Horse-racing has a glamorous, well-heeled image, that of patrons enjoying a day out at the races, dressing up in their best and drinking champagne, etc. Not to mention the large sums of money involved, the thrill of seeing their horses come in first, and the money that the punters will win as a result of that. But spare a thought for the players, i.e. the horses, who are pushed to their limits, and not infrequently sustain catastrophic, life-threatening injuries in the course of their race.
The Grand National in the UK is one such race which is highly controversial, attracting both thousands of spectators and an avalanche of criticism. Very recently, this year’s event in April has seen the death of 3 horses, the most notable being that of Up For Review, who broke his neck after clearing the first 30-foot fence and died. Viewers saw the shocking scenes of him convulsing and dying on live TV, as reported by the Independent newspaper. Following this horrifying spectacle, the hashtag #youbettheydie started trending on Twitter, many vowing to boycott all future Grand Nationals, due to the cruelty involved.
The British Horseracing Authority (BHA) has attempted to reassure the public that Up For Review’s death was instantaneous, but this has been hotly disputed. A horse racing consultant from the charity Animal Aid has stated that the horse may well have taken up to two minutes to die and that the suffering could have been great. The BHA decided not to conduct a review of the event, despite the public outcry, and this is not the only case of their refusing to act on public opinion regarding the suffering of racehorses. Another very recent example of this type of disregard for welfare was seen following the Cheltenham Festival in March of this year when four horses needed emergency veterinary treatment following falls. Fortunately, three of them recovered within a few minutes, but the fourth, Ballyward, had to be euthanized on the spot. Three of the jockeys were suspended due to misconduct following this event, but even after all this, the review panel of the British Horseracing Authority did not see fit to instigate any changes in the rules, only noting that “falls are in decline.” Apparently, the value of human entertainment is worth far more than animal lives or welfare.
The data from the British Horseracing Authority shows that between 2010 and 2015 an average of 193 horses die each year as casualties of racing (and this figure does not include deaths from incidents during training or euthanasia after a race, or an incident during training).
As can be seen, horses pay a very high price purely so that humans can be entertained and win money on races. Animal rights activists would like to see the sport banned completely due to the merciless exploitation involved. Even if it is never banned, something definitely needs to radically change within the rules of the sport.