Horse racing is an activity motivated by a desire for entertainment and profit, but rarely do we question the morality of the activity itself. If people want to participate in horse racing, either as spectators or as jockeys, then that is their choice, though something that we readily overlook is the physical and emotional abuse they endure for the entertainment and commercial gain of humans.
Despite the RSPCA concluding that “using whips can cause pain and suffering to the horses,” riders at the Grand National are required to carry whips. In Australia, there is no limit to the number of times a horse can be whipped during the last 100 metres of the race. The rules in Australia also have no limit on the number of times horses can be hit on the shoulder during a race.
Bits and tongue ties are also often used to make it easier to control the horse during the race despite causing pain to the horses. Tongue ties can cause problems such as cuts and lacerations to the tongue as well as bruising and swelling, and difficulty swallowing – not to mention the anxiety and distress.
Horses are social animals, yet they are emotionally abused. They are housed in isolation, which often leads to behaviours such as crib-biting, where the horse sucks in a large amount of air, and weaving, where the horse repetitively sways on its forelegs. This is not to mention the risks associated with racing itself. During a race, horses can fall over and break their limbs, or even die on the track. If they break their spine or legs, it often means death for the horses. During the last eighteen years, sixteen horses have died at the Grand National Festival, and in 2018, nearly 500 thoroughbred racehorses died in the United States.
Something which is less of an issue, but should be mentioned nonetheless, is the issues caused simply by riding on a horse’s back, either in racing or outside of the industry. There is evidence to suggest that riding a horse can cause back problems in horses. This is a controversial topic, of course, and I am not questioning the love that many people have for their horses, but the evidence points to the conclusion that the best situation for the horse is to not be ridden.
Horses who have been injured, and find themselves in pain, may be drugged so that they can still perform. Instead of receiving treatment and being allowed to rest, they are forced to perform, likely increasing their chances of further injury, or even death.
When a racehorse is deemed to be no longer profitable, it is sent to the slaughterhouse to be made into dog food or cheap meat, or it is exported to mainland Europe in terrible conditions. Every year in Britain, approximately 1,000 racehorses meet this fate, in an industry terms that callously terms uncompetitive horses as “wastage”.
The horse racing industry is not an industry with the best interests of the animals at its heart. Indeed, the heartless treatment of animals was summed up in a comment made by jockey Ruby Walsh when his horse died at Cheltenham, who dispassionately remarked that “you can replace a horse.” This illustrates that horses are nothing more than mere commodities, to be used to give the industry profit.
Ultimately, using an animal for entertainment, against its best interests, is always wrong: imprisoning them in zoos and aquariums, forcing them to perform demeaning tricks in circuses, hunting them for sport, or by forcing them to race.
Image: Paolo Camera