The Horse Racing Debate

The past week has seen four horses die for the sake of entertainment in the UK alone. Both the English Grand National and its Scottish counterpart have seen two horses lose their lives. These hugely publicised events are finally being called into question for their ethics, and let’s hope that at the very least the danger involved in these races can be reduced.

Recent Horse Deaths

In last week’s Grand National two horses were killed at the main race event itself (Ornais and Doonys Gate), whilst a third horse (Inventor) was killed after breaking its leg in another event during the same weekend. The following weekend, the Scottish Grand National saw one horse die of exhaustion (Regal Heights), whilst another collapsed from internal bleeding (Minella Four Star).

For a shocking insight into exactly how many horses lose their lives at these events then check out Animal Aid’s Horse Deathwatch, a website which tracks the number of racehorse deaths, and has been doing so for several years. At the moment it stands at 678 horses killed over 1497 days, averaging out to a death roughly every 2 days.

This year’s Grand National was particularly condemnable for a variety of additional reasons.

  1. The heat on the day left all the horses exhausted and close to dehydration. The four and a half mile race was truly gruelling. The winning horse, Ballabriggs, was too exhausted to even walk into the winner’s enclosure.
  2. The BBC’s coverage had some serious issues. One commentator described the dead body of Ornais as a further ‘obstacle,’ whilst the camera at one point panned over the track, showing Doonys Gate at the side being shot (or, in horse racing terms, ‘destroyed’). An image from this aerial view is below.
  3. One jockey, Peter Toole, was put into (but has now awakened from) a coma from a head injury sustained during the race.

Doonys Gate callously being filmed by the BBC

Blatent Cruelty

Since 2000, the Grand National course alone has claimed the lives of 20 horses, yet it still continues and nothing has been done to prevent the chaos that occurs from happening. Something that has always puzzled me is when people fail to realise the cruelty involved in horse racing. You only have to watch the first couple of minutes of a race to see piles of horses collapse on top of each other, as they all cram their way over the huge jumps at high speeds.

Those horses who lose their lives are often described as accidental deaths, although part of the idea of an accident is that something is unexpected and unforeseen. Given the steady correlation between the number of races and the number of deaths, I think it is fair to say that racehorse deaths cannot be described as an accident anymore. Animal right’s group FAACE described the deaths suffered by horses as “not only sad but inevitable” and this doesn’t seem to be recognised.

Those who are showing their support for horse racing seem to constantly refer to an argument that the horses are being offered the chance to become professional athletes and possibly winners, but this kind of argument cannot hold up when in reality the horses are offered no choice at all. They are bred into this industry and chances are that they will die in it.

Others, including Ornais’ rider, are under the opinion that the Grand National is something to be proud of, the pinnacle of horse racing, and a relic of British tradition. Yet that leaves me asking if the sport is justifiable at all if this is seen as the pinnacle. For those saying it is a relic of British tradition, I wonder if they’ve noticed the steep decline of dignity in the attendees, as highlighted by this article (which is well worth a look if you want to make yourself feel better about your life).

The disturbing sight of Ornais' body, covered up and still lying on the track. Or, if you're a BBC commentator, an "obstacle."

So, what can be done about this situation? If you oppose horse racing the simple thing to do is to boycott it. Don’t watch it, and certainly don’t bet on it. As tempting as it can be to get involved and place a bet, this carnage should be shown no support. Animal Aid are also running a campaign to ban the Grand National, which you can show your support for by clicking here. Support for horse racing is lowering with every year and every death, and this year will see this happen more than ever with major tabloid The Daily Mail jumping onto the anti-racing bandwagon (check out that subtle pun…).

It will be interesting to see how much longer this blatently cruel “sport” can continue for.


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