Change My Mind: Should Horse Racing Be Banned Once And For All?

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Should horse racing be banned once and for all?

Following the death of five horses at this year's Cheltenham Festival, we're kicking off the launch of HuffPost UK Sport with two blogs arguing both sides of the debate.

Yvonne Taylor, senior programme manager at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, blogs that racing should be put out to pasture once and for all, whilst MyDaily Assistant Editor (and life-long race-goer) Katie Jones reckons the sport is already regulated quite enough.

Did either blog change your mind? Would you like to blog in response? If so, please get in touch with our UK Blog Team:


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Horse Racing Should Be Banned Once And For All

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Who makes the better argument?

Yvonne Taylor Senior Programme Manager at PETA Foundation

Three horses died in the opening hours of the Cheltenham Festival, and more are sure to follow. How many horses must perish before horse-racing is put out to pasture once and for all? More than 400 horses die in racing in the UK every year. Surely we have evolved enough to recognise that horses shouldn't have to suffer and pay with their lives so people can win a few quid.

Horses are raced too young, too often and on hard surfaces that practically guarantee breakdowns. Appallingly, an estimated 38% of those 400 horses die during or just after a race (the others die in the days and weeks that follow). Those who manage to survive often develop bleeding in the lungs and painful ulcers. They spend most of their time in cramped stalls, rarely knowing the pleasure of grazing in a meadow or frolicking in the sun just for the fun of it.

It is extremely common for drugs - both legal and illegal - to be used by trainers and veterinarians in response to injuries horses incur while running. Steroids are used to keep horses going. Lasix is a legal drug that stops internal bleeding in the lungs, while also masking the presence of other drugs in the horse's system. Bute is a painkiller which allows horses to run with minor injuries without taking into account that more serious injuries may result.

Jockeys vigorously opposed the few modest rules regarding whipping that have finally been put in place, yet horses can still be viciously whipped eight times during flat racing and nine times on the jumps. Even riders who exceed those abusive quotas aren't automatically held accountable. Stewards debate and decide whether or not to hold an inquiry. Fines and/or suspensions are not assured. But what is a given is that horses will still feel the sting of the whip and the throbbing welts that follow.

Nearly 20,000 horses are bred in Britain every year in the quest to produce 'winners', but not every horse will run fast enough to stay alive. Horses who do not 'make the grade' are not retired to grassy pastures. Thousands of horses - including spent thoroughbreds - are sold for slaughter every year. Some of their flesh is used in dog and cat food, while 'prime cuts' are sold for human consumption in Europe and Asia.

The Grand National would be more aptly named the Grand National Shame. Every year, horses sustain serious injuries, including fractured legs, heart failure and pulled tendons. Five horses died last year, and four others were fatally injured on the second day of the 2010 event alone.

Instead of condemning the carnage, television stations covering these races take unabashed glee in showing exhausted horses careening into each other and breaking down, over and over, often in slow-motion. But who with a shred of conscience enjoys watching the last moments of an exhausted and dying horse?

Forget the finish line - this deadly industry is all about the bottom line, and the horses are little more than disposable commodities to be dispatched behind the tarpaulin. People who want to pay tribute to all the horses who have suffered and died in racing should stay away from tracks and betting shops.

Katie Jones Assistant Editor, MyDaily

Three horses died after falling on the first day of the Cheltenham festival. It's a rare and tragic circumstance of National Hunt racing that owners, trainers and punters alike, would rather not watch. Yet every so often, when faced with a four-foot fence, the horse (and jockey) stumbles at one of the huge hurdles, while the crowd gasps with disappointment.

After the fatal cross-country race at Cheltenham on Tuesday, Willie Mullins, who trained one of the horses that died, spoke to Alan Lee, sports correspondent for The Times. "I [had] no problem with the state of the ground, my horse would have loved it. What happened was very unfortunate but it was just an accident."

Accidents happen in many sports, and horse racing is no exception. However, PETA is campaigning to eliminate this risk by banning the sport completely. "We are working toward the day when horse racing ends for good", they proudly state on their website.

As someone who grew up in the town which calls itself "the home of national hunt racing" and who has been a race-goer since the days I was pushed round in the racecourse in a pram, I have to ask, is a horse racing ban taking the protection of animals one step too far, when it's already a well monitored industry with strict rules and guidelines?

Last month, when PETA was campaigning for retired thoroughbreds to be rescued, The Jockey Club listened - and rightly so - by launching the TAA (Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance), to ensure that ex-race horses are cared for once they've run their final course of the racetrack.

And they're not the only ones who are devoted to the welfare of racehorses. The British Horseracing Authority doesn't take the treatment of horses lightly either. There are strict financial penalties and racing bans in place for dangerous or careless riding as well as misuse of the whip. Vets are always present on the courses to ensure injured horses are treated there and then and The Horse Trust and The Racehorse Sanctuary are just two of the charities that have been set up in the UK, organisations that are dedicated to re-homing retired racehorses. It's really not all doom and gloom for these equine athletes.

Whether they're competing in their first ever race or winning in front of the Queen at Royal Ascot, horse racing is an industry which celebrates the animals as much as the jockeys who are riding them. Without it, the sporting calendar would be half empty, the Irish bloodstock industry (the largest in Europe and a major contributor to the Irish economy) would disappear and the betting industry would be in seriously bad shape, especially if it lost the hundreds of billions pounds that the sport generates.

That's not forgetting the 70,000 spectators who will be cheering on the Gold Cup winner this Friday. A horse race can offer five minutes of shouting, screaming and jumping up and down with sheer excitement, whether you're watching from home on the TV or you're standing at the winners post. In a world that has far bigger concerns than "who fell at the second from last", why should we put an end to a sport where accidents happen?



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