A Grand Day Out, unless you’re a horse.

Horse racing
Image CC: Paolo Camera (Flickr)

Today was the day of the Grand National, the flagship event in one of Britain’s most divisive and controversial sports: horse racing. Every year the event sparks debate about whether the sport is barbaric and cruel, or honest entertainment. In case you’re wondering where I’m going with this article, I’m edging (faster than a whipped horse) towards the former.

A friend of mine put it well earlier when he said:

“any anti grand national opinion seems to be met with hostility and “horses love to run” mentality.”

It’s true; the minute you begin to criticise this most beloved of sports (spending just a few minutes on Facebook and Twitter today has revealed a huge number of my friends are apparently devoted horse racing fans who have been keeping it quiet the other 364 days of the year) people get angry. I imagine some of you dear readers are already annoyed.

People immediately leap (like a fatigued horse over a ridiculously large obstacle) to the sport’s defence; claiming the horses enjoy it, or that it’s not cruel, or that deaths are rare! The most common defence seems to be “Shut up, stop being such a girl.” (Sexism by the way.)

The trouble with the first defence, is that I’m not sure how these people have managed to devise a test to empirically evaluate a horse’s happiness at being forced by whipping (sorry, “encouraged”) to run faster than they would normally be capable, under the weight of both a rider and expectation, whilst jumping over difficult obstacles. It’s sounds like fun to me, but I’m not a horse, and they get evasive and quiet when you try asking them. Pussies, they’re just trying to avoid saying anything controversial, the equine bastards.

The trouble with the second defence, comes down to simple statistics. Those pesky damn statistics, they’re always out to ruin everyone’s fun! So horses are rarely harmed you say? Well how about the act that, according to anti-racing group, Animal Aid, 944 horses have died on the 60 racecourses in the UK in the last five years. Two have already died this year! Yeah, seems like a bit of harmless fun to me.

There is another argument that I’ve neglected, probably the most typical in fact (it sticks to the sport like glue made from butchered race horses). It’s the one so emphatically expressed by female jockey and alleged horse lover, Katie Walsh, in an interview with Radio Times, which is: “They’re just horses after all.” This one’s a little more difficult for me to argue with. True, they are just horses, and if your opinion is that this means it doesn’t matter that they are subjected to physical pain, exhaustion and likely death, for a few hours worth of your entertainment once a year, then there is very little I can do to change your mind. However this sort of falls under the ‘horse racing is barbaric’ argument. If you don’t care about the well-being of a living creature, fine, that’s your opinion, but don’t then try to argue in favour of horse racing on the basis that it’s fun for the horses.

Oh, and as for that final argument! I, and the others who don’t enjoy the sport, aren’t just being overly sensitive and girly; and if leaning on the side of not enjoying animal cruelty makes us so in your opinion, well then I’d rather be here, with all my overly-sensitive, girly friends, than with the masochists and psychopaths. Also I’m way more manly than you, I’m hung like a horse.

Still, I suppose there is SOME sense of karma for those 944 horses who have died so far…

Image CC: VancityAllie (Flickr)

4 Comments Add yours

  1. James says:

    People who raise this dumb argument care about horses for 1 day of the year, whereas those whoa re actually involved with the sport care about horses for the whole year.
    It’s not like the sport actively encourages the death of animals, like hunting.

    1. Alex Delaney says:

      Thanks for your comment James.
      I imagine what you say is true, but for people on both sides of the argument. People don’t care about horse racing all year round because people don’t think about one issue the whole year round.
      However, I would argue that the people who don’t like horse racing because they think it’s cruel, still care about the well-being of animals the rest of the year, even if it’s not directly related to this issue. I find it unlikely that someone who doesn’t like horse racing would then not care about horses being harmed in other circumstances, for example.
      And you’re right, the primary purpose of horse racing is sport, not animal cruelty, but no one is saying it is! What horse racing does do, is create an environment where death, or at least pain, exhaustion and health problems are a very likely outcome for the horses, and a lot of people (myself included) think this is unacceptable, whether it’s the purpose of horse racing or not!

  2. DJ Leekee says:

    Can’t believe you didn’t have a bet on a nag or two!
    FYI one of the horses that has died at Aintree this year was from a heart attack (ie natural causes!)

    I dont really know what to add to the argument but i’m sure if I was a horse and I didn’t really want to run and jump – I wouldnt – regardless of how hard they were hitting me!

    So my conclusion – its the horses fault for making it look like they are enjoying themselves!

    So why the long face?


    1. Alex Delaney says:

      Couldn’t resist a pun could you?
      Yeah it was a heart attack, but racing puts the horses’ hearts under massive amounts of pressure that they can’t handle. A lot of them have serious health problems because of it, so I don’t think that counts as a natural cause!
      I think you probably would, if you’d been conditioned since birth to know that when you get whipped, the only way to stop them whipping you is to run faster. Plus even if you wouldn’t, you’re more intelligent than a horse (just about :P) and capable of defending yourself!
      I suppose all that whipping, pain and leather does look pretty fun, if you’re into that S&M stuff!
      Thanks for the comment.

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