Hate The Mistreatment Of Retired Horses, But Don’t Hate The Sport

It was sad. It was brutal. It was sickening.

Like many Australians, I watched the distressing footage of thoroughbred racehorses being abused and put down, which aired on the ABC last week.

But do you know what my main emotion was as I watched the footage?


Anger at the callousness displayed by abattoir workers as they seemed to take pleasure in killing horses.

Anger at the lack of nationwide regulation that still lets some retired racehorses end up in the abattoir in the first place.

But I also felt some anger towards those who declare racing an inhumane, unethical industry at all levels.

Which it is not.

If you’re opposed to racing because you don’t like gambling, fine. That’s a valid view. But if you think racing is inherently cruel, well, you’re wrong.

Racehorses are bred to run on the track. It’s what they LOVE to do.

The racing industry employs tens of thousands of people, all of them licensed. The vast majority of these people -- especially those working directly with horses -- are well-intentioned, honest, hard-working and above all, absolutely besotted with the thoroughbreds which are the lifeblood of the game.

Most racing people were as shocked as anyone by what they saw last week. Look at the horror expressed by jockey Laura Cheshire at the fate of one of her former mounts.

Racing people know the industry must change. Indeed it already is.

To use just one example, NSW horse stud Edinburgh Park, came out this week and guaranteed no horse they breed will ever end up at an abattoir.

This is the sort of front-foot approach that more small stakeholders in the industry should take.

We also need industry-wide measures to stamp out the potential for abuse and/or slaughter of horses when their racing careers are over.

Racing Australia CEO Barry O'Farrell said this week that the national body traces horses from the moment they are born to the moment they retire from the industry.

The problem is what happens when they retire.

Nine out of 10 go into the equestrian or breeding sectors. But wherever they go, they then become the property of whoever bought them.

"That’s where state and federal authorities need to be involved," O'Farrell said, before going on to advocate for a national horse traceability register.

Racing Australia runs a sport, not a horse re-homing and tracing program, but it might be time to expand its role. That seems to be what the public wants, and it's definitely what the horses deserve.

Racing is too valuable an industry -– economically and culturally -- not to change.

And the people working in racing love their horses far too much not to change it.