Having owned and loved horses all my younger life and lost two to tragic deaths*, I can’t fathom how anyone could knowingly kill a healthy horse. While everyone's talking about cruelty, find out what the real issues are in horse racing, why a shakeup is overdue - and how you can help.
This is not business
I was sickened by the systematic slaughter of healthy ex-racehorses exposed on ABC’s 730 last week and say emphatically
‘NUP TO THE CUP’ (Melbourne Cup, Caulfield Cup, Everest, you name it) – until there is redress.
I don’t normally mix my personal feelings with business, but this is too important an issue. I’m no activist either, but I can't be silent on this.
The Final Race, a report by
journalist Caro Meldrum-Hannah, was aired on ABC’s 7.30 on Thursday October 17. It is sickening but essential
viewing. I urge you to sit through it.
If you can't and just want to know how you can help, skip to **what you can do.
As a compassionate, informed Australian, how can I get frocked up for the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday November 5, nibble on canapes and sip champagne when
any one of the horses racing could be destined to such a fate, one day? The hypocrisy is unspeakable to me.
Outrage but it's not just cruelty
Of course, spokespeople for the racing industry like Peter V’landys (Racing NSW) and Barry O’Farrell (Racing Australia) are 'shocked' and 'outraged' by the alleged cruelty to horses, but cruelty isn't the only issue here.
Sure, animal cruelty might be the only crime able to be pinned on Meramist - the Queensland-based knackery that allegedly minces up to 4,000 thoroughbred (racing), standardbred (trotting) and other horses per year.
That’s because shipping off perfectly healthy, well-bred horses to the knackers en masse isn’t a crime in Australia - except in NSW, apparently, where it attracts a fine and possible licence disqualification.
Falsifying horses' histories, that is, claiming they’re still active (alive and racing) or retired (alive and eating grass somewhere) when they’re actually being fed to greyhounds, might be a far bigger crime. We'll find out in coming days, I expect.
Industrial scale birth and death
The far bigger issue to me is the industrial scale of the business that requires industrial scale solutions.
Nearly 15,000 thoroughbred foals are born each year according to Racing Australia, quoted in the SMH on Saturday October 19 (Sport of Kings: Champagne Tastes on Butcher’s Budget’). Yet, the number of racing years per horse is only two to four, and each horse has a natural lifespan of up to 30 years.
According to this SMH article: ‘at any given time hundreds of thousands of Australian racehorses (are) living beyond the single purpose for which they were bred’. This is a staggering figure, especially when most of them are in prime condition, some reaching their grisly fates just weeks after their last races, according to the The Final Race.
According to the documentary, 8,500 horses are ‘lost’ to the racing industry per year, that is, they’re gone but no one knows where. Racing Australia says that less than 1% ends up at the knackers. If the surplus of horses is as huge as it seems, these 8,500 may be the tip of a very large and blood-soaked iceberg.
Valued when winning
According to The Final Race, these slaughtered horses weren’t just hopeless nags; many had earned real prize money for their owners. Nothing on the scale of Black Caviar or Winx, of course, who won’t be ending as up pet food any time soon; they have industrial-scale breeding programs ahead of them.
The butchered horses were once treasured by their owners, feted by the public and lovingly cared for by their strappers - at least while they were winning. Everything changes past that point, it seems.
Shutdown not the answer
Horse racing people are saying we shouldn't have a ‘knee-jerk reaction to one report’. I agree; shutting down the industry or some other extreme, politically-populist action is not the answer. We saw what happened in the greyhound racing industry when Mike Baird tried that.
A full and independent examination of the facts – the number of horses involved from birth to death, the implications of these numbers and the viable solutions – is mandatory, and not just in Australia.
I hesitate to mention the 'R-word' but a Royal Commission might be the only way to unearth the facts. Two such enquiries shone light into the dark corners of child abuse by institutions and customer abuse by banks, when nothing else could.
Any investigation will be mighty unpopular with the horse racing industry. It will throw more money into framing public opinion than the mining industry did (about the proposed Minerals Resource Rent Tax, back in 2012). That was just fighting a tax; for the horse racing industry, this fight could be for its survival.
**What can you do?
While public outrage and momentum gather, we can each do one small thing: shun any celebration of horse racing until the industry and governments take action, not just pay lip service. Nothing speaks louder than money and hurting the horse racing industry in its hip pocket is a potent way to ensure an unambiguous message.
With the Melbourne Cup two weeks away, if thousands of people turned away from the celebrations (and others, ongoing), the industry couldn’t ignore the message. It would have to take notice and action; politicians might even be shamed into action, too.
BTW, who's the kid in the picture?
*That’s me aged seven on my beloved Halla, my first full-sized horse, a strong chestnut gelding, with a big heart and gentle spirit. He was shot one night by a spot-lighter who stopped along the Putty Road, saw two eyes in the dark and assumed it was a kangaroo. My father and I found Halla dead with a single bullet hole through his head.
The other tragic death was of Irani Princess, a showy, chestnut Arabian mare, feisty, sure-footed and fast. She was mowed down by a semi-trailer on the same road, one dark night. Someone had left the front gate open and four horses got out. Only one survived.
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