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Adjournment: Concerns about the welfare of horses used as sport

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 18 Nov 2014

Most people would baulk at the idea of harming animals for human pleasure. Most people would agree the deliberate and calculated infliction of pain, stress or terror on animals as sport or entertainment is barbaric. Since two horses died in the 2014 Melbourne Cup, I have realised how many people do not realise the cruelty involved in some sports. I did find it interesting when I was considering this issue that, in 1991, there was actually a Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare. One of its reports is entitled Equine welfare in competitive events other than racing. This report is very useful and still has considerable important information for us to consider.

One of the reports of the inquiry looked at the welfare of horses used in sport. It found an 'inherent conflict' between jumps racing and animal welfare and recommended that this cruel sport be phased out by 1994. Twenty years later, however, only New South Wales has legislatively banned this activity. The committee report also found that:
... the number of horse fatalities resulting from endurance riding is unacceptable.

The report was critical of rapping and other practices of hitting horses in equestrian events and concluded that such practices should be eliminated. That practice now results in disqualification from equestrian events.

With so many examples of entertainment involving cruelty to animals, I have been left wondering if this committee should be revived. Terrible stress, pain and, at times, death is inflicted on horses in the name of sport and entertainment. Forcing animals to exceed the capacity of their body for our gratification is wrong. From 2013 to 2014, 125 horses have died on the track or after the race. That is on average one horse dying on Australian racetracks every three days, mostly from catastrophic limb injuries such as broken or fractured legs or from broken or fractured backs, necks, or pelvises. Horses also suffer from torn muscle tendons and ligaments in these races. These figures do not include the large number of horses killed each year from racing related injuries off the track in training or when they are no longer worth money to their owners, and they do not include the fate of those 18,000 horses that leave the industry every year.

Paul McGreevy, a professor of animal behaviour and animal welfare science at the University of Sydney, has put whipping horses under the spotlight. He wrote recently in The Conversation on 29 October 2014:
... Melbourne Cup Day punters appear blithely unaware that they are actually watching horses being whipped ... and hard.

Last year more than 100,000 people attended the Melbourne Cup, with more than 3 million watching the race on TV in Australia alone. This would have to make whipping in horse-racing the most public form of violence to animals in Australia today, but most people don't seem to notice it.

To be fair, it was only when I saw high-speed images of whip impact that showed visible indentation of the skin in 83% of impacts I appreciated how likely it was that routine whipping of horses in racing causes pain.
The professor's 2011 research revealed whipping makes no difference to a horse's race performance, but still there are no restrictions for the numbers of times a horse may be whipped in the last 100 metres, when the horse, in fact, is probably unable to exert its body any further. Professor McGreevy found that the whip's padding failed to protect horses in 64 per cent of strikes, that 70 per cent of whip strikes are backhanded so are not counted in the allowable limit of strikes and that 75 per cent of whip strikes were flank strikes to the side of a horse's sensitive abdomen-illegal in more than 40 countries including Australia. How ironic that the winning jockey of the Melbourne Cup is presented with a golden whip. Surely it is time to get rid of the golden whip and all whips in racing. Sports journalist Patrick Smith recently wrote:
... if whips didn't cause pain there would be no use to them.

Professor McGreevy has also stated in The Conversation:
Representatives from the racing industry will doubtless say horses have thick skin and are therefore immune to pain from whip impacts but there is actually no evidence of such pain resistance in horses. Indeed, horses can feel a fly on their skin such that it triggers a characteristic shake called the "panniculus reflex".

Ninety per cent of race and event horses haemorrhage into their lungs, while 50 to 60 per cent bleed into their windpipes. This has been well documented in many papers, including various scientific journals. Recently, I read about it in the Journal of Applied Physiology. In reading on this issue I was disturbed to find that the stress failure, or bursting of horses' lung capillaries, occurs in essentially all horses in training and so is considered a normal occurrence in such sports. The physical ailments horses are forced to endure because of the activities humans force them into are extensive. Stabled racing horses are fed concentrated high-protein, often a few times a day, to maximise performance. This leads to ulcerated stomachs in stabled horses. Not surprisingly, horses evolved to continuously graze grasses, hay and other fibrous food. Eighty-six per cent of racehorses suffer ulcerated stomachs and many suffer deep-bleeding ulcers within eight weeks of starting race preparation.
Most horses suffer inflammatory respiratory diseases, which is second only to lameness as the most common injury to horses. A lack of fresh air plus exposure to dust, allergens and endotoxins from bedding, feed and stable material have been identified as causes. Laminitis, a form of lameness, is caused by overstressing a good leg during recovery from an injured opposite limb or by accumulated toxins from excessive carbohydrates or nitrates or from hard surfaces. Dorothy Ainsworth, a veterinary research clinician and professor of large animal medicine at Cornell University stated in 2006: 'Yet it is becoming apparent that racing and strenuous exercise, the actual substance of being a racehorse, is exactly what is putting these horses at risk.'

The 1991 Senate inquiry also found practices in rodeos of concern. It found goads and other similar instruments were inhumane and cruel and should not be used in the training or handling of rodeo stock. I do congratulate all the senators who were involved in that inquiry. I think much of their work stands the test of time and it remains very useful, particularly considering the large number of rodeos that operate in Australia.

Professor McGreevy has alerted us to the animal cruelty involved in racing. Tormenting, taunting, brutalising and mistreating animals is not entertainment. Twenty years ago the former senators in this place investigated animal welfare. I hope we can make a contribution to ending cruelty in the name of entertainment.

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