Animal Aid

RIDING FOR A FALL - Raced to death

In this final section of Riding for a Fall, we report on the 300 horses raced to death every year, the Grand National race itself, and the fate of the horses when the racing is over.

Raced to death – 300 every year

Despite the racing industry's often extreme 'remedial' activities, large numbers of horses continue to be raced to death every year – either dying on the course itself or shot soon after because of injury or a dip in performance that makes them commercially non-viable.

The Jockey Club commissioned a major study of deaths from jump and flat racing that occurred on all 59 British racecourses throughout 1996, 1997 and 1998. (33) The fatalities resulted from breaks or fractures to the legs, backs and shoulders, or they followed heart attacks. The total number of fatalities was 657 – an average of 219 per year. This 219 didn't include point to point racing deaths – calculated by Kareena Grey of Discover Racing Death at more than 100 during each five month season. Nor did the Jockey Club count the off-course deaths of horses who began the season but did not finish it.

Animal Aid conducted its own study of all the fatalities that occurred during the 1999/2000 National Hunt season. We identified and named 247 jump horses who died or were killed, a tally that represented one out of every 31 who competed during that season. (34) One hundred and fifty six of those 247 fatalities resulted directly from racing injuries. The remaining horses – 37% of the total – were killed, not from old age, but because they were considered of no further commercial use. Applying this finding to the Jockey Club survey, we can add 37% to the 219 deaths per season figure, to arrive at a total of around 300 horses raced to death every year.

The Grand National

The tradition of horse killing continued at last year's three-day Grand National meet at Aintree, with four equines losing their lives. During the Grand National itself, The Last Fling broke his back and Manx Magic fractured his neck in a race that saw just 11 out of 40 starters complete the 30 jump, four and a half mile course. Since 1997, the Aintree meet has claimed the lives of 27 horses on the course itself.

When racing is over – thousands disposed of every year

To the total of horses who are raced to death, must be added the far larger annual number who – having reached the end of their careers – are simply killed or jettisoned. Around 5,000 leave racing every year – the same number who enter it. Only a comparatively small proportion of the older animals go on to be breeders and an even smaller number enjoy a decent, properly financed retirement. The racing industry's own retirement fund was started only in 2000 with a budget of just £200-250,000. The Big Three bookmakers, who are reported to make anywhere between £200 and £400 million annually from betting on racing, at first refused to give a single penny to the scheme. (35) After further consideration, a token, collective sum of £30,000 was offered.

An indication of the scale of the problem and paucity of industry support, is the plight of the few major horse retirement centres. Carrie Humble, who runs the Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre in Nateby, told The Guardian (36) that she is still forced to raise more than 70% of the funding she needs herself and had, when interviewed, 23 horses waiting for a place in her yard. She turns away two or three every day. 'It's getting worse, not better. Once again this proves that there are people within racing who are going to bring the whole of the sport into disrepute.'

Many of the spent horses end up as pet food, are fed to hunting hounds or are exported or sold from owner to owner in a downward spiral of neglect. Because of their personal histories and temperament, retired racehorses make difficult 'pets', hence the tendency for them to be taken on and then quickly offloaded.

Horse racing is embedded deep in our culture. The face the industry presents to the public is benign and sentimentally upbeat. But this Animal Aid report shows that beneath the facade is a ruthless industry motivated by vanity and commercial gain. Caught in the middle is the Thoroughbred horse - a 'resource' that is regarded as being easily mass produced and discarded. Yet the evidence points to a level of exploitation that now threatens the fundamental well-being of the equine racer and, with it, the very foundations of the racing industry.


  1. 5,000 'new' horses entering racing every year is the commonly-touted figure within the industry. Weatherbys statistician, Guy Lingley, told our researcher in a March 13 phone call that 3.5 to 5,000 new equine entrants every year 'sounded about right'.
  2. As reported by Mike Parkinson, the TV producer who unmasked the Brian Wright horse doping scandal in his 1993 BBC programme in the On The Line strand.
  3. 'Research says racing early can lower injury risk', Racing Post, October 31, 2002.
  4. Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage (EIPH), Dr David Martin, Centre for Equine Studies, August 2000. Animal Heath Trust website.
  5. 'Ireland's NH production line running out of control', Tony Morris, Racing Post, November 12, 2002.
  6. 'Heroic workloads making maniacs of super-sires', Alastair Down, Racing Post, November 6, 2002.
  7. Moira F Gunn, vet with commercial breeding organisation, Armstrong Bros of Inglewood, Ontario - in her article, 'Preparing the Mare for Breeding'.
  8. Hillside Sanctuary Winter 2002 Newsletter.
  9. Interview with 'Twink' Allen, Racing Post, February 18, 2003.
  10. Revolutionary ambitions of improving the breed with a genetic map of horses', Racing Post, February 18, 2003.
  11. 'Liberator' (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection journal), Jan/Feb 1988.
  12. The Times, April 19, 2001.
  13. Hysteroscopic insemination of small numbers of spermatozoa at the uterotubal junction of preovulatory mares. Morris LH, Hunter RH and Allen WR. Journal of Reproduction and Fertility 2000 118(1):95-100.
  14. The influence of maternal size on placental, fetal and postnatal growth in the horse. II. Endocrinology of pregnancy. Allen WR, Wilsher S, Stewart F, Stewart F, Ousey J, Ousey J, Fowden A. J Endocrinol 2002 Feb 172:237-46.
  15. 'Horror prof rips the foals from wombs of racehorses', Sunday People, April 18, 1999.
  16. Frequently Asked Questions - Breeding Statistics, Weatherbys website.
  17. 'Decline of Thoroughbred breed', Racing Post, October 12, 2001.
  18. 'Fears raised over sending horses on long journeys', Racing Post, October 31, 2002 (comments by Des Leadon, head of clinical pathology at the Irish Equestrian Centre).
  19. 'Exercise-induced haemorrhagic lesions in the dorsocaudal extremities of the caudal lobes of the lungs of young thoroughbred horses', Oikawa M. Journal of Comparative Pathology 1999 Nov 121(4): 339-347.
  20. 'Factors Associated with gastric lesions in thoroughbred horses', Murray MJ, Schusser GF, Pipers FS, Gross SJ. Equine Vet J 1996 Sep 28(5): 368-374.
  21. Gastric ulceration in mature thoroughbred horses', Hammond CJ, Mason DK, Watkins KL. Equine Vet J 1986 Jul 18(4): 284-287.
  22. 'Study findings suggest that "corrective" surgery may do more harm than good'. Racing Post, September 18, 2002.
  23. Dr Steven Barker, chemist with Louisiana State Commission and a professor at Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine, testifying in a Louisiana Court of Appeals case heard Sept 25 2002.
  24. 'Trainers feed horses with snake poison', News of the World, February 18, 2001.
  25. 'Filly not the same after a beating', Racing Post, Winter, 2002.
  26. 'BHB to fund genetic research', Ananova website, May 3, 2002.
  27. Equine carpal articular cartilage fibronectin distribution associated with training, joint location and cartilage deterioration. Murray RC, Janicke HC, Henson FM, Goodship A. Equine Vet J 2000 Jan;32(1):47-51.
  28. The effect of intra-articular methylprednisolone acetate and exercise on equine carpal subchondral and cancellous bone microhardness. Murray RC, Znaor N, Tanner KE, DeBowes RM, Gaughan EM, Goodship AE. Equine Vet J 2002 34(3):306-10.
  29. Effects of 25% propylene glycol hydrogel (Solugel) on second intention wound healing in horses. AJ Dart AJ, L Cries, LB Jeffcott, DR Hodgson and RJ Rose. Veterinary Surgery 2002 Jul-Aug 31:309-13.
  30. Endothelin in the equine hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstrictive response to acute hypoxia. AE Benamou, DJ Marlin and P Lekeux. Equine Vet J 2001 33(4):345-53.
  31. Equine influenza vaccine efficacy: the significance of antigenic variation. Yates P, Mumford JA. Vet Microbiol 2000 May 74:173-7.
  32. Evaluation of a prototype sub-unit vaccine against equine arteritis virus comprising the entire ectodomain of the virus large envelope glycoprotein (G(L)): induction of virus- neutralizing antibody and assessment of protection in ponies. Castillo-Olivares J, de Vries AA, Raamsman MJ, Rottier PJ, Lakhani K, Westcott D, Tearle JP, Wood JL, Mumford JA, Hannant D, Davis-Poynter NJ. Journal of General Virology 2001 82:2425-35.
  33. Racehorse injuries, clinical problems and fatalities recorded on British racecourses from flat racing and National Hunt racing during 1996, 1997 and 1998. Williams RB,Harkins LS, Hammond CJ, Wood JL. Equine Vet J, 2001 Sep 33:478-86.
  34. Running for Their Lives: The Equine Victims of the 1999/2000 National Hunt season, Animal Aid.
  35. Daily Telegraph, April 12, 2000.
  36. 'RSPCA acts in Newmarket neglect case', The Guardian, February 8, 2002.

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