I love spring. You start to leave winter behind, everything feels hopeful and full of new beginnings. Then I remember it’s almost time for Crufts and as soon as I get over the misery of that sorry affair the racing season starts. And then of course comes the ‘Grand’ national.
This year three horses died at Aintree and several during the Cheltenham festival. It’s a funny word for it isn’t it? A festival. What it sums up is that this industry is all about humans and nothing to do with a love of horses. A love of betting and getting dressed up and drinking champagne maybe, but nothing to do with horse welfare.
I’m so tired of being told that racehorses are the best cared-for horses in the world. Many are stabled for up to 23 hours a day, very few have truly normal social contact with other horses, something that is incredibly important for a social species and even their diet is not ideal for an animal evolved to graze for many hours a day. Of course this alludes to their basic welfare needs and let’s be clear that these are the BASIC welfare needs of animals. So racehorses don’t have a suitable environment, don’t have an ideal diet, don’t have social contact, can’t express normal behaviour because of their environment and then you come to the need to be protected from pain, injury and disease. Hhhmmmm, let me think…
Every day animals and humans alike have the risk of being injured, that’s life BUT it is very different to expose animals to a significant risk of injury and death simply for the purposes of human entertainment. I read many articles after the deaths at Aintree and you hear time and again that the sport carries a risk. Well, there are a couple of things to say about this. Firstly you can guarantee that if jockeys sustained the same injury and death rates as the horses the safety of the sport would be addressed immediately and changed. Secondly, if you truly believe this is an acceptable risk for the animals involved then be open and honest and stop putting screens up to hide the injuries. People wanting to enjoy a day at the races and support an industry that accepts that animals die on a regular basis should be accountable for their actions. I know watching a horse with a smashed leg being shot isn’t everyones cup of tea and a horse like Up For Review convulsing for two minutes after he broke his neck likely sours the taste of the champagne but this is the reality of the sport. Apparently the death of Up For Review that wasn’t hidden quickly enough put many racegoers and gamblers off ever doing it again. Great. Let’s have more clarity and honesty.
Horses do not jump out of choice, they do not race out of choice and let’s not forget that racing is pretty much the only time a human being is legally allowed to beat an animal. A colleague and I wanted to do a study once on the length of time the bruising and heat stayed in the area of a whip strike. BHA declined obviously. The irony is that if you tried to set up this study in an experimental way it would never pass an ethical review, so why do we allow it to continue? Could it be the money by any chance?
I don’t care if people want to put on stupid hats and get hammered with their mates but let’s stop doing it in a way that glamourises animal suffering, overproduction, abandonment and violent death. The grand national isn’t grand, it’s a national disgrace.