As I sit down to my eggs and coffee this morning I’m cranky. Really cranky. I can’t count the amount of times I’ve had to see dead horse heads or comments about the cruelty of the thoroughbred racing industry in recent days. The thing that really ticks me off is 90% of these are put up by people with zero knowledge of how the racing industry works. Now I’m not saying I’m any sort of an expert, I’ve not worked directly in the industry either but I work with horses who are a product of that industry and people who work in the industry every day.
Contrary to what these graphic images would have you believe poor old Dobbin doesn’t finish his last race and go on the meat truck to die a horrifying death. Most trainers and owners I know will actively rehome horses via word of mouth, often giving them away at the end of their racing lives. I’ve personally been able to forward a number of horses offered this way onto capable students and always enjoy helping these horses adjust to a new way of life.
Now of course there’s ‘wastage’. There are some horses simply not sound enough either physically or mentally to be passed on. Do I agree with the wastage? Of course not, I want the ideal world of rainbows, kittens and butterflies as much as the next person, however, I’m a realist. I would rather a horse be put down humanely than have it continue to be in pain or fall into ignorant or inexperienced hands where it could be a danger to itself and people. I’ve seen far too many examples of over-adrenalized/unsound/unsuitable thoroughbreds with inexperienced riders. These animals are not for rank beginners and most do require experienced riders/handlers to transition them from racing to a pleasure or performance horse.
I DO agree that too many horses are bred each year and not enough care is taken in considering what animals are bred from. I hear fairly alarming stories from friends who work on thoroughbred studs who report many foals being correctively ‘shod’ to straighten legs from a few days old. My argument is if the industry selectively bred a little better and didn’t breed horses with crooked legs, regardless of how good a racehorse it was, you would minimise your chances of horses being born with crooked legs. I’m well aware that particular pipe dream is never going to fly!
Ulcers. The point is also made on your Facebook wall about most racehorses having gastric ulcers. This is true. Horses are designed to graze and have grass of varying qualities move through their gut fairly constantly. Take the horse away from access to grazing, put them in a stable and feed them meals of high concentrated grain and yes, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll get ulcers. This is not an issue isolated to the thoroughbred racing industry. Show horses, dressage horses, show jumpers, eventers, any performance horse not out on pasture 24/7 runs the risk of gastric ulcers. I don’t see a similar hue and cry about these animals. Ulcers are easily and regularly treated in both performance horses and racehorses. The advances in veterinary science are continuing with testing coming more and more in line with human testing. There’s some very interesting work being done out there.
Another point made on these posts is about horses bleeding. If a horse bleeds (and believe me it only has to have a minute amount of blood from a nostril for a steward to act) it’s disqualified from racing for three months. If a horse bleeds a second time it’s banned for life. No-one wants to see a horse collapse in a race and put other horses and jockey’s lives at risk. Horses wind and how they breathe is carefully examined by trainers, jockeys and track riders on a daily basis. They’re training athletes, it’s in their best interests to have the animal in peak condition.
My issue with this whole ‘we hate racing’ attitude is that as a general rule the opinion is not a balanced one. People hear one side of the story, one bad story and form an opinion based on it. They’ve no knowledge of the industry, they don’t see the good that’s in it. Of course there are bad trainers out there but there are also good ones who genuinely care for the horses, win or lose.
The racing industry in Australia is currently running a number of initiatives for retraining ex-racehorses. The Off the Track initiative promotes the retired racehorse as a performance and pleasure partner. This program is now offering incentives in showing with classes just for retired racehorses, my understanding is this program’s been rolled out Australia wide and it’s great to see the industry being active in what happens after racing!
The standardbred industry, surprisingly not mentioned in these posts, arguably has a much higher wastage rate as pacers and trotters have not traditionally been seen as riding horses post racing. I’ve always liked these horses and it makes me very happy to see organisations like Raising the Standards preparing them for a life after racing.
I have my rose coloured glasses off. Not every racing animal be it thoroughbred, standardbred or greyhound has a great life. Nor does every sheep, chicken or cow grown for meat in this country but we still pick up meat from the supermarket with barely a murmur. There IS good out there amidst the fashion, champagne and glamour and some people are genuinely in the industry for the enjoyment and well being of the horses.