Thursday, 4 April 2013

Horse Deaths: A Racing Certainty

There is an increasing focus on the cruelty of the Grand National, which for decades has continued to claim the lives of horses despite several adaptations of the formidable obstacles on the Aintree course. Today, in the Foxhunter’s chase, a race for amateur jockeys, a horse collapsed and died of a heart attack, a fact that was reported by the BBC despite this not being the ‘big race’ of the meeting.

That there is more of a public outcry when these deaths occur is welcome, but it doesn’t reflect the fact that horses die throughout the year at UK race tracks. Wetherby, for example, has a high mortality rate, but where are the reports of the horses that die there, or calls for the fences at that track to be modified?

I know quite a lot about horse racing, having been a regular attendee at meetings throughout my teenage years and an occasional ‘punter’ over the last decade. There is no doubt that it is an exciting sport, a daring spectacle and can provide an enjoyable day out. That enjoyment, however, is too often overshadowed by deaths and injuries. It is a rare horse racing fan who doesn’t care when a horse is killed. The atmosphere at a meeting when the infamous screens go up around a horse is grim, and the rest of the day will be tarnished for many.

The Green Party has a very strong policy on animal racing, arguing for a ban of the whip and closure of all tracks with poor safety records. Actually, I wouldn’t completely support that, though I would support a ban of use of the whip in all situations other than when completely necessary (i.e. when using it to control an out of control and therefore dangerous horse). In terms of closing down tracks, I think that tracks should be modified before we consider shutting them down. Horse racing does after all provide much-needed jobs and livelihoods, in terms of both those who work at the courses and those who breed, train and ride the horses.

I’d also like to see something added to our policy about cruel practises involved in the breeding of thoroughbreds, as well as what happens to animals when they retire.

Having walked the National course at Aintree and having examined the fences, I was concerned about the infamous Beecher’s Brook, which features a big drop on the landing side. This, as aforesaid,  has been modified but the way that horses ‘buckle’ on landing is testimony to the fact that it remains a cruel obstacle.

I hope the public remain engaged with the issue of the cruel aspects of horse racing, and all National Hunt race courses – not just Aintree - continue to feel the pressure to adapt their fences, meaning that horse racing deaths become rarer and the sport moves away from its present tarnished state.