing calendar for all of our events in 2022 – we’ve got some exhilarating flat and jump races lined up right until the end of the year.