I used the word ‘killed’ above in place of the euphemistic ‘destroyed’, or even worse ‘elective euthanasia’ (ugh!), which even the Observer’s report didn’t see the need to question. The British Horseracing Authority, which puts the case for the defence, should be renamed the ‘British Weaselwords Authority’. After trying to undermine the bare facts with the last refuge of the modern-day scoundrel, percentages (those 1,000 dead horses are a mere 0.2% of the total number of runs over fences, so that’s all right then), they assert, with a straight face, that “[t]horoughbred racehorses are not animals that take well to being turned out to a field … and sometimes the most humane option is to put them down.” (Substitute “kill them” for the last three words, please.)
I’d say the most humane option is not to make them do it. Although I wouldn’t call myself an enthusiast (or a gambler – which is what it’s really all about), I greatly enjoy watching a flat race, almost as much as I imagine the horses enjoy running it. But jump races have always made me a bit queasy, and learning that the death toll is getting worse rather than better doesn’t assuage this reaction one bit.
I was born in the Year of the Horse, and they sense this. Whenever I’m near them, they seem to single me out, with a smile and a wink. Once, I was walking (on a designated footpath)with companions across a field in Pembrokeshire in which three beautiful horses were running free. The others were a bit nervous, but I was enthralled; until the young colt ran up to me, grabbed me by the sleeve and insistently tried to get me to join in. I eventually got free (one of the older ones might have come over and had a quiet word, I’m not sure), and bore a little bruise on my upper arm for several days afterwards. I saw it as a badge of honour.
I’ve never ridden a horse: something I’d add to my bucket list, if I had one. I have ridden a camel, though, and a donkey. And a tram.