It’s time for the Grand National again – that curious time of year when people who claim to like horses gather to exploit them, often hurting and killing them in the process.
Since 2000, 48 horses have died at the annual festival that the National is part of. Others have suffered horribly with broken backs, necks or legs, severed tendons, or heart attacks. This is the reality of British horse racing.
“We’re doing all we can, honest guv.” That’s the industry’s response when confronted about the cruelty that’s inherent in their profiteering. Organisers and their lackeys repeat the same basic line – “everything that can be done is done” – but it’s simply not true.
Race authorities have refused to implement the basic welfare measures that the League Against Cruel Sports has been requesting for the last five years. The rejected measures include reducing the number of riders from 40 to a maximum of 30; banning the use of whips; and removing all drops on the landing side of the fences.
Crucially, the League has also asked for the removal of Aintree’s infamous Becher’s Brook jump, which is the deadliest obstacle on the course and generally considered the most dangerous jump in the world. The racecourse and British Horseracing Authority have refused to budge on this point. After all, the danger is what draws some people to watch.
The industry did implement minor safety measures for the 2012 Grand National, including stricter pre-race screenings and tweaks to three of the fences. But two horses still died that year – Synchronised and According To Pete – and welfare groups have dismissed the changes as token gestures used to pull the wool over the eyes of the public.
Racing folk love to tell us that they treat horses better than they treat humans. Well, in that case don’t let them anywhere near your loved ones. Over the last 10 years, 1,524 horses have died on British courses.
The mask slipped in 2014 when Grand National champion jockey Ruby Walsh shrugged off the death of a horse after a fall, saying: “Horses are horses. You can replace a horse.” It was as if a metaphorical tarpaulin, like the one race organisers scramble to drape over any horse that dies at the National, had been pulled away, revealing the ugly reality.
But Walsh’s attitude reflects the commercial reality behind the scenes. Have you ever wondered what happens to the horses when they are no longer sprightly enough to race? A select few enjoy their retirement but an investigation by The Observer found the answer is often “a bullet through the temple or a metal bolt into the side of the brain” before the corpses are driven to France and sold as meat.
Few who watch the National and other big-day races are aware of the suffering involved. Indeed, pointing it out can make you seem a killjoy. Well, better a killjoy than a horse killer, I say.
The real winners are always the bookies. The vultures have estimated that £250m will be gambled this weekend, much of it in small bets from people who’ll see it as a bit of fun. But would it seem that way if we had to look at those 1,524 dead horses before placing our bets? From their point of view, there’s no such thing as a harmless flutter.
So instead of lining the pockets of moneyed brutes who exploit animals for profit, how about donating a tenner to your local horse sanctuary instead?
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