Sunday, 4 August 2013

Horses no longer for courses

I was saddened, though not surprised, to read that at least a thousand horses have been killed over the last six years for failing to jump over an obstacle which proved too difficult for them, and which, to put it bluntly, had been designed to precisely that purpose.  If you don’t accept that contention, just consider – when you watch a steeplechase, is part of the excitement praying that your preferred horse will make it over the next fence?

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.



  1. I was aware that many horses have to be destroyed after falling in jump races, but I had no idea of the scale. Nothing will be done, of course, because there is too much money in it.

    I used to work with someone who kept a couple of horses, one of which she described as 'a psychotic ex-race horse'. She kept said horse as a pet, despite the horse being so highly strung that no one could ride her. Sadly, there are few places where such a horse would find a home.

    I've never properly ridden a horse, but I have done the 'pony ride' thing at someone's birthday party when I was a child.

  2. Tim, you may come and ride one of mine whenever the urge takes you, or you buy a bucket.

    Love racing but hate the jumping fatalities and also (in both flat and jumping) over use (or use at all) of the whip.

  3. I've had a pet donkey but never ridden one, but have ridden horses - never as much as I'd have liked to, I never learned properly. And I've ridden a camel and elephants. And a tram. And a motorbike, but only pillion as yet.

    Apart from those that break a leg in a race, I suppose few ex-racers are kept as pets and the rest are shot. The thousand in six years are the ones reported.

  4. Of course thoroughbreds don't "like be left in a paddock." And I'm not saying they make an ideal first horse for little Tabitha. But ,but,but...they do NOT have to be destroyed on the spot.
    I, no more than an occasional rider of other people's ponies, have ridden a "failed" race horse. True, he had a hard mouth and did need a short rein, but he was a lovely horse and deserved his extra years of being ridden and appreciated.
    Bloody racing authorities only see the money.

  5. I'd rather be turned out into a field than shot in the head.

  6. I think Rog has summed it up, so I won't respond individually, except to reiterate my anger at the arrogant hypocrisy of these people who pretend to have the animals' best interests at heart, whereas in truth they are nothing more than grubby moneymen.

    Rant ends here. Later, woolly mammoth-burgers (maybe).