This election is boring me. Maybe it’s my cynicism or my allergy to buzzwords, but the parties are saying nothing to me as a voter of conscience. I’m pretty far left, but lately I’ve actually started to question the sense of Caroline Lucas for a comment that’s so ridiculous I’m actually enraged.
Every April I put up with the endless jibes of idiots that point at the Grand National and shout ‘cruelty’. Lucas has gone on record asking to ban it and possibly all horseracing as we are watching “horses raced to death”. This is an MP I have previously stood up for and followed, but this statement is a rare lapse into misinformation that has sorely disappointed me.
I know my nags. I grew up in a big racing town and worked in the yards and equine veterinary practices through my youth. I’ve seen handicappers, Derby, Gold Cup and Grand National winners both in training and undergoing treatment. The standard of care given to those horses in training is outstanding – the best food, constant love and attention by their lads every day of the week, frequent checks and scans at the slightest hint of a problem.
Horses are worth too much to be mistreated; would you harm a creature worth millions of pounds? They have clover flown in, solarium lamps to warm their backs, swimming pools and cushioned gallops. Racing vets are the best in the world, developing many procedures later rolled out even to humans (such as stem cell therapy on tendons). Jump horses sustain careers over many years, something that can only be achieved with care.
The races themselves have been made safer with whipping bans, safer ground standards, better jump build. Despite what people think, you cannot force a horse to jump or run. Many child has tried, believe me. The best example of this is the famous Mad Moose – now retired and banned by the British Horseracing Board for…not starting. He just said no. No violence, no danger, he just walked off. He once made it to a fence, slowing to a standstill. Does he jump? He does at home and out drag hunting, just not on racecourses. They tried, he said no, and now he’s retired and enjoying life (with a huge fanclub).
So where exactly is the cruelty? Sadly horses do die, but if Lucas looked at the facts it is far worse in the leisure industry where stupidity kills many horses. The worst cases I have ever seen of cruelty are by nameless individuals who starve, overfeed, overwork and even violently attack horses. I’ve been to too many riding schools which beat and overwork their animals, conning the authorities who discourage complaints.
Then there is the meat trade. Most abattoirs do not have CCTV to prove their treatment of all animals is humane, and horses fall through the gaps of the livestock laws. They are packed into trucks where many fall and are trampled to death; the volume of deaths through dehydration is staggering. This is cruelty at its most disgusting.
The real issue with horseracing is not the racing itself – that is after all what they are bred for. It is what happens after their career ends. Then they fall into the hands of arseholes who have no idea how to retrain a beast that knows mainly how to run, that has been treated as a god in a comfortable stable with little interaction with traffic. There are also many horses bred only for speed, with no consideration for temperament or a future career. Only the economy reduces the amount of (sadly) shit horses being bred. A lot fall into the meat trade, as I’ve said a deplorable and grotesquely unlegislated area for the equine.
So where exactly is the fucking cruelty? I was the first to shed a tear when Balthazar King fell this year, choked up that he might die. Thankfully he is still alive, and being treated incredibly well by top vets in Liverpool. His fall was a mistake, and another horse hitting him a freak accident.
It is horrible, but falls happen. I’ve been fallen on by a small, fat, hairy Welsh pony before – every rider has at some point. Jumping a big fence makes it more likely. If you compare the amount of injuries or deaths in runs against the number of deaths happening daily among normal horse owners maybe it would put this into perspective. Lucas should speak with all the information at hand, spending time in a racing yard and seeing for herself how the sport and industry is run, not spouting vote-courting buzz-phrases.