Horses have always been a very important part of my life, I grew up with them and as a child I was nothing less than obsessed. Many texts might even go as far to say that they’re sacred to my people but I always knew that they’re animals, people don’t usually keep them from the kindest depths of their hearts but for a desire to use them in some way. Some people use them for work, others because they enjoy them as a hobby and get as much joy out of simply being around them as I do.
I love equine events and the working relationships riders have with their mounts but there is a sport that I utterly despise, yes fox hunting but no that isn’t what I mean today, I’m talking about horse racing.
I saw my first horse with it’s leg hanging off at a Point-to-Point event when I was eight. But despite that with a naïve mind I continued to argue that there was nothing cruel about horse racing and that the people who dislike it simply ‘don’t understand horses’. I was wrong, deeply.
An hour ago a young horse called Our Conor had a heavy full and had to be destroyed on the first day of this year’s Cheltenham Festival. This incident is not unusual or unexpected. A lot of people are disappointed because he was a favourite to win but I was shocked by the number of people that put it down to ‘that’s just life’. They’re right, horse racing is an incredibly cruel industry.
Animal aid reliably informs us that approximately 12,000 foals are breed in the UK and Ireland for the racing industry each year. This number has been reduced from 18,000 since the economic downturn. The horses then begin an accelerated training programmes whilst their skeletal systems are still underdeveloped to begin racing at 2 years old, although in reality some animals are only 20 months old.
To put this in prospect the horses you ride at riding schools would have being ‘broken in’ between 3 1/2 to 4 years old. By the time a race horse reaches 4 years it’s ancient like a 40 year old footballer.
Due to the intensity of the training risk of injury is high with less than 350% being considered good enough to race. The ones that don’t make the cut are shot, slaughtered for meat or sold on and often left neglected.
You can read the report here yourself at Bred to Death.
Every year around 420 are raced to death. Common causes of death being a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; heart attack; or burst blood vessels. In addition to this animals are also put down after sustaining injuries in training or killed due to poor success.
Racing-related illnesses are also common: “82% of flat race horses older than three years of age suffer from bleeding lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage). Gastric ulcers are present in no fewer than 93% of horses in training, in whom the condition gets progressively worse. When horses are retired, the condition improves.” (Animal Aid).
In 2007 during the Cheltenham Festival Animal Aid launched Race Horse Death Watch to record every on-course racing fatality in Britain. Their counter is currently at 1068.
7,500 horses leave British racing each year, with limited funding put into Racehorse Rehabilitation and Retraining (in 2012, just £50,000 was donated by Horserace Betting Levy Board) most animals are destroyed.
Young Blood – Fatal breakdown of Juvenile Racehorses: (Warming upsetting content)