Animal Aid

THE JOCKEY CLUB - Letter from Animal Aid

Posted 1 February 2002

Animal Aid's reply to The Jockey Club's letter, as mentioned in an article in the Guardian, follows below. See also Animal Aid's press release.

The letter from the Jockey ClubJohn Maxse
The Jockey Club
42 Portman Square
London W1H 6EN

February 20, 2002

Dear Mr Maxse

Thank you for your February 12 letter.

Animal Aid would be happy to meet with the Jockey Club, so long as we can engage in a constructive dialogue.

Let me first set out our position so that there is no room for misunderstanding. Animal Aid opposes thoroughbred racing. We regard it as an exploitative 'sport' that causes, by its very nature, immense equine suffering and significant premature mortality.

We also recognise that, while there is a great deal of support amongst the British public for our position, we have yet to persuade the majority to our point of view. Building public and political support is our ongoing task. In the interim, we are committed to a number of objectives.

These include the banning of the Grand National, on the grounds that it is demonstrably responsible for unnecessary suffering to animals, as prohibited by the 1911 Protection of Animals Act.

We are also committed to encouraging incremental welfare advances for performance horses.

In your accompanying three-page document you declare that 'our top priority is the safety and welfare of horse and rider'. With regard to the horse, this is plainly ludicrous. Within racing, the horse is a means to pleasure, prestige, money or some other form of satisfaction. If the racing industry were principally concerned with horse welfare, it would not dispose of so many equines at the start and end of their careers; nor work the others so hard that a significant proportion suffer performance-related sickness, injury and early mortality.

Among our principle concerns is the lack of proper provision for horses once they are considered commercially non-viable. You trumpet the industry's retirement project, but this was announced only in April 2000 (following soon after the launch of Animal Aid's first Horse Racing Awareness Week). Had the racing authorities not noticed that horses were in need before that time? Nor is £200,000 per annum anything like a sufficient amount to cater for the large number of horses requiring care.

Given the centrality of this issue, Animal Aid's priority at any meeting with the Jockey Club would be to call for an appropriate sum to be pledged for the care of horses in retirement. It costs about £4,000 merely to retrain a retired racehorse for a new career (The Independent, April 12, 2000). This means that £200,000 could rehabilitate only 50 horses. According to research conducted by the British Horseracing Board itself, there are at least 350 ex-racehorses per annum in need of 'retraining'. We regard that total as extremely conservative. The Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Centre in Nateby report (The Guardian, Feb 8, 2002) that they, alone, turn away 'two or three' horses every day during the winter months because the animals cannot be accommodated. We calculate that this adds up to around 300 horses annually - from just one centre. Also missing from the BHRB's calculations are all the horses who fall by the wayside at varying ages and who are simply not tracked. Andrew Parker Bowles confirmed to the News of the World recently that about 4,000 horses come out of training every year. He was sanguine about their fate, claiming that most are 'catered for' but the truth is that no proper monitoring is done.

The number of ex racehorses disposed of each year and in need of care clearly runs to the thousands. But even if we assume the figure to be 1,000, given that around £4,000 per horse is required for retraining we see that £4 million is needed for that task alone. Our research indicates that another £1,000-plus per horse is needed by way of a contribution to feeding, stabling, veterinary bills, care of feet, teeth and so on. We now reach a total of £5 million per annum.

Such an amount is a pittance in the context of an industry where the prize money for a Derby winner is more than £500,000, and where the horse racing-related income of the major bookmakers runs to hundreds of millions of pounds ever year. These Big Three, nonetheless, are reported to have refused to give more than a token amount to the industry's retirement scheme. (Daily Telegraph, April 2000)

But whatever sum is provided, it will be insufficient to tackle the problem of over-breeding of equines. According to an investigation by Marie Claire magazine (September 2000), half of all the 8,000 foals bred to race by the industry each year fail to make the grade and are put down before they ever see the starter's flag. This one statistic alone amounts to a devastating indictment of a ruthless industry - made all the more shocking by the Jockey Club's nauseating claim that 'our top priority is the safety and welfare of [the] horse...'

Let me now turn to some of the other points made in your letter and accompanying document. You make reference, at the bottom of page 1, to our email relating to the Grand National and the fatalities in recent years. The death toll referred to was for the three-day Grand National meet rather than the Grand National alone. We have revised the wording of the email to ensure that there is no room for misunderstanding.

Your document cites the research into 'horse welfare' conducted by the Animal Health Trust. We find this particularly offensive. The AHT deliberately harms and kills horses in order to study conditions that flourish as a direct consequence of the stresses placed upon performance horses. Many of the lethal experiments have been on low-value Welsh mountain ponies. Symptoms suffered by these 'experimental models' include paralysis, abortion and neurological disease. Other experiments, conducted by different research labs, have involved deliberately inflicting limb damage.

Under the heading Veterinary Care, you refer to the national database on which details of equine injuries are kept. Yet these details, which would be highly illuminating, are not even made available to racing journalists, let alone to special interest groups such as our own. We would urge you to make public such data.

The document goes on to pay tribute to the JC veterinary team led by Peter Webbon, 'who see themselves as guardians of the horse'.

It was Mr Webbon who described the death of four horses in one day at the 2000 Grand National meet as 'a statistical blip'. Other reported comments from Mr Webbon suggested that he was unaware that it was the horses rather than the men who rode them who had been the casualties in an event in which the animals had no choice but to take part. In fact, while hundreds of horses are raced to death every year, jockey fatalities are extraordinarily rare. Said Mr Webbon, after the 2000 Grand National deaths: 'One in six people who climb Everest are killed doing so and this is the Everest of horse racing.'

As I say, we will be happy to have a discussion with you. But this would be on the understanding that - rather than an exchange of pleasantries - we would be seeking a commitment from the Jockey Club to win a pledge from the racing industry that it will provide from this season onwards not less than £5 million annually for the care of racehorses in retirement.

We would also be seeking a pledge that the problem of over-breeding will be tackled decisively. In addition, we would be asking for the release of key data relating to equine injuries and deaths.

Specifically, we would appreciate responses to the following questions and requests for information:

  • How many horses are destroyed each year, who would have been treatable under normal veterinary care?
  • What are the 20 most common race- or training-related injuries suffered by racehorses?
  • Your document states that it is the job of Jockey Club vets to 'enforce the rules of racing and investigate complaints about the way horses are treated in training and after retirement'. You also declare your commitment to accountability. In that spirit of accountability and openness, we request that the JC makes public its investigations into these welfare-related complaints.
  • How many welfare-related prosecutions has the JC initiated in the last 10 years?
  • Research involving bovines indicates that multi-projectile bullets are more effective at achieving a clean kill than single-projectile bullets. What method is used to euthanase injured racehorses?
  • Last year's Grand National was run under extremely heavy conditions. What was the groundsman's advice to the course operators as to whether the race should be run or not?

I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Tyler
Director, Animal Aid

Please find enclosed copies of Animal Aid's Horse Racing Fact File and our report on the equine victims of the 1999/2000 National Hunt Season. The latter demonstrates that 247 horses were raced to death during that season - that's one dead horse for every 31 who took part in National Hunt rules events.

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