Once upon a time, the horse ruled the world. We needed horses for all aspects of life. Workhorses ploughed the fields. Mongolian horse archers rode across the steppe to terrorize Europeans nearly a full millennium before modern immigration would threaten the old continent’s sense of self. Horses were used for entertainment, as well, in a variety of forms, from trick riding, to putting peanut butter in a horse’s mouth to make it look like it’s talking. During this time period, which lasted from the dawn of humanity until the invention of the tractor, equestrian competitions would have made since, as a way to hone the skills necessary for a life filled with horses. But those days are long gone, yet horse racing remains. Why?
As a vegan (99.9%) concerned with animal rights, my opposition to horse racing is a logical stance to take. I’ve never been fond of the activity (I am reluctant to refer to it as a sports, despite its treatment as such), even as a sport obsessed youth, and have always found it extremely boring. The Kentucky Derby was always a weekend of hype, followed by 2 minutes of boredom. I can only remember watching it once, when I was pawned off on my grandmother, who wouldn’t allow me out of the house and owned a television that could only receive two fuzzy channels. I was disappointed. I forgot about horseracing completely until moving to Melbourne. I quickly learned that I would be given a day off for a horse race. For those of you who don’t know, one of the 10 days per year that a working person gets off of work is Melbourne Cup Day. I’m upset that it falls on a Tuesday, rather than a Monday, depriving me of every workers dream, a three-day weekend.
Thoroughbred racing is often called the ‘Sport of Kings’ due to its popularity among the British aristocracy, one of the key demographic groups of wankers. The other large wanker demographic obsessed with horse racing is the compulsive gambler. Every year, the mind-boggling figure of $115 billion USD is wagered on horse races. Horse racing has always been for wankers and always will be. That’s what I’ve thought since a young age and my recent study “Demography of Wankerdom,” cited above, has done nothing to change that opinion. Be sure to look for it in your local bookstore.
In the past few months there have been quite a few high profile horse deaths during horse racing events, and even HBOs popular television show ‘Luck’ was cancelled after a third horse died in it’s stables (two others died while filming race scenes late last year). At the Cheltenham Festival, one of the largest annual horseracing events in the world, 5 horses alone died on the opening day this year. It was the bloodiest opening day in 6 years. Then, in April, two more horses died at the Grand National, England’s most prestigious horse race. One, Synchronised, was a favorite to win the race, but fell and had to be euthanized on the track, much to the horror of the ridiculously hatted spectators. Horsedeathwatch.com has a website tracking the deaths of horses around the world. They began their site in 2007, to coincide with the notorious Cheltenham Festival, and since it began, 834 horses have died in those 5 years. These deaths do not include the countless horses who fail to turn a profit and are sold to the knackery.
What does this tell us? It’s definitely an activity that kills animals for our entertainment. It’s also dangerous for the jockeys, but they’re willing participants to the spectacle and therefore, know the risks and choose to take them. The horses on the other hand, have no say in the matter. Other forms of entertainment that result in animal deaths are outlawed outright. Fox hunting (the favorite activity of yet another key wanker demographic) was finally banned in England, and dog fighting is illegal everywhere. Bullfighting, one of the most barbarous activities still practiced in the first world (remember, we don’t practice war in the first world, we practice it on the third world) is still going strong. Many autonomous regions (the fancy way of saying states) of Spain have outlawed it altogether, yet in Andalucia, bullfighting’s heartland, it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
As for jumps racing, in Australia there are only two states where it is still legal, South Australia and Victoria. Every year, as the deaths mount, more and more pressure is put on state governments to enact the ban that the rest of the states have already put in place. It appears likely that they will one day follow through and end the activity, but the racing and gambling lobbies are quite powerful. Each jumps season is lamented by its supporters as being the last, which seems to indicate that even they know they are fighting an inevitably losing battle.
There is a massive movement to ban jumps racing. Every so often, compromises are made, or the jumps supporters give a little ground to try to ensure the sport remains legal. Some of the jumps responsible for the most fatalities will be re-worked, lowered, have some shrubbery added to it, or removed all together, as a concession to the opposition. Yet it does not appear to lower the number of casualties, though it sometimes eliminates the falls on the particular fence. The very dynamic of competition will guarantee that each jockey will hit each jump at the maximum speed deemed safe. Lowering a fence by a foot will only mean that the horses hit that jump faster. The rider that pushes the horse to the absolute limit without having it clip its leg on the jump is the one who will win. And this is the fatal flaw of the sport, pun intended, but not for humor.
I generally don’t embrace reformist agendas. The example of the lowering of the dangerous fences not resulting in less deaths proves my point to myself (as if I needed such reinforcement). Yet the banning of jumps racing before / instead of an all out ban on racing seems to be in order. Such a large proportion of deaths occur in jumps events that it would appear to be inhumane to not ban them first and foremost. I might even be inclined to allow other forms of horse racing to continue if jumps were banned. If there were no horse racing, where would rich wankers in funny hats go to drink champagne for breakfast before vomiting after lunch and spilling out onto the Melbourne streets to break a heel in the early evening and be dragged home for 12 hours of “sleep” before a Wednesday of hell?