Tuesday, 17 October 2017
The Melbourne Cup is coming up. It's known as the horserace that stops a nation. Sadly, it also stops, as in kills, many horses. In 2013, Verema died. In 2015, Red Cadeaux died. In 2014, Admire Rakti died, and also Araldo. Between 650 and 960 racehorses are euthanased each year. Surely it is time we reassessed how we treat these animals. The racing year goes from 1 August to 31 July. In the racing year from 1 August 2016 to 31 July 2017, 137 racehorses died on Australian racetracks. Most causes of death on the racetrack are actually catastrophic limb injuries, with broken or fractured legs, backs, necks and pelvises. Torn muscles, tendons or ligaments also occur. I just named some of the horses that have died. You might remember the horrific photographs of the horse with its broken leg flapping around as it tried to walk on three legs just before it was killed.
This is the tragedy for so many of the horses, but there are many other ways that they die. Ninety per cent of race or event horses haemorrhage into their lungs, and 50 to 60 per cent bleed into their windpipes. Racehorses are fed concentrated high-protein grains to maximise performance. However, that's not how horses evolved. They evolved grazing on grasses, often eating dry grass, hay and other fibrous food. This change in diet, which is linked with maximising racing performance, because they're now being fed high-protein foods, causes ulcerated stomachs in stabled horses. So clearly the change in diet is cruel. Eighty-six per cent of racehorses suffer ulcerated stomachs and many suffer deep bleeding ulcers within eight weeks of starting race preparation and going onto the special diets. Gastric ulceration occurs in up to 93 per cent of thoroughbred horses. This increases to 80 to 100 per cent as training increases and racing commences. Dorothy Ainsworth, a veterinary research clinician and professor of large animal medicine at Cornell University, has said:
… 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 information I have given about the haemorrhaging and the gastric ulcers comes from a variety of physiology journals and horseracing journals that have documented these problems. There is a very common injury for horses, and one that regularly leads to death. It's well known that once a horse is injured—has broken its leg—it's not going to recover. That is a huge problem, and I understand that it's the fourth-most-common cause of death in horses.
So on the first Tuesday of November, Melbourne Cup day, let's think of the horses. The level of cruelty is extreme, and surely it's at least time that we asked ourselves, 'Does it have to be so extreme?'