opinion

OPINION: 'They're racing babies to death. Why it's been 13 years since I celebrated Melbourne Cup.'

Mamamia understands that Australians have diverse views when it comes to events like the Melbourne Cup. You can read more about the facts around horse racing in 2019 here, a defense of the industry here, and the perspective of some animal rights activists here.

I was practically born in the saddle, horses have always been a part of my life. But it has been many years since I celebrated a Melbourne Cup day.

Growing up on a farm surrounded by animals, owning and riding many horses, the Melbourne Cup was pretty popular. I enjoyed trying to predict who would win as most people did. I loved seeing the beautiful shiny horses and all the glitz and glamour.

Being a farm kid I was well aware of what happened to livestock and it was common knowledge that many retired racehorses ended up at abattoirs, but I didn’t really think much about it then. I just put it out of mind I guess, as most people do.

As I grew up I was determined to have a career in the horse industry. I became a barn manager for a riding school in Sydney. Over the years I worked at racing stables, pre trainer facilities and I worked for vets that handled mostly racehorses. I was even married to a jockey. But despite these strong connections to the racing and equine industry, in general, I could not continue to turn a blind eye to what was going on.

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What I began to see was that when horses are a business asset, they stop being pets and become just a number, they have to fulfil their purpose or they are sold on. Every horse person is aware that after they sell a horse it can end up at the abattoirs, but this knowledge does not stop the majority of people selling their horses and relinquishing the control of their horses’ welfare.

Recently I put down my beloved horse of 18 years, and there is no way I would have sent him to slaughter. His last memory was eating a bag of carrots as I cried into his mane. His death was swift and painless, thanks to a good vet, he died with dignity and is buried on my dad’s farm.

Honestly, I don’t know how anyone who proclaims to ‘love’ horses that could ever subject them to being sent to the slaughterhouse. Their last days spent in fear and in many cases treated horrifically.

The racing industry doesn’t deny that retired racehorses end up at the abattoirs, but they rather prefer to insist that it is only a small number of horses that are slaughtered for meat.

The reality is that over 10,000 retired racehorses are sent to slaughter every year, according to Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses (CPR).

That number may not seem significant to the racing industry but many people like myself, we find it completely unacceptable. Basically, racehorses are just livestock, a way to make people money, just like any other animal-based industry.

The racing industry claims to be different, they claim to love these horses, but if they loved them they would care where they ended up, they would care how they died. They would care enough to put the horses’ welfare above profits.

But it’s not just horses going to slaughter that is the issue, it’s so much more complex than that…

It’s the fact that these horses are being made to race before their bodies have matured; they are literally racing babies to their death.

Of the 122 horses killed on the track from August 2018 to July 2019, 54 of them were two-year-olds, according to the CPR.

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If the industry cared about the horses they would wait till the horses were fully mature before they started racing them so that there was a greater chance of them retiring sound. Due to current practices, very few racehorses retire without some form of issue, be it leg or back injuries, wind sucking, crib-biting, weaving etc.

And don’t forget about the broodmares, who after having foal after foal until they are no longer useful are then are sent to slaughter.

Yes, many retired racehorses go on to have wonderful lives, but those wonderful lives don’t always last forever and sadly, many end up as part of the 10,000 retired racehorses every year who go to slaughter.

The racing industry for years has put their heads in the sand and claimed they didn’t know how badly the horses were treated at the abattoirs.

Well, they did know, Blind Freddy knew and many organisations like the CPR have tried for years to get the racing industry to act on the issue. Footage of horses being slaughtered was basically brushed off by racing when they could have done something about the issue years ago.

This is where I want honesty from the racing industry.

I want them to step up and say, “Hey, we are a business so profit has always been our main goal, but now we realise that the public expects more of us and we need to make horse welfare and racehorse retirement our top priority or eventually we won’t have any profits.”

Racing needs to improve the outcomes for all racehorses, to give them the best chance at life after racing, they need transparency and accountability. If they have nothing to hide what are they worried about anyway? They need independent monitoring, as they have shown to not be able to self regulate.

Racing needs to improve the general wellbeing of horses so that when they retire they have the best chance of rehoming. Racing needs to invest heavily in retraining facilities and rescues. They could very easily create work for people around the country whose job it would be to find all these forgotten, retired racehorses.

They could create a buy-back scheme where owners could take unwanted ex-racehorses to a racing industry-funded rescue facility and be paid what the horse would be worth as meat. And if that scheme existed there would be no excuse for racehorses to end up at the abattoirs.

There are many other ways that racing could be proactively taking responsibility for the welfare of the retired racehorses but they have chosen to only put in very weak measures that are poorly enforced.

If the racing industry continues to only react to bad PR, like the recent ABC expose, then they will continue to be demonised by many. They need to show that they can look at their industry be proactive and ask, “Where can we do better? How can we improve outcomes?”

The CPR get a bad rap because they are seen as sensationalists, but without organisations like them, we wouldn’t have the evidence of what is really going on, like the treatment of horses at abattoirs.

Yes, protests are inconvenient and the images are horrific, but how can you see those beautiful horses suffering and still support racing? I know I can’t.

To read the other side of the debate:

OPINION: “Shame won’t change the racing industry.” The other side of the Melbourne Cup debate.

Where do you stand on this issue? Are you in support or against the Melbourne Cup? Let us know in the comments below.

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