Not so ‘Grand’ National

I was going to write about something else this week – got halfway through writing it and my internet fell apart yesterday, so I confess I gave up. Today I tried to get back into that frame of mind, but couldn’t as there’s something else on my mind. Apologies for the lateness and shortness!

So far this year 27 horses have died as part of the sport of horse racing.

Twenty seven horses.

This shocked me. I knew a couple died at the Grand National last year, and with the Grand National looming, was wondering how many horses have to die this year or next year or the year after before people will start to see how hideous a sport this is. But twenty seven horses dead in the space of just over three months; that’s roughly two a week. How is that ok?

Now, I’m not against working animals. I’m not against sports involving animals. Heck, I race my ferrets – we get people to bet on them and we make money (yes, it’s for charity, but I’m not against people doing it for personal gain.) The difference between my ferret racing and the current world of horse racing is fairly huge. My ferrets are first and foremost my pets. They race because they enjoy it; if they don’t want to do it then they don’t have to, and if they repeatedly don’t want to do it then I don’t enter them into the races. My ferrets don’t run with a whip-wielding passenger. My ferrets never have to be given oxygen at the end of a race because they’ve been raced half to death.

My ferrets don’t die in the name of human entertainment.

That all said, even if the Grand National was made safer to the point where there were no deaths and the horses weren’t in respiratory distress at the end of the day I still wouldn’t support it (although I’d be a bit less disgusted by the whole thing).

My issue is that the horses running in the horse races that take place around the country aren’t, in my opinion, real horses. They’ve been taken and messed about with; their genetics have been altered. By real horses I mean the sturdy creatures you’ll find at your local riding school, the multi-coloured gypsy horses pulling traps along the roads near some travellers’ camps and the beautiful heavy horses with their plate-sized feet. Racehorses are extreme versions of these wonderful animals; they’re thinner and taller and more skittish. The most amazing fact I’ve found out about them is that their ankle bones are thinner than a person’s wrist.

Just think about that. Something the size of your wrist, well, four somethings that size holding up an entire horse plus the person on top. Now think of those four ankles running at high speed, jumping over fences.

In fact, think of forty tall, thin, skittish almost-horses jostling for position as they leap over fences, unable to see what’s on the other side. Is it any wonder there are so many deaths. I’m trying not to use emotive language, and believe me I could spout so much vitriol about this subject, but I’m really trying to be reasonable. For something a little stronger, go see what PETA think. I would enjoy horse racing if the main focus was horse-welfare, just as I would enjoy Crufts if it was more about dog welfare than conforming to unnatural breed standards. Horse racing is made dangerous because the way of breeding and training a fast horse is dangerous. These animals are pushed beyond their capability; the traits favoured; height, weight, speed, are not traits which would exhibit in a herd of wild horses.

There are many arguments for horse racing; the whips don’t hurt and there are rules on when they can be used, they’re making the courses safer, horses enjoy running. I have no doubt about the last one; horses probably do enjoy running about in a paddock when their legs haven’t been bred to be long, spindly and easily broken. When put into a stampede situation they probably don’t love it quite so much…

I’m not involved in horse racing. With the exception of random equine adventures I really don’t have much interaction with horses. But then I don’t meet many rhinos and I’m angered by stories of poachers going after them for their horns. I’m going to need a lot of proof that horse racing isn’t a cruel sport; starting off with an end to horses dying on the track. Gavel!



1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Charli
    Apr 06, 2013 @ 08:41:52

    Agree. I have known some ex-racehorses and they are incredibly difficult to bring in line with a “pet” horse.
    Horses do enjoy running, but as you say they enjoy running in a herd in a field. They enjoy cantering with a human as their companion around a school, or galloping over a field on a hack and they even enjoy jumping with enough time to prepare for the jump they are being steered towards. However, none of this is present in the GN. The horses and jockeys are not teams and the racing does not conform to the example of galloping over a field in a moment of glorious union between man and beast; rather it takes advantage of a horses herd flight mentality, by amping them up to such an extent that they flee from non-existent danger at incredible speed. That is the race and its barbaric. Gavel right along with you !


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