Horse racing was once the sport of nobles and aristocrats. It has been glamourised in theatre, film and television, and is still one of the great social occasions where women wear fancy hats and men morning suits. Melbourne has a public holiday for the Cup, which is universally known as ‘the event that stops the nation.’
But beneath the glamour is immeasurable suffering and cruelty, inflicted on horses in the name of sport and entertainment.
Young horses are forced to train and compete before their bodies are fully developed, leading to horrific injury and death. Horses who are mortally injured, and thus of no longer use to the racing industry, are killed instantly. The mortalities in jumps racing are even 20 times greater than flat track racing.
Horse racing is a $2 billion a year industry in Australia, and as long as the public supports it through gambling and patronage, the cruelty will continue.
Most horses in training are confined to a stall for up to 22 hours per day. Approximately 90% of race horses suffer from ulcers as a result of stress and unnatural feeding regime. Horses control their stomach acids by continuously grazing, which they are unable to do confined to a stall. Additionally, 90% suffer from bleeding in the lungs (Exercise Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage) due to over exertion during training and while racing. ‘Jiggers’, electric shocks are secretly used in race training in conjunction with blinkers. This cruel learned response ensures on race day the horses associate blinkers with electric shocks and so run faster out of fear. Some are subject to drug abuse, which is either through the use of illegal pharmaceuticals or the misuse of legally accepted ones.
The Use of Undeveloped Horses
Some racehorses are rigorously trained and raced at two years old, while they are still developing. Their skeletal and muscular systems are not yet fully developed, leading to shin soreness, acute lameness, haemorrhage, scar tissue or leg breaks.
Bleeding from the Lungs
Around 90% of racehorses bleed from their lungs, due to over-exertion in training and racing. The bleeding can only be seen outwardly in 1% of cases, via bleeding from the nostrils. In Australia, if a horse bleeds from the nose more than once they are banned from racing, which often results in the horse being killed by their owner.
Lack of Socialisation
These young horses are herd animals with strong social behavioural needs. However, racehorses are kept in single-horse stables and have little interaction with their own kind. The lack of socialisation can lead to stereotypies such as wind sucking and weaving.
During a race jockeys whip their horses to make them run faster. The whip inflicts physical, and psychological pain on horses. After public outcry in 2009 the whip was briefly banned, only to be reintroduced after jockeys protested. Since then, rules about when a jockey may use a whip have been introduced, including a rule that all whips must be padded. If a person were to whip their companion animal they could be prosecuted for animal cruelty, however because horseracing is a multi-million dollar industry, the cruelty is deemed ‘necessary’.
Horses who do not perform as expected, or who are injured, suffer an early death. Few horses are rehabilitated or allowed to retire naturally. Most are sent to a ‘knackery’ where their bodies are made into pet food, glue and fertiliser.
Jumps racing is Russian Roulette for horses. They are raced in long, exhausting contests of 3000 metres or more, and have obstacles (jumps) placed in their way to create excitement for race patrons. Some horses fall at high speed, and sustain terrible injuries often causing the horse to lose its life. The jumps industry provides the worst injuries (broken necks, broken legs etc) seen on the racetrack. Every time a horse is entered into a jumps race, the animal runs a 1 in 20 chance of falling or being injured and a 1 in 140 chance of dying on the racetrack. Fatalities also occur regularly off the track.
Injured horses disappear never to be seen again. The industry argues that jumps racing prolongs the life of a racehorse who would be otherwise sent to slaughter. This however is not an argument to support jumps racing but an indictment on an industry that uses horses as disposable items.