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Posted 1 March 2005
Animal Aid's Horse Racing Awareness Week will take place in the seven days leading up to the country's most famous race, the Grand National, on April 9. A key initiative will be the publication of the results of a new, large-scale investigation into the industry. We are also planning a series of high-profile media events to highlight the suffering involved in horse racing.
The Grand National course is deliberately dangerous, with a series of unusually large fences over a long distance. A set field of up to 40 animals take part - an exceptionally large number. These factors combine to make it a particularly hazardous ordeal, with fatalities occurring on the course most years.
Yet although Animal Aid has been campaigning for a ban on the Grand National for several years, welfare problems are endemic throughout the racing industry. Three hundred horses die during races or training each year and many others suffer serious injury.
It all begins at the breeding stage. Approximately 15,000 animals are bred every year, but only around 5,000 are deemed suitable to make it to their first race. Those who do not make the grade may be killed for pet food or fed to hunting hounds. Only a small minority find decent homes.
For those who do make it onto the track, there are problems arising from the obsession with speed. Horses who race on the flat have been bred progressively for lighter (and therefore weaker) bones. Amongst a typical group of 100 animals racing on the flat, at least one will suffer a fracture every month. The quest to breed ever faster animals is also creating serious welfare problems in National Hunt racing, where races take place over hurdles or fences. Traditionally, strength and stamina were the main attributes sought, but speed has become an increasingly important factor. The weaker bones that result may shatter when animals hammer into a hurdle at speed.
Another problem is created by long periods of stabling and feeding with specialised high energy diets. Horses produce acid continuously in the stomach, normally neutralised by a constant intake of vegetable matter from grazing. But racehorses do not have constant access to pasture. A build-up of acid commonly occurs, leading to the development of gastric ulcers - present in an estimated 93% of horses in training.
On the track and beyond
Apart from the deaths and injuries that occur on the track or as a result of racing, we have called for a ban on the whip - a narrow plastic rod with which jockeys are allowed to hit horses several times during a race. This is intended to make them run faster, but an Animal Aid investigation published in 2004 - featuring a thorough statistical analysis of the whip's impact - demonstrated that, even leaving aside the welfare implications, whipping is counter-productive. Whipped horses become distracted, unbalanced and lose concentration - all of which adversely affect performance.
Perhaps the most damning indictment of the racing industry is its lack of provision for the 5,000 horses whose careers end every year. Many suffer appalling neglect or end up being sold abroad as horsemeat.
Please try to get involved with Horse Racing Awareness Week. Here are a few ways in which you can help.
Order some horse racing leaflets to give out at your place of work, post through letter boxes, or give out to the public. (Please specify number.)
Hold a peaceful protest outside your local betting shop, particularly on Grand National day.
Organise a stall in your town centre to publicise the suffering involved. We have posters and stickers available, as well as leaflets and reports.
Write a letter to your local media about Horse Racing Awareness Week, pointing out the truth behind the 'harmless flutter'.
For more information about the horse racing industry, see our special racing section.
This article by Chris Anderson is reproduced from the Spring 2005 issue of Outrage, the quarterly magazine sent to all Animal Aid members. To find out more about Animal Aid membership click here.