Animals In Print
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26 January 2011 Issue

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The Brutal Truth About The Horse Racing Industry

By Ward Young

The horse racing industry is doing its best to put on a brave face and pretend all is chipper. A jockey and horse fall at the Grand National Steeplechase in England earlier this year. But deep down in the racing industry, hidden behind the glamorous façade filled with celebrities, celebrations, fashion and booze, there looms a very dark secret that the industry is working hard to quell.

Racing lost its first line of defense when it negligently allowed jumps racing to continue in 2008 despite opposition dating back more than twenty years.

Racing Victoria had the perfect opportunity to kill this horribly cruel sport that maims and kills horses. And so the public saw something they’d never seen before: their first glimpse at racing’s dark side.

Images of dead horses were splashed across newspapers and evening television bulletins, with mounting pressure for the sport to be banned. And after a fierce campaign and thirteen horse deaths in 2009, Racing Victoria took a step forward, announcing the end of jumps racing in Victoria after 2010.

However it was too good to be true, and with one step forward, Racing Victoria decided to take two steps backwards. They allowed the sport to continue if it could meet three safety measures relating to falls, fatalities and number of horses in a race. As expected, the sport failed, only meeting the fatality criteria, which still allowed the deaths of two horses – a number drawn up by the RVL board, and a number that not one animal protection organisation agreed to.

And so an announcement was expected. But Racing Victoria decided that maybe, just maybe, they could sneak away with letting this cruel sport continue, and the public wouldn’t know. After all, they all thought it had been banned in 2009 when the big announcement was made. And as it stands, jumps racing will continue to publicly execute majestic creatures for three more years.

However the issue isn’t what you see on the racetrack. In fact you have to do some extensive research to really unveil racing’s dark side. And that is exactly what the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses has done.

Prior to the jumps racing debacle, only those in the industry knew what happens to ex-racehorses. However while it has continued, it has effectively started to peel away the layers that hide racing’s biggest secret: the fate of ex-racehorses. The fact that approximately 18,000 ex-racehorses are killed every year for dog meat is deplorable. These horses who have given so much and received so little, are the victims of racing’s throwaway culture.

The racing industry should be ashamed. However instead of trying to fix the problem, it hides it. This is where the racing industry is going wrong. It thinks it can still get away with these cheap shots that it has done for the past 150 years. And with politicians like Rob Hulls firmly placing the ball in their court, and trying to remain ‘independent,’ this farce continues.

Racing has a very hard lesson to learn: it is at the mercy of the court of public opinion. And the jury of this court has firmly ruled that there is no room for animal cruelty, as 87% of Victorians want jumps racing banned.

If the racing industry is serious about its future, it needs to clean up its act. First, jumps racing needs to go. It is holding back otherwise progressive states with something that should be condemned to the history books.

Second, the issue of breeding needs to be looked at very closely. Because the racing industry breeds so many horses, it makes it easier to discard them, which is why beautiful animals end up with bullets in their heads at knackeries. If we are going to stop the killing (which we can do), we must first stop the breeding.

The public floggings that occur on the racetracks render racehorses legally invisible. Racing seems to have a ‘get out of jail free’ card with regards to whip use, because no other person could lawfully thrash an animal within an inch of its life without repercussions. Nor would we want to.

Two-year-old racing, which is effectively the racing of baby horses, divides the racing industry like no other issue. The perceived benefit is that a horse can race sooner, thus earning money quicker. However the unreasonable physical exertion placed on under-developed skeletons is both selfish and irresponsible.

At this present time, you cannot love horses and support horseracing. Due to the widespread cruelty involved, there is no happy medium. However, if the racing industry really works hard to clean up its act, and starts to factor the horse’s welfare into the equation, we may one day be able to reach that happy medium.

The racing industry can no longer do as it pleases without repercussions, because if it does, racing will be the catalyst for its own demise.

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