Horse racing must do away with tongue-ties
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM Tuesday's Horse
July 2020

The bottom line is that racehorse trainers who resort to using a tongue-tie do so with the aim of boosting performance. For the vast majority of horses a tongue-tie is an unnecessary and distressing intrusion.

horseracing tongue-ties
Preparing horse for a tongue tie to be applied: a practice outlawed in Germany in 2018. (Vince Caligiuri)

Tongue-ties are banned in most non-racing sports by the international governing body of equestrian sports, Federation Equestre Internationale, so you will not see them in events like show-jumping, dressage and eventing.

Tongue-ties are used in horse racing around the world in varying degrees, and require no veterinary oversight.

A tongue-tie is a large elastic band or nylon stocking that is tightly wrapped around a horse’s tongue and then tied around the lower jaw to keep the tongue in place during training or racing.

The little-known or overlooked use of the tongue-tie is accomplished by a trainer or someone similar firmly grabbing hold of a horse’s tongue and twisting a tie, usually made of nylon stocking, leather or elastic, around the base of a horse’s tongue in a figure of eight, then pulling or tying the band over the bottom jaw to hold the tongue in place.

horseracing tongue-ties
Over 20% of Australian horses race with their tongues tied to their lower jaw reports The Conversation.

A tongue-tie results in horses showing signs of pain, anxiety, distress, difficulty swallowing, cuts and lacerations to the tongue, and bruising and swelling. The restriction of blood flow by tongue-tie use can cause the tongue to turn blue and result in permanent tissue damage — and for what?

The main justification for using a tongue-tie is to prevent ‘choking’ or the horse’s airway from being obstructed by soft tissue at the back of the horse’s mouth. Research shows that while tongue-ties may assist a small proportion of horses, how a tongue-tie actually achieves this outcome is unclear. In actuality there is no evidence that tongue-ties have any respiratory benefit in healthy horses.

horseracing tongue-ties
Horses and jockeys charge down the track at Los Alamitos (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times). In this image you can see that three out of the four racehorses pictured are fitted with tongue-ties.

The bottom line is that racehorse trainers who resort to using a tongue-tie do so with the aim of boosting performance. Yet there is virtually no proof this is ever achieved either. For the vast majority of horses a tongue-tie is an unnecessary and distressing intrusion.

Our question is this? If a horse has issues so he has trouble breathing while exerting himself at race speeds no matter what the reason, should that horse be racing?

New Zealand researchers state that the tack we use and the way we ride can affect not only a horse’s capacity for breathing but also his feelings of breathlessness, which in turn can compromise his health, performance, and welfare.

We see no beneficial purpose or using a tongue-tie on a horse and call a ban for its use in both equine training and competition including horse racing. There is precedence for this.

In 2018 Germany banned the use of the tongue-tie in horse racing amid animal welfare concerns. Their use was already forbidden in other equestrian sports in the country before it was applied to horse racing.

“With growing animal welfare activities, especially in Germany, there was no possibility of allowing the use of tongue-ties to continue,” stated Rüdiger Schmanns, director of German Racing.

The British Horse Racing Board was approached to do the same shortly thereafter but they stated they saw no need for such a ban.

“Tongue ties have been discussed on a number of occasions by our veterinary committee and meetings of our team of veterinary officers, but no proposal to ban them has ever been carried forward from either of those groups,” responded a BHA spokesman at the time.

No surprise there. We imagine US racing will be equally unreceptive.


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