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Why everyone should Boycott the Grand National


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I'll be honest. The Grand National was a day of great excitement once a year for my younger self. The elation of pouring over the jockeys' colours in the newspaper. The anticipation of giving my pound coin to my parents to place a bet for me. The adrenalin of the race, holding my breath as the horses took each jump, hoping mine wouldn't stumble and be put out of the running. We've all felt it.

horse racing

Image Credit: caltatum on Pixabay

However, as I began to get older and the true horrors of horse-racing became apparent, I began to hold my breath for a different reason. It was no longer in the hope that my horse would be triumphant, rather that there would be no casualties. 

My prime reason for tuning in was to check if all the animals were ok and had survived the race. The chances of fatality for the animal in a race is far higher than that of its rider. For a jockey who falls and sustains injuries, there is more often than not a chance of treatment and care. For the horse, 'a broken leg is a death sentence'

Over the years, various forms of animal racing and fighting-such as greyhound, dog and cockerel - have come to be widely seen as immoral and largely shunned, so why hasn't this happened to horse racing? 

The Grand National is part of an extravagant three days of racing in the Aintree competition. All this is part of a huge 'multibillion-dollar industry'; an empire. As always in the case of empire, there are casualties.

Since 2000, 45 horses have died as a result of the Grand National. That's just in one event. Between January of 2018 and April of 2018, 43 horses died in races across the UK.

Due to selective breeding over centuries, horses' bones have become lighter to prevent their speed from being inhibited by thier own weight. Of course, the obvious consequences of such a forced evolution is that the bones on great impact just 'shatter'.

All are still skidding in the dirt. You can really see the broken leg of the white horse in the back as he struggles to stand up.

If you look closely you can see the broken leg of the white horse on the left of the picture/ Image Credit: Mike LaChance on Flickr

Speaking to The Guardian in 2011, Professor Tim Morris, director of equine science and welfare at the British Horseracing Authority, explained in more detail why such injuries are often impossible to come back from. He explains that when the bone shatters, 'it is not possible to repair the bone, and not just because it is now in lots of little pieces that won't heal together.

'Another issue is "plastic deformation", meaning that the bone bends before it breaks and it is that bent shape that is preserved in the pieces. Even if it were possible to put the pieces back together, you would end up with a madly bent bone'.

Chris Cook from the Guardian posed the possibility of amputation to Morris, replied:

"If you have a limb amputation, you're still going to have a good quality of life, aren't you? But how do you judge a horse's quality of life? Will it have the ability to be turned out at liberty in the paddock, will it need long-term pain medication? Because you or I can have a new hip or new knee if we need one. That's not possible [for horses]."

Image Credit: ABC News

I find it somewhat ironic when the racehorse's 'quality of life' is discussed. It seems to me that a decision was made for the animals from the beginning: that they would spend their lives racing in order to generate a profit for the humans who owned them. These animals are the support for a huge money-making industry and yet take part under no free will of their own. How can you judge that quality of life to be good?

It's very easy for a member of the general public to turn a blind eye, saying it's only a bit of fun, and they only bet once a year. They will claim that they are not responsible for the maltreatment of these innocent horses. However, in betting and supporting racing, they are part of the infrastructure fuelling the industry. An industry that largely relies on the support of the public for its income.

Although progress has been made in recent years in technology, in some cases allowing a horse to recover, this does not strengthen the argument for horse racing. For me, this is something that just should not be happening in the first place. 

It's not just broken bones that pose a risk to these animals. Horses are often forced beyond their abilities on the race course, whipped, suffering physical punishment if they try to slow. 

According to Huffpost in 2018, Dene Stanstell, part of Animal Aid, said, 'heat exhaustion is a major issue with equines and one that is often not considered.

It's not just happening in the UK either. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), in parts of the world, 'many [racehorses] end up in slaughterhouses in Canada, Mexico, or Japan, where they are turned into dog food and glue'.

Support PETA in ending animal cruelty here.

So join me and many others this Saturday in not tuning in. The only way to truly stop such a cruel practice is to cut off the funds supporting it. Start by not supporting TV stations broadcasting the race, as well as not betting. Encourage others to stop turning their heads and open their eyes to these cruel practices. Boycott the Grand National.

Lead Image Credit: Stacey MacNaught // Flickr

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