There are three ‘codes’ of horse racing that exist in Australia:
- Thoroughbred Racing (commonly known as ‘gallops’): 8-15 horses typically compete per race, each ridden by a jockey. Races are run over a flat surface with distances ranging from around 800m to 3,200m.
- Jumps Racing: this race type also involves thoroughbred horses, each ridden by a jockey. Races are run over long distances (about 3,200m to 5,500m) and incorporate large fixed hurdles that the horses must jump over. Jumps races are only legal in Victoria and South Australia.
- Harness Racing (commonly known as ‘trots’ or ‘paces’): 8-12 standardbred horses typically compete per race, each pulling a driver sitting in a two-wheeled cart. Races are held over a range of distances from about 1,600m to 3,200m.
Breeding and Wastage
The Australian racing industry total horse exit rates each year have been estimated at 28% for Standardbreds and 33% for Thoroughbreds (approximating to one-third of the population)1.
There are two licensed horse abattoirs in Australia that export horsemeat for human consumption (located in Queensland and South Australia), and around 33 licensed knackeries that process horsemeat for the local pet food market. Ironically, a Sydney knackery that kills wastage from the horseracing industry claimed that 95% of its’ business was supplying meat to racing greyhounds and said a ban on the greyhound industry would effectively close all licensed knackeries in NSW2.
Footage from an undercover investigation of a Victorian knackery shows horses being shot in front of one another, being struck on the head with metal poles and one sick horse who is shot, dragged 60m and found to still be alive so he is shot once more before having his throat slit3.
Whipping in horseracing has been labelled the most public form of violence to animals in Australia4. Those in the industry who defend its’ use argue the whip is necessary for safety, correction and encouragement and claim that it doesn’t inflict pain5. The ability of the whip to achieve these goals remains unproven, while there is evidence that hitting a horse is at least aversive, and at worst, painful6.
Race footage from NSW shows the whip leaves a visible indentation on the horse’s skin in over 80% of strikes and the unpadded shaft of the whip frequently hits the horse’s sensitive abdomen7. There is also increased whipping in the final 200 meters of races when the horses are most fatigued and least able to respond by running faster8.
Trackside Injuries and Deaths
Horseracing is a notoriously dangerous activity for both horses and humans. A study on 514 thoroughbred deaths and euthanasias in Victoria found the risk of fatality was statistically 19 times greater for jumps races than flat races. Reasons for fatality in both race types included catastrophic limb, cranial and vertebral injuries as well as sudden death9. An international study on sudden death in 268 thoroughbred racehorses revealed causes including cardiac (heart) failure, apparent pulmonary (lungs) failure, pulmonary haemorrhage (bleeding), haemorrhage associated with pelvic fractures or blood vessel ruptures, and spinal cord injury10.
Stabling and Diet
Horses are highly social animals that evolved as grazing herbivores; they are adapted to spend up to 18 hours each day foraging on high-fibre fresh food in a herd. In the racing industry, horses are typically stabled (housed in single confinement) for extended periods of time. And they are also fed concentrated meals.
Stables differ from the free-ranging environment in a number of ways, including space, social stimulation, and the ability to forage and make controlled environmental choices. This ‘management’ of horses and low-forage diet has been linked to repetitive, abnormal behaviours such as weaving, box-walking, crib-biting and grasping, as well as health problems including gastric ulceration, gut dysfunction and colic11,12,13.