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Monday, November 26, 2012

Horse Welfare Under the Microscope

Earlier this month in Australia, Animals Australia took aim at the racing industry with respect to what industry insiders call 'wastage'.  The result of this was the production of a video which takes aim at racings' practices regarding equine participants.

Lest you think this is a bunch of 'tree huggers' complaining, the Australian Broadcasting Company ran a feature on how horses end up being killed for their meat when their racing careers come to an end, assuming they made it that far.  Clearly concern for the horse is becoming a bigger issue globally,including North America..

Be forewarned, both of these sites have graphic on them.  The videos are not for the faint of heart.  I have seen other videos of similar nature, but this is the first time I saw horses violently trembling with fear before they were put in the kill box.  It was this trembling which shook me to the core.

Both of these reports are talking about the runners, but let's not kid ourselves in thinking the standardbred industry doesn't have its own 'wastage' problem.  Rest assured, Animals Australia and other groups are going after harness racing as well.

Ironically, it may have very well been the threat of a wholesale slaughter of racing stock in Ontario which may have given racing a reprieve by the provincial government.  In comments made by Ontario Racing Commission Chairman Rod Seiling to industry leaders about the public perception of horse welfare, he noted:

Beyond efficiencies, I also think it is important to point out that the health and welfare of the horse is becoming an even more pressing issue for horse racing. Some will say the prospect of abandoned horses has influenced the government’s decision to restate its willingness to work with industry. Regardless, the public’s view on that industry with respect to the ethical treatment of race horses is in a state of flux.

Racing can no longer be passive and pay lip service to the treatment of horses.  Seiling went on to note the public wants to know what the industry is going to do about horse welfare and how it is not just the activists who are involved, the mainstream media is getting involved.  The ORC Chairman goes on to note the public's standard is changing, what went on in the past is unacceptable.  Specifically:

Most people have a natural affinity toward the horse. For the horse racing industry, that is a double edged sword: the public is concerned about the welfare of the horse but they also want to know what you intend to do about it. Recent stories in the local, as well as US and international media, demonstrate this changing public standard.

The USTA's Full Circle program is a start, but it is too little; the time for voluntary programs has past.   The industry and its leaders must come together and commit to mandatory steps.  The thoroughbred industry gets it and has committed to the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA), yet the standardbred industry has yet to step up to the plate.

We can't say the industry is against the slaughter of our equine athletes when tracks allow horse dealers to visit the backstretches of our racetracks on qualifying days.  If the industry was against horse slaughter it would not oppose the use of microchips, it would support and lobby for laws banning the transport and slaughter of horses for human consumption, sanction and where appropriate ban those participants who don't do due diligence when retiring a horse from racing or breeding.

We can't say the industry is for humane treatment of horses when we don't seriously restrict the use of whips, allow drivers to get $25 and $50 fines for kicking or excessive whipping either.  While the industry needs breeding in order to survive, steps need to be taken to set standards for stallions and broodmares entering and remaining in breeding duty; no sense in continuing to breed when the track record is poor.

Talk is cheap.  Action speaks louder than words.

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