Facing up to the reality of racehorse fatalities
I think it fair to say that when the number of equine fatalities on racecourses in 2018 was recently announced by the BHA, it was to be expected that the RSPCA would comment on the figures. The number of deaths recorded was 202, the highest since 2014 and representing 0.22% of 93,004 runners last year.
The RSPCA said that the number of fatalities was “not acceptable, and this requires urgent action”. Maybe there’s not much else they can say and many of their supporters would expect nothing less. Such figures give ammunition to activists to further attack racing which they believe is inhumane and want it banned.
But it is also fair to say that the RSPCA hardly ever needs to send its officers to racecourses or racing stables to investigate animal mistreatment. Hopefully that’s the same with farms, pony clubs and all the other places where horses are stabled or work.
Elsewhere, however, I suspect RSPCA officers have to attend numerous incidents of cruelty to horses. It’s likely that more than one horse suffers in a single incident. The same with domestic animals.
Deaths on the racecourse will never be eradicated and some of them could just as easily happen in fields and pastures, with or without the horse being ridden.
When the BHA investigated four recent equine fatalities in a single day at Musselburgh, they said they were not related. Maybe it could be more widely communicated what caused such fatalities and whether they could just as easily have happened somewhere other than on the racecourse.
A fatality at Sandown on Saturday happened on the flat when Dell Oro veered off a straight course and keeled over. Was it because it was racing or was it because it was an injury which could have happened anywhere?
Many years ago I had a share in a 2yo filly who had the potential to race at the highest level. Sadly, she never saw a racecourse as she put her foot in a hole and had to be put down.
When the RSPCA or others need to tend injured horses, it would be interesting to know if the care and treatment they receive is administered as a result of equine medication and procedures which racing has helped fund and develop.
It it also worth noting that when a horse is injured on the racecourse, it is attended within minutes by a team of vets whom I assume consider their racecourse work compatible with their duty to expose animal cruelty.
The same such injuries could be incurred in a field but attention wont necessarily be so immediate.
It would be trite and unproductive to ask the RSPCA what level of racecourse equine fatalities would be acceptable to them.
But it would be good if the charity could acknowledge that racing is striving to reduce to the absolute minimum the number of deaths on the racecourse, and anywhere else where racehorses can be found. And it would be equally good if it avoids trite phrases such as the situation “requires urgent action.”