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Violence, fear and coercion: how we treat racehorses

[Guardian Unlimited - opinion]

http://sport.guardian.co.uk/horseracing/comment/0,,2218578,00.html

Violence, fear and coercion: how we treat racehorses

It is time the public stopped condoning this cruel and exploitative sport, says Andrew Tyler

Thursday November 29, 2007

Greg Wood accuses Animal Aid of dishonesty in the way we campaign on behalf of racehorses (We must not avert our eyes when a horse dies for sport, Sport, November 27). We take an "absolutist" view of racing, Greg complained. "If racing did not kill a single horse from one year to the next, Animal Aid would still oppose it." Knowing that this oppositional stance attracts minority support, he claimed that we "seek to shift the argument from animal rights to the separate issue of animal welfare" - which, he says, is "not entirely honest".

Animal Aid's agenda couldn't be more open. We have stated repeatedly, in our reports and via the media, that horse racing is inherently exploitative, and doesn't warrant public support. Even without the deaths, there are major problems arising from the commodification of thoroughbreds; their function is to be profitable and bring glory to their owners. Just this week in Horse and Hound magazine, the equine reproduction expert Professor Twink Allen wrote of young maidens finding "the breeding shed a noisy, frightening and unnatural environment". When they start kicking out, "they have to be tied down and doped". The violence, fear and coercion continue through training, and on to the racecourses themselves, where novice horses - well out of contention - can be repeatedly whipped.

But violent death is fundamental to racing. Every year, about 375 horses are raced to death and thousands of healthy but unprofitable animals are slaughtered for meat. The industry tries to conceal these truths. We expose them.

An important precursor to change is to raise awareness. Greg recognised this when he insisted that the recent deaths of two horses at Cheltenham and another at Ascot on Saturday should not be hidden. He believed racing could stand proud: "British racing has made real progress on welfare issues in recent years. It has nothing to be embarrassed about."

He should study more carefully the data on Animal Aid's Race Horse Death Watch, which reveals that a second horse, Zato, perished at the two-day Ascot meeting. Another horse, Mr President, died at Plumpton on Sunday, and, on Monday, Pivotal Era slipped and broke a leg on Lingfield's all-weather course - one of the modern surfaces that Greg celebrates as being so much safer. Another polytrack surface is at Wolverhampton: seven horses died on that course in just nine weeks between November 2006 and January this year.

Among our most persistent campaigning themes is that modern racehorses are bred for speed at the expense of skeletal strength and general robustness. The industry is now beginning to scrutinise itself on this very point. Can it be a coincidence, after all, that three young thoroughbreds collapsed and died at courses last Friday, Saturday and Sunday?

Animal Aid also has a "welfarist" concern about the fate of unwanted animals. We recently went undercover at a Taunton slaughterhouse and filmed thoroughbreds being shot in the head with a rifle and butchered for meat. "Welfarist" or "animal rights"? Call it what you will, but it's the industry, not Animal Aid, which needs to be more honest.

-- Andrew Tyler is director of Animal Aid andrew@animalaid.co.uk

Sikandarji

November 29, 2007 8:11 AM

Another example of the animal rights campaigners fixing on a high-profile but relatively minor form of animal exploitation in the hope that they can push their extremist agenda on ignorant people who would never even consider giving up meat or not wearing leather. Fox-hunting is just pest-control, but somehow rats never get a look-in, and by playing the class card they got it banned. There is no difference between wearing a fur coat and wearing leather shoes, but the way celebrities bang on about it you'd think the former was something close to child abuse. Experiments on animals for medical research are possibly the most defensible of the many horrible ways in which we exploit them as at least this is aimed at saving lives and improving human health, rather than satisfying our grosser appetites, but no, the lure of fluffy kittens and large-eyed chimpanzees as poster-animals for a dishonest, misleading and sometimes violent campaign was just too great. And now horse-racing. So it's all about money is it? Well, well - who'd have thought it? And commercial farming isn't, I suppose? Apart from our pets, almost all domestic animals are used for profit in some way: that's why we rear them. You've managed to pick on what are perhaps the most pampered and carefully cared for animals in the country for your latest campaign. Racing and jumping are natural activities for horses, which is why they continue galloping round the course even when they have unseated their jockeys. I have no doubt that if this latest idea gets off the ground, you'd want to ban riding altogether next, but fortunately, unlike fox-hunting, enough people enjoy horse-racing for that to be an unlikely outcome.

But the question remains: just what are your priorities here? How can you expect anyone to take you seriously when you ignore the most revolting and avoidable examples of mass animal abuse for commercial profit - battery-farming pigs and chickens - and instead focus on irrelevances like this. Is it because you know that anything that would raise the price of meat wouldn't play to the gallery? Is it because these animals are going to be killed and eaten anyway, so you don't give a stuff about how they're kept when they're alive? Or is it because an animal has to be photogenic, with fur and long eyelashes, before you'll campaign on its behalf? If you wrote an article advocating mass veganism I'd disagree with you, but at least I'd give you some credit for consistency and for having the courage of your convictions. This sort of selective attention-seeking is contemptible and a waste of everyone's time.

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jeremyjames

November 29, 2007 8:31 AM

Andrew Tyler

The day you do something about broiler fowls and battery hen eggs, people might take notice of you.

Ever watched a herd of horses? They race for the run of it. If a horse doesn't want to race, it won't.

Why do you think people don't race cows? Because they don't race in nature and don't like it.

Yes, without doubt there are some unpleasant people in horse-racing as there are in most walks of life.

Prosecute them.


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