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OPINION: "Don't tell me that the racing industry doesn't care about horses. We love them."

caroline_searcy

By CAROLINE SEARCY

Do you remember how you felt when you first heard that Michael Hutchence had died? Or Princess Diana? Robin Williams? The feeling of horror, of disbelief and sadness. A breathlessness, a sinking heart. You know the feeling.

I had that feeling on Tuesday afternoon.

Less than an hour after the running of the 2014 Melbourne Cup I was told Admire Rakti had collapsed in his stall.

I caught my breath. I hoped the messenger was mistaken. They were not. And soon after it was confirmed. The Melbourne Cup favourite was dead.

Then came news of Araldo. The only horse I had photographed pre-race because I just loved him. Araldo was gone too after breaking a pastern bone in its leg when spooked by a flag waved in the crowd.

I had bet on him each way. But that didn’t mean anything to me.

People who view horses like machines anger me. They view a horse-race as being like two flies crawling up a wall. No more than numbers. But they are the ignorant minority. I know first-hand and share the love people within racing have for their horses.

The overwhelming reaction of sadness after the death of any animal is understandable. The criticism of the racing and breeding industry is also to be understood. The industry learns from every single incident and pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the care of these beautiful animals to ensure there is as little chance of them coming to harm as is humanly possible.unnamed (3)

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Just please, don’t tell me the industry and those who make a living from horse racing don’t care. That is wrong.

And believe me: the industry is doing a lot now and will continue to do more to safeguard the precious lives of these magnificent and well-loved animals.

Let me tell you my story. I have followed and relished the sight of these supreme thoroughbred athletes since I was a child riding my bike to Victoria Park in Adelaide. Just to see the horses.

I have worked to promote the sport through a 25 year media career which for the last 9 years has been as a TV racing commentator and host and producer of a thoroughbred breeding show.

It is more than a job. It is my greatest passion.

In 2007 I bought 25% of a yearling with some friends after working extra hours doing breakfast radio at Radio 2UE. A $10,000 share was a huge outlay for me.

My first horse.

Unfortunately the filly was too slow to race. With a tank-like body and short legs that refused to grow she finished last in two trials and her very honest trainer suggested she was not going to be a chance to pay for herself.

Now what?

A friend and her daughter, a promising NSW eventer, spent time teaching her to be a riding horse. I rode my girl and eventually agisted her at Windsor just half an hour from home for perhaps a year, with me learning as much as her.

But she developed a sore shoulder and it wasn’t in her best interests to keep riding her.

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The only option even with limited funds was to see if she could perhaps throw a bigger stronger foal than herself who could perhaps pay for them both. I picked a $3000 stallion who was big and strong and well-bred but who had been caught in equine influenza and unable to race through the peak of his career.

unnamed (2)I’ll never forget the morning her first foal was born. I was working and had missed the foaling by six hours but I cried when I saw the photo of my first baby. It really felt like that, and gruff, hardened racing men have surprised me saying they too cry when their foals are born.

That foal is now a three year old and she has been in and out of training as she grows and develops.

When she finally made it into Randwick her trainer was so patient. The stable staff loved my visits and the photos and video I would take of them working with her. The owners I brought into the horse, some first time owners, have blown me away with their enthusiasm for every picture. They are so excited to have a small share in a horse that was not bred to be a champion. We just hope she can win a race or two and give us some thrills.

I work closely with the NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust. Trainers contact me asking if I can help them find a home for their horses. And the Trust re-train them and find them suitable homes so they aren’t left standing in paddocks receiving no care.

It’s a similar tale in Victoria, where the Off The Track program supports 21 acknowledged re-trainers and works to find new homes for thoroughbreds. I was delighted to hear that, for the first time, more than 100 retired racehorses competed in equestrian events at this year’s Royal Melbourne Show.

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So while we hear stats about horses dying I want the world to know how much we love these horses.

And if my emotion isn’t enough, we’ve seen plenty of stats produced since Tuesday.unnamed (1)

Horses are vetted daily. Trainers check their white blood cell count so they know if there is an infection coming on, well before it would be spotted in the average human. Treatment for an injury is swift with horses in training being checked every few hours every day.

Sadly when a horse does injure a leg, given their 500 kilo bulk three legs isn’t enough to support their weight and that is why the kindest thing to do is to put them down. Attempts to save these horses fail eventually because the other legs develop weight-bearing problems and it’s just too cruel to try to keep a horse still for months to recuperate.

In the past 30 Melbourne Cups there have been four deaths. Exclude this year’s sad losses, both in unique circumstances, and that number is halved.

The safety record in Victorian racing is 99.95% of over 43,000 starts a year – that’s a fatal accident rate of just 0.05%.

We are breeding far fewer foals every year, over 20% less than 10 years ago, and more than 90% of thoroughbreds go onto happy healthy lives in other pursuits, be it in the equestrian, leisure or breeding industries.

Yes there is always more to be done.

And I know that I, with my love for them, am in the majority in the racing game.

Caroline Searcy is the raceday commentator for the VRC at Flemington in Melbourne Cup week and also works as thoroughbred breeding expert on industry-owned channel TVN. A committee member of Thoroughbred Breeders NSW Caroline is actively engaged in assisting the Racing NSW Thoroughbred Rehabilitation Trust to retrain thoroughbreds for future equestrian pursuits.

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