Elena Orde outlines the reasons why horseracing is a nasty business.
The Grand National draws huge crowds, including those not usually interested in horse racing or betting. The millions who watch it come from all over the world, but many are unaware of the realities of the industry. It’s not all champagne and fancy hats – betting on the outcome is tied up with guessing who will collapse and fall, and who won’t make it to the end. If you need a little persuading, or if you’re in need of some facts to share, here are six reasons to avoid supporting the Grand National this April.
The cruelty of horse racing isn’t restricted to the racecourse. During breeding season, stallions are confined and kept in isolation, while females are subject to drugs and long periods of artificial light to increase their fertility.
The industry purposely breeds a surplus of horses, to increase the likelihood of producing foals with the most desirable characteristics. It’s not hard to guess the fate of the foals not deemed raceworthy, many of whom find themselves in neglectful environments or meet the same fate as ‘old’ racehorses: the meat market.
This aspect of horse racing has been a matter of public interest and debate. In 2011, a law was brought in to restrict the number of times a jockey can use their whip. This kind of rule completely misses the point – it’s either OK or not OK to whip an animal (spoilers: it’s not OK). Even so, the rule isn’t enforced, rendering it nothing more than a guideline. Whips are often used on horses already pushed past the point of exhaustion, and can add to the danger of the course by driving horses into the path of others, which increases the likelihood of collisions.
Due to the dangerous and gruelling nature of the course, a large portion of horses do not make it to the end of the race. Overcrowding, hazardous jumps and exhaustion mean that injuries are inevitable both on the course and afterwards, with most race horses suffering from exercise-induced bleeding lungs and gastric ulcers.
Race horses are bred to be fast above all, at the expense of other aspects of their health such as bone strength. This is a particular issue when jumping, and results in a huge number of breaks and fractures. Many horses who suffer such injuries are euthanised, despite the fact that they could live long and happy lives.
Deaths are always termed ‘accidents’ by the industry, but fatalities are always going to be an avoidable tragedy in an event such as this. Horses have died from numerous causes – from heart attacks to haemorrhages to crashes to exhaustion. There is usually one fatality on the course each year, but what we don't hear about is the many deaths following the finish line.
The media’s reaction to these deaths are particularly telling. When two fatalities occurred on the track in 2011, horses and jockeys were steered around the horse’s body on the next lap. A BBC commentator said that this was due to an ‘obstacle’. No one involved wants to face this side of the industry, or to take responsibility. When jockey Katie Walsh was asked about horse deaths in 2013, she said she hoped none would occur but added, “These things happen, and they’re just horses at the end of the day.”
Life after racing
Far from the idyllic view of rider and horse being lifelong companions, horses are no longer valued once their chances of bringing in winnings diminishes. Horse and Hound magazine states, “There is a black hole in the records on the fate of ex-race horses”. This is because in this profit-driven industry, there are no plans made to care for horses throughout their retirement: it costs more than £4000 a year to care for an ex-racehorse, with re-homing itself being an expensive procedure. Instead they are often neglected or killed, either by being shot or by lethal injection. In the UK, some are shipped off to France to be sold as gourmet meat.
Perpetuating harmful ideas
Compared with the horrors of the animal product industries, which are largely hidden away in windowless factories, this is a form of animal exploitation proudly on display. It promotes the idea that other animals are ours to treat as we wish, an expendable piece of sports equipment. In reality, each horse is a sensitive animal, an individual with a unique personality.
This year, boycott the Grand National and raise awareness of this important issue among your friends and family.
By Elena Orde
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