Horses for courses – Enough is Enough!

The aftermath of the Grand National in recent years has seen animal activists up in arms about the alarming amount of horses that have died as a result of racing at the Aintree Festival since 2000. I should point out that not all these tragic deaths, 47 of them to be precise, occurred during the running of the Grand National itself but over the 3 days of the Aintree Festivals since 2000.

Ironically in 2016 there were no reported deaths either during or as a result of running the Grand National.  However, there were a total of 4 fatalities over the 3 days of racing.  Shocking?  Well, if you want to be really shocked, look at these statistics provided by www.horsedeathwatch.com  …

1380 horses have died whilst racing or shortly afterwards in 3319 days since 2007 

The Grand National – the ultimate test of horse and rider – was first run in 1839.  A gruelling 4 miles 514 yards (6.907 km) with horses jumping 30 big fences over two laps. 

Beecher's-Brook,-1890
Becher’s Brook age old death trap
The ultimate test of stamina.  It has been argued over the years that perhaps the fences should be lowered and the ditches narrowed to make the course less hazardous, but the argument against this seemingly sensible course of action has been that it would only encourage the horses to run faster.  So facilitating speeding it up would not be a good idea, but the problem doesn’t only lie with the Grand National.

Bechers Brook

 

To put things in prospective, I was born into a horsey household.  So I was more than well aware of the dangers of working with horses as it was instilled in me from an early age. I had seen many adults have crashing falls out hunting.  The riders, most of the time, can be fixed but not so the horses. 

My Father also owned racehorses and took great pride in doing so.  I remember them all.  Majestic, proud and trusting.  Sublime looking animals, with big hearts. Each with their own personality but bred for one purpose only … to race. 

thoroughbred

So although not a stranger to the racecourse, when I was about 10 I started to ask questions.  “If you really care about a horse, why would you make him run in the Grand National?”.  Even more unfathomable to me now is, if your horse has already won the Grand National, why on earth would you want to enter him again the following year?  Why would you put him through that again?

bechers_fall416
Why would you want to put your horse through this?
Of course racing is not about caring, well, not about the horse anyway, it all boils down to money.  Owning a horse is an expensive.  Owning and training a racehorse is another financial ball game altogether and a business that seems to have become far more cut throat than it used to be in my Father’s day.  I read yesterday that top jockey Ruby Walsh is reported to have said …

Horses are horses.  You can replace a horse. It’s sad, but horses are animals, outside your back door. Humans are humans, they are inside your back door. You can replace a horse but you can’t replace a human being.

Ruby Walsh
Ruby Walsh – “You can replace a horse”
Like many other people, I found his comment shocking.  Cold.  So horses have now become disposable commodities?  It was not something I would expect to come out of a horse lover’s mouth.  But racing is his life and you need to be tough, but if you simply replace a horse having just literally run him into the ground, then that to me is just barbaric.  It strikes me that if you want a horse to go out and win you money, then his safety should be at the forefront of your mind.  He puts his trust in you.  He has no choice in the matter.  You do.

Grand National crashing fall
Are horses now disposable commodities in the racing game?
The fact is that racing is not a mugs game, it is a carefully calculated risk.  It is a profession.  Everybody involved with horses at all levels know the pitfalls. There is always an element of danger when 1200 pounds of horse flesh gallops cross-country at speeds of up to 40 miles an hour, with obstacles in between and little old you in the saddle.  You only have to put one hoof wrong for things to turn out nasty for you both, but the harsh reality of racing these days is that:

Approximately one in every 42 horses who starts a season’s racing will have perished by the end of it. They will have died as a result of a racecourse or training injury, or they will be killed after being judged to be no longer financially viable. www.horsesdeathwatch.com

Racing was once deemed the sport of Kings, but there is nothing regal about it anymore. It is time for the racing industry to take stock and review their so-called sport to make it safer before it ends up, like the horses, in the knackers yard.

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