Animal Aid

HORSES BUCKLING - 'Pressure is relentless'

Posted 1 March 2003
Coverage in the Guardian

Our Horse Racing Awareness Week campaign gained the following coverage in the Guardian, 28th March 2003.

The fundamental wellbeing of British racehorses is under threat because of inbreeding and the relentless demands of competition, according to the animal welfare lobby group Animal Aid.

In a report published today ahead of next week's Grand National meeting at Aintree, the biggest event in the racing calendar, Animal Aid accuses the racing establishment of exploiting the welfare of horses for commercial and competitive gain.

The report, an analysis of scientific research and industry data, charges that the thoroughbred horses on which the industry relies are "buckling under increasing and relentless pressure".

Animal Aid found that:

  • Leg fractures among horses racing on the flat had increased markedly in the past 20 years, with the attrition rate comparative to that among horses that run over fences.
  • Ninety-three per cent of horses in training had gastric ulcers, which worsened in competition. A further 82% of horses had pulmonary haemorrhages, which cause blood to leak from the nostrils. Both are racing-related illnesses.
  • Of 15,000 foals bred for racing each year, only one-third are sufficiently healthy to enter racing, with thousands of others "discarded". The group says around 80% of foals made the grade in the 1920s.
  • Top breeding stallions are so overworked that two of the most coveted stallions of 2001 died from exhaustion after covering more than 300 mares in a year.
  • The racing industry has commissioned experiments on horses including making them walk for months on treadmills, subjecting others to deliberate wounding or infection, and surrogate birth experiments where embryos were switched between ponies and thoroughbreds.

The report also draws attention to the burden placed on mares, describing the breeding process as "production-line pregnancy". Animal Aid accuses the racing industry of forcing mares to produce foals at twice the normal rate and of conducting experiments to decrease the gestation period in a bid to increase profits.

Animal Aid also highlights the Grand National's rate of attrition. Last year four horses were killed during the meeting. Since 1997 27 horses have died at the meeting.

The director of Animal Aid, Andrew Tyler, said the racing industry now had more in common with livestock production than sport.

"Both enterprises are committed to profit-driven mass output of progeny and the acceptance of a high 'wastage' rate," he said. "In both industries there is an excessively heavy burden on breeding stock and high rates of endemic disease and musculo-skeletal injury. The key difference is that the fate of sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens is limited to being mass produced, killed and eaten. Although thoroughbred horses are inherently fine runners, the increasing burdens placed upon them by the racing industry militate against their ability to perform, and amount to extreme, cruel and unsustainable treatment."

A spokesman for the Jockey Club said:

"The Animal Aid report misrepresents industry data and uses emotive language to further their aim of ending the involvement of horses in competition. Their so-called findings relating to fractures refer to research commissioned by the Jockey Club which looked for the first time at incidents in training. This may account for the increase. In addition, they fail to point out that thanks to research by the same scientists they condemn, 85% of fractures are now treatable."

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