In the UK, today is the day people put their betting caps on, wear their best frock, splash out cash on a swanky suit and head down to Aintree for the Grand National. It’s a fabulous day. The sun is shining after a week of gloomy weather so everyone is jolly. Everyone bar the people who want to boycott the race.
I want to start off my stating that I’m neither for nor against the national (but more for…) but I was scrolling through Facebook earlier and as expected, my news feed had a few more horse cruelty related articles shared by animal activist (or so called) than most other days of the year, so I knew today was the Grand National (Cheltenham race was a few months ago).
By all means share what you are passionate about but don’t jump on any band wagons just to make yourself feel like a good person. My experience in the racing industry isn’t a hell of a lot but more than most people. Race horses and even potential race horses are treated with the best and most experienced vets, top quality dentists and farriers as well as sleeping in the biggest beds, wearing their pyjama’s and eating the healthiest food. They are worth or could be worth a hell of alota money, why would you treat such royalty so cruelly? Well…you wouldn’t.
The fences for the Grand National range from around 1.60m and 1.83m. That is a big fence for a horse to be jumping at a full blown gallop surrounded by other horses but it’s not a solid fence. The horses could crash through it if they wanted. The average speed of a horses gallop is around 30mph but a thoroughbreds (fastest breed of horse) can be 40mph or higher. World famous Secretariat reached a speed of 49mph which is pretty fast for a horse. Approaching a 5ft 3 fence at a high pace is intimidating and something that I could never do but if a horse didn’t want to do it, it wouldn’t. If the horse was not a jumper it wouldn’t be in the race. If the horse was unfit, guess what? It wouldn’t be in the race! We’re getting to a point where we seem to be forgetting that horses are working animals. Not necessarily pets. These days you can have a horse for whatever reason, even if you know jack shit about them, you can still have 5 if you would like! But many years ago horses were used for farm work, logging, travel and in the war. Over time we found new ways to getting by without horses which resulted in a lot of horses and not a lot for them to do. In the UK horse racing is possibly the oldest sport (yes that’s right, it’s older than football). Races have been recorded as far back as the 12th century. It became a sport in the 18th century and was known as the sport of kings. It’s a very proud heritage and something I believe won’t end for a very long time.
I’ll agree it can be a bit disturbing to watch sometimes and it doesn’t always go to plan but safety precautions are always followed. The jockeys have all eyes on them throughout the whole course to make sure they follow the rules for using the whip. They have several rules to follow before actually using the whip on the horse.
On the Professional Jockey Association (PJA) you can find all the rules and regulations that the jockey has to follow (you can find them here). The rules are set out by the British Horse Society (BHS) which basically has every single thing to do with horse welfare in the UK. The part that is probably the most upsetting is seeing the green cover go up around a fallen horse. That horse is someones pride and joy. Whether it be the owner, trainer, the jockey or the stablehands, someone loved that horse and they will be deeply saddened by what happened. The reassuring thing is that the horse would have been put out of any pain almost instantly.
We’ve started to project our thoughts, feelings, emotions and what we know onto a animal that doesn’t think like we do which makes it seem 10 times as awful. We begin to say that show jumping is cruel and I’ve even heard someone complain about children’s gymkhana’s with their ponies. We claim that the animals are forced into doing it all for us but if a horse didn’t want to do something IT WOULDN’T. The thing is the more you ride a horse or be around them, the easier it is to pick up on whether your horse is being a stubborn twat or whether it genuinely doesn’t want to do something. You listen to the horse. Horses communicate to use through body language. These race horses have been around the same people for years and more. These people know the horse and will know if something isn’t right with it.
Sometimes it doesn’t go well for these thoroughbreds and for whatever reason they end up getting retired, going to slaughter (yes it happens) or getting retrained and rehomed. There are plenty of horse rescues dedicated to looking after ex race horses. You’ll find that a lot of owners/trainers will retire their older horses and send them to the rescues. But of course sadly some do get sold to slaughter but there is a lot worse that happens in the equine industry.
Have you ever heard of soring? It’s quite popular in America. It’s where people intentionally inflict pain onto a horse for their own benefit. There is a horse breed called the Tennessee Walking Horse which is known for its flashy paces. Very attractive horse and used a lot for competitions against other Tennessee walkers. So how can you make sure that your horse is the flashiest? By applying chemicals to the horses legs and hooves. Chemicals such as diesel, kerosene, salicylic acid and mustard oil are applied to the horses pasterns, bulbs of heel or coronary band which results in extreme pain, burnings and blisters. Another form of soring is pressure shoeing which involves the horse’s hoof being filed down so it comes into direct contact with the sole causing a tremendous amount of pain every time that horse puts weight on its foot. Another technique is using a welded bit of metal on the under side of the shoe so it digs into the hoof every time the horse walks. Why? Because it creates an even flashier move which could result in a nice pretty ribbon if you win the competition. This is forcing a horse to do something it doesn’t want to do. This is cruelty.
Rollkur is something that has been going on for a while. Rollkur is a controversial training method. It’s an aggressive form of training where the rider forces the horse’s head to be tucked into its chest because some say it looks pretty. Rollkur limits the horses vision (as the eyes are pointed more to the ground rather than up and infront of itself), causes psychological stress, excessive drooling, pain and damage to the horse. A fair few years ago a famous rider was warming up in the arena ready for her competition when someone spotted her horses tongue hanging out of its mouth. They videoed her warming up and watched the horse move stiffly with its head unnaturally held in. It’s not a pleasant sight to see. After a while the horses tongue was all swollen and had turned blue. What makes it even worse is that the rider saw and then attempted to shove the horses tongue back in its mouth. Google Rollkur – Blue Tongue and see all the pictures, videos and articles about the event. Rollkur is forcing a horse to do something it doesn’t want to do.
Let’s not forget about the donkeys either. Those donkeys that are made to carry heavy loads despite the fact that they are lame, malnourished and covered in sores. Or the annual stallion fighting competition held in China. Or those horses that are starved and left for nothing in piles of dirt and their own shit.
Please, if you’re going to get all hot and bothered about the horse racing industry, please get even more bothered about the actual cruelty that happens within the horse industry.
Good luck to all the horses and jockeys racing today.
Sending my love,