A New Report Urges Reforms To The Horse Racing Industry But Can We Just Abolish It As A Whole?

horse racing

Remember when it was revealed that racehorses were being slaughtered for consumption following retirement? Since then, a two year examination of the racing industry has led to a report urging a tracking system for thoroughbreds, so we know what happens after they’re off the track. The report reckons this is the only way we can keep the sporting of racing alive — but is that really something we should be aspiring to?

The report, commissioned by Thoroughbred Breeders Australia, calls for federal and state governments to create a national database to track the life of thoroughbreds from birth to death. It’s their answer to the issue of racehorse abuse after they’re no longer winning punters money on the track.

Which sounds great, right? It addresses the issue of retirement for racehorses, and how they can disappear from our consciousness and therefore concern once they aren’t breaking their bodies for our entertainment. And personally, I think it’s definitely something we should be doing regardless of if the thoroughbred is racing. But, what I don’t like about this report is how at points it frames this move as solely an attempt to keep the racing industry afloat.

One of the lead authors of the report is former Racing Minister and veterinarian Dr Denis Napthine (what an interesting combo of titles) who told The Age: “A horse can be born in the Hunter Valley, sold in Melbourne, Sydney or at the Magic Millions, race in two or three different states and retire in a fourth.”

“You need a national approach to be able to follow that horse and provide the welfare support that horse may need.”

A survey conducted for the report found more people were against horse racing than for it, but if the industry could prove its horses aren’t abused, this could change.

“It is the thoroughbred industry’s responsibility to ensure thoroughbreds are cared for appropriately from birth to end of life,” the report concludes. “This is not being done adequately now.

“Unless that changes, the economic, emotional and social benefits of horse racing will evaporate.”

Aaaand that’s where my skepticism comes in. Because while this report has legitimately strong critique of the racing industry and the treatment of horses, it seeks to reform racing rather than abolish it — something that I have really no interest in.

The report frames looking after its horses as the necessary move to keep an outdated and harmful practice alive, when it should centre horse welfare as something that we should just be ensuring because horses are living things and by virtue of that, deserve comfort and safety. But if it did that, then it would have to acknowledge that racing and horse welfare are mutually exclusive.

Look, I don’t think it’s a controversial statement in our lord’s year of 2021 to state that horse racing is harmful and unethical.

Aside from the fact that the industry is built on over-breeding horses, many of which are rejected from racing anyway, it also leads to injuries and deaths of the animals, which typically have a racing career of 2-3 years, despite having a life span of 25-30 years. It’s not exactly rare for these racehorses to end up at an abattoir once they’re no longer deemed useful.

It’s literally called ‘wastage’ when horses leave racing early. These horses are objectified into instruments of entertainment that can be discarded when they don’t serve our purpose anymore. It’s sickening.

I don’t even think the report disagrees with most of these points either. It makes it pretty clear that there is abuse in this industry that needs to be stopped. But it also hasn’t escaped my notice that this report focuses on the “economic, emotional and social benefits” of race horsing to humans. But what about horses?

And so it’s with that in mind that I’m weary of reports about horse welfare that are designed to keep the racing industry afloat, when really these two should have opposing interests.

Horse welfare shouldn’t be about rehabilitating the image of racing. It should be about abolishing it.