The cruel sport of horse racing by Nayana Mould

The cruel sport of horse racing

Over 600 million view the Grand National each year; one of the most popular horse racing events in the calendar, not only attracting horse fanatics, but also punters, since events as such alongside Ascot and Cheltenham are hugely popular for betting. The racing industry has substantial net worth, in the UK contributing £281 million to the economy, while in the United States it is worth $34 billion. Despite the large crowds and support that these events gather, negative views towards horse racing are not rare- ‘racing horses is cruel’; ‘look at how he’s whipping that horse, that’s abuse!’; ‘horse racing trainers are only interested in money, not the safety of the horse or ride’.

It is absurd to suggest that horse racing is cruel, or the horses’ welfare is not a matter of importance. Cruelty to animals isn’t, and never has been condoned by anyone in racing so by insisting that the Grand National is a ‘horse killer’ or ‘death trap’ for horses is ridiculous and insulting to the connections and staff who work with the animals. of 14,000 horses in training, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) states that there has been a 0.19% fatality rate over the last 20 years for overall runners. BHA supply strict rules and guidelines od racing, and an investment of £1.5 million into safety measures and alterations have made a significant impact on the safety of racing. With horses- there is always a risk of injury or fatality- they are 500kg wild animals after all! However, in comparison to alternative types of horse riding, horse racing is definitely not the only dangerous form, with an estimated global average of 2.68 deaths per year from eventing; Dr Bruce Paix claims eventing is more dangerous than motorcycle or car racing and found it to be 70 times more dangerous than horse riding in general, and 180 times at the highest level. Overall, there’s no denying that horse racing comes with risks – it can be a dangerous sport, both for jockeys and horses, but it’s also a sport that has taken as many measures as possible to keep riders and the animals as safe as possible.

Alongside this, racehorses are extremely well looked after in their day to day lives off the track- spending plenty of times roaming free in paddocks (contrary to popular belief), supplied with top quality, nutritious food to keep them in tip-top form, and receive regular health checks to again ensure they stay in peak condition.

The thoroughbred breed is known for its speed and agility, bred perfectly for the racetrack. These horses enjoy galloping, their ears are pricked forward- a sign that they’re not distressed, and they continue to run even when their rider unseats because they love to do so. The weight of the jockeys which mount these horses ranges from 49-54kg, and although desirable for speed, also means the horses aren’t being strained whilst galloping. As stubborn animals, horses won’t run unless they want to do so, so this is a sure sign that they’re not feeling obligated or forced into running when they don’t want to.

There also appears to be a misconception that if horses are unsuccessful on the track then they are simply sent to slaughter houses as they are considered useless; this is also simply not true, since only a fraction of the horses produced become race winners, many more find their way into riding homes and second careers. There is a wide range of competition series in Britain supported by Retraining of Racehorses (RoR), a charity dedicated to promoting the welfare and rehoming of ex-racers. Although thoroughbreds are often bred for racing, the breed also dominate polo, and have a long history as successful upper level eventers. Sixteen of the 56 starters at the Land Rover Kentucky CCI4* in 2018 were thoroughbreds, 11 of which were ‘off the track’. William Fox-Pitt’s champion eventer Parklane Hawk, a full New Zealand thoroughbred, won Burghley in 2011 and Kentucky 2012, and New Zealander Jock Paget’s Clifton Promise, another New Zealand Thoroughbred, won Badminton in 2013. Gemma Tattersall’s Artic Soul is another former racehorse which excelled in the eventing field. Although it is less common to see one on the international grand prix dressage stage, American Hilda Gurney won team bronze on her ex-racer Keen at the 1976 Olympics and competed him again at the 1984 Olympics.

Overall, I believe the concept of horse racing is often misunderstood, and viewers take it to be at first hand, often how it looks; speeding horses being whipped and forced to race against others. However, with research and with admiring the immaculate care below the surface of these horses it is clear there is more to it than initially meets the eye, they truly enjoy running- it is in their bloodlines. There will always be accidents and extremely unfortunate events as a result of sports, especially in the equine world as it is so dangerous and unpredictable. This is inevitable. However, horse racing, similarly to other sports and types of equestrianism, follows and adheres to  the stringent regulations outlined by RoR in order to prevent any harm or mistreatment to the horse or rider.