‘Spring Racing’, the fifth season in Melbourne, is upon us and I could not care less about the fashion, the gambling and useless celebrities who think of it as an important social event to further their career.
But I really care about the horses and for them, racing is absolute torture. The life of a racing horse is full of pain and abuse until every last dollar has been squeezed out of him and he dies at the slaughterhouse.
I was sent to the Ballarat racetrack to film a segment about two ‘horse breakers’ (the name alone suggests nothing good) and spent the entire day on the track in Spring 2015. I was in tears most of the day.
The suffering of the horses is palpable when entering the stables. It’s dark, the concrete floors are covered in shit and piss and the horses shuffle nervously around when someone enters. Some are clinging to the corner furthest away from the stable doors, hiding from what is to come. Others are stomping their hooves out of frustration and tipping over their food bins.
The first criticism of horse racing is the constant stabling of the horses. Keeping a horse in lonely stables at the race track is practical but completely unnatural for an animal which normally walks kilometres each day.
Horses are herd animals and need social interactions with each other, but the stables prevent such social interactions with its concrete and mesh barriers. Its fundamentals of wellbeing have been taken away by stabling a horse in isolation and as a result puts horses through enormous mental and physical suffering. It’s like solitary confinement for prisoners who become anxious, angry and suffer from mood swings as a result.
The second criticism is the inappropriate exercise regime. Race horses start their training very young when their muscles and bones are not fully developed yet, but time is money. To build up a young horses strength, stamina and speed, he/she exercises daily on a treadmill, walks mindlessly in a circle in an exercise pen or is being ridden by one of the trainers or jockeys on the track.
I observed the horses during their training and they were all shut down and defeated. There was no life in them and they had succumbed to a routine of mistreatment. One horse was forced to go for a swim in a water hole with the outside temperature of 7C! And no, it was not a heated pool. I could hear the horse gasp as he/she went into the water but he/she had no choice.
One horse was also dragged behind a car in an open horse trailer. It was kicking and struggling the entire time but the guys just kept driving. No mercy.
The third criticism of horse racing is the lack of training of the riders. The people who ride these horses had no idea what they are doing. They had no independent seat and relied heavily on the rains, pulling at the horses mouth just to stay on top of it. Others bounced around the back of the horses trying to find the rhythm of his/her movements, but instead caused the horse only more pain. None of these ‘professionals’ were any good riders.
The most appalling sight however was one young horse of maybe 2 years left in the bull ring in the rain for hours. This is the forth criticism of horse racing- the outdated training methods with no regard to horse welfare. The horse was fully saddled and bridled with its head and neck bent by the reins tied to the saddle. The horse was completely freaked out and scared. She would not come near the gate where I was standing and was completely frozen. The sign on the bull ring clearly said not to leave any horse unattended in it.
This poor girl was there for hours while some asshole left her there over the lunch break. I went to find someone to report this to, but my complaints only fell on deaf ears. Instead, the other trainers tried to explain to me that this training is necessary to get the young horses used to the saddle and bridle. I thought, are these people for real? I have been around horse for 30 years and this is NOT the way to do it, unless you are a complete fuckwit from the past century.
The fifth criticism is the diet of race horses. Horses need to graze throughout the day and take in nutritious food in small doses. Instead, they are fed rubbish once or twice per day in a stable which creates havoc in their tummies. You would think the racing participants would at least feed their champions right, but instead the feed leads to painful and bleeding stomach ulcers.
The sixth criticism is the physical exhaustion from running a race that horses have to suffer. A study carried out by the University of Melbourne found that 50% of race horses had blood in the windpipe, and 90% had blood deeper in the lungs. Can you imaging to run so fast that your lungs bleed? It’s completely insane!
The Melbourne Cup in 2014? saw two horses die- one from heart failure and the other one was killed after breaking a leg. Another horse died in 2015 following complications from an injury. This is not normal for horses and just tribute to the extreme physical demands of a race horse.
The seventh criticism is the wastage of the industry. Racing Victoria reports that out of the 13, 675 foals born into this awful industry, 35% of horses started training as 2 year olds but only 13% actually raced. That is a lot of foals destined to the slaughterhouse!
The use of the whip in horse racing is probably one of the most upsetting sights for any true horse lover. This is the eight criticism of horse racing and it is really beyond me how the whipping of horses is so widely accepted. Doesn’t even raise an eyebrow. How can that be? Perhaps everyone attending a horse race should endure 20 lashes with a racing whip to experience the pain. The idiot argument of ‘but the whips are padded for the comfort of the horse’ make me so angry!
Number nine on my list is the ‘career extension’ of a race horse at jumps races. Jumps races are very dangerous to the horse and rider and there are 20x more horse deaths than at a flat race. Horses regularly fall while attempting to jump the hurdles and break their necks and other bones beyond repair. Killing the horse is the only option.
Last but not least: Gambling, the tenth point of criticism of the horse racing industry. Participants always assure the critical voices that they ‘love’ their horses. Except they don’t. Without the financial gains through gambling revenue, the horse racing industry would not survive.
I may have missed more awful details about horse racing and there is a lot more going on behind the scenes of the glitzy Melbourne Cup that the public never sees. But the cruelty is there and I wish that it will stop soon. Greyhound racing was almost banned in NSW earlier this year based on the cruelty and it is no different with horses. Racing kills and as long as people bet on the races, thousands of horses and greyhounds will die.