Unfortunately the suffering of many horses goes on away from the glare of the big race.
So forgive me if I'm not celebrating the 'improvements' made at this race. Two other horses were killed during the meeting and people remain ignorant of the real conditions faced by horses bred and used for racing.
During the debates I've heard a lot of talk about horses loving the jumps and living pampered lives. Unfortunately this is anthropomorphic nonsense.
Horses cossetted in stables aren't pampered, they are bored and stressed. Horses are social grazing animals, so being cooped up in a stable as racing horses are for much of the time- even a luxurious one- doesn't meet their needs. Its not uncommon for these stabled horses to develop stereotypical behaviours (called vices), similar to the pacing seen in zoo animal that many people are quite rightly appalled by. 30% of horses in racing stables showed these behaviours in two studies in 2002. Rather than attend to the behavioural needs of these animals it is common to take steps to block the behaviour, which results in even more stress (as measured by cortisol levels).
There also seems to be evidence, from video of the horse Synchronised who was killed by the race last year,
|Listening as the names of the horse killed at|
the Grand National were read out.
Finally the breeding of these highly specialised creatures is a real problem. Only around 35% of foals bred make the grade, what happens to the rest? A proportion certainly are killed because they develop developmental problems; related to the extreme inbreeding and the selection for fast growth and other characteristics. Others just aren't good enough and end up in the lower reaches of the sport and many go to slaughter for meat.
The breeding situation is worsened even more by the way in which horses are given the same birthday, January 1st, in order to determine which races they can take part in. It is therefore beneficial for the foals to be born as early in the year as possible, It just so happens that this doesn't really fit with the horse natural breeding season. So again rather than change it to fit with the horse millions of pounds are spent forcing the horse's behaviour to change. Mares are often given hormones and sedated so they will accept the Stallion.
The reality is that this sport is purely about money and status. The welfare of the horse beyond its financial value is not a significant consideration.
I believe that if people were aware of the reality of this industry many would think twice before having a flutter.
I believe that the industry must be forced to publish all the statistics around breeding, what happens to all the horses and the injury and death figures. Horse all have a passport now, it is perfectly doable.
We need to wake up to the reality of horse racing.