Horse racing is a multi-million pound industry. The Grand National is 4.5 miles long and the longest race in the world. It’s incredibly high-risk, which is what makes it famous. Every year, horses die and sustain horrific injuries at fences such as The Canal Turn and The Chair, famous jumps which put pressure on their legs.
So how can it be continued with such shocking statistics as these:
- Four horses have already been killed at Aintree, bringing the total to 42 dead since 2000.
- Eleven horses have died at the Grand National Festival since 2011. Seven died at Cheltenham in 2014. Their deaths would have been traumatic for them, deaths of fractured bones, broken spines and tangled limbs.
- Over 400 horses die every year on British racecourses.
- A horse’s heartbeat can increase from 25 beats per minute to 250 during a race.
- Racing is the only context that it is still legal to whip animals in the UK, despite a poll by the British Horseracing Authority showing that 57% of people want the whip to be banned.
Even some horse-racing fans think Becher’s Brook, a fence that contributes to most of the falls at the Grand National is wrong. The famous fence gives the horses a challenge, and if they clear it well it can ultimately lead them to win due to the boost it can give their position. Of course, that boost comes at the cost of other horses’ well-being. In 2011, after two horses died breaking their necks and backs, the race continued; jockeys avoided the horses on the track. Horses who fail to get up after a fall are covered with a tarpaulin and disposed of, masking the reality of the races from the majority of spectators. The organisers must know how people would react to seeing what actually happens, but they also know the negative impact showing the truth would have on their reputation and profits.
Horses don’t exactly have the choice to race. An average light horse weighs about 450 kg, a draft horse can weigh upwards of double that. Their ankles are the size of a human’s, and no matter the surface of the track, they are still forced to run at speeds of more than 30 miles per hour, with someone on their back whipping them to go faster. They end races sweating and exhausted, often with injuries that are fatal.
The typical race horse, a thoroughbred, is genetically flawed. They run too fast with too large a frame and legs that are too small. Bill Finley, racing columnist said that if mankind continues to force them to run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will continue to die while on racetracks. The horses are bred for speed at the expense of their well-being, and it is common for them to develop medical conditions like bleeding lungs, ringbone and gastric ulcers. Often the horses are too young and their bones are unable to deal with the stress of the track, causing lameness and exhaustion amongst racehorses.
Many horses are put on illegal performance-enhancing drugs, like Scott Blasi who gives his horses drugs like Thyrozine to speed up their metabolisms. It is meant to threat thyroid conditions but it can kill horses; the only purpose of the drugs is to make the horses faster, with no regard for their health and well-being.
Of course, not all people in the racing industry treat horses badly, and many are taking steps to make the experience for the horses better. Some are against retired race horses going to slaughter houses, and try to find them good homes for them to remain in for the rest of their lives. Also, some tracks are trying to make the surface of the ground safer for the horses to race on, as this is one of the main causes for injury.
But for the horses that do live until the end of their ‘careers’, retirement is rarely happy for them. They are only valued when they are bringing in winnings, so the industry rarely has sufficient plans for the animals. Some are just shot, others will be used in equestrian pastimes if they aren’t too ill. Meanwhile, many are slaughtered and used for cheap meat; according to Animal Aid, about 1,000 horses are killed in slaughterhouses each year.
It is clear to see that horse racing is a violent and damaging ‘sport’ for the horses, with minimal regard for their health and well-being. But there is a simple way to help – boycott races. Animal lovers should reconsider contributing to horses’ suffering by supporting an industry with minimal regard for their welfare, including watching and betting. Sport and betting should be kept for willing athletes, not mistreated animals.