Horse Welfare in the Racing Industry

09:08 Tuesday 29th May 2012
Mid-Morning Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

CHRIS MANN: An animal rights group has announced that one of the country’s leading jockeys has experienced twenty of his horses die during or after a race over the past five years. Animal Aid researched the figures, refuelling the debate over whether horse racing is cruel, and of course with Newmarket the HQ of flat racing, Huntingdon racecourse as well, the jump venue on our doorstep, horses falling is something that occurs fairly regularly in our county. They call it “the grim toll” on the racecourse, and they say that A.P.McCoy has had 3987 rides in the last five years, and that there have been twenty fatalities of horses during that period that he has ridden, one every 199 rides. But he is not the worst in terms of statistics. That is Ruby Walsh, another very famous rider, of course, who has had just over 1000 rides that they surveyed, with nine fatalities, and that is one every 116 rides. Well earlier I spoke to the man who compiled the figures, Dene Stanshall from Animal Aid. (TAPE)
DENE STANSHALL: There’s been a lack of transparency in horse racing for many many years. The racing industry want to keep horse deaths under cover and away from the public. It’s something that they’ve not been able to deal with. They’ve not been able to get on top of it, and reduce the number of deaths to any great degree. So we decided to look at it from a different angle, and see how many of these top jockeys, who are very probably skilled horsemen, like Tony McCoy, Ruby Walsh etcetera, how many horses have actually died that they’ve ridden in races, that have died either in the race, or shortly afterwards. And we came out with some very startling figures, such as Tony McCoy, for instance, twenty horses had died that he’d ridden in the last five years.
CHRIS MANN: So what do you think it proves?
DENE STANSHALL: I think it proves that the racing industry is not capable of regulating itself with regard to horse welfare. It’s answerable to really nobody else other than itself. It decides the parameters of welfare, what’s right and what’s wrong, whether it’s with the horse, or how many jumps there are in a race, or how long a race is. And it’s that that needs a proper audit, it needs proper auditing and dealing with. And it needs taking away from the British Horseracing Authority, who regulate racing, and given to an independent body, who will actually get to grips with basically a high rate of deaths on race courses.
CHRIS MANN: Are you saying horse racing is cruel?
DENE STANSHALL: There can be a case made. There are cruel aspects of racing. If horses are asked to jump Becher’s Brook in the Grand National, and year after year the horses are getting killed because they fall there, and for whatever reason they die because they’ve fallen at that fence, then that would be cruel to make them jump over that. Many people are gue that it’s cruel to whip a horse.
CHRIS MANN: Well you’ve talked about Becher’s Brook, and you mentioned Tony McCoy. So let’s be clear, none of them were at Becher’s Brook.
DENE STANSHALL: Tony McCoy had twenty fatalities over five years, one every 199 rides.
CHRIS MANN: But none of them at Becher’s Brook.
DENE STANSHALL: Well we could say Synchronised fell at Becher’s Brook, and as a consequence ran on and was killed five fences later, due to an injury. We don’t know the actual detail of all that, because the racing industry don’t make it public. But he certainly .. he was riding a horse who fell at Becher’s Brook, who died literally one, two minutes later, less than that.
CHRIS MANN: Of course there’s not just professional riding, there’s show-jumping, there’s eventing, and so on, at various levels. Thousands and thousands of people in Britain every weekend go and ride in events. Are you saying that’s cruel too? Because horses die in amateur races too, and in show-jumping accidents.
DENE STANSHALL: They do indeed Chris, in all equine sports. We’re pragmatic enough to realise that there’s risks involved. But it does need proper regulation, and taking away from, whether it’s the Fédération Équestre Internationale, who look after, or supposedly, the welfare of dressage, cross-country and showjumping horses, or whether it’s people who hack out on the roads and livery yards. There’s a lot that needs to be done with the horse in modern society. Four million people ride in this country, and there’s a high incidence of problems with problems that arise by keeping horses. I’m a horse keeper myself. I’ve got two ex-race horses and a pony. And I’ve seen with my own eyes. So it’s not just a problem in racing. There’s problems out there in livery yards as well, and in show-jumping, and at kids’ pony clubs. But going back to the horse racing industry, they’ve got problems, over-breeding, horses dying on racecourses, provision after horses have finished racing. Many of them finish at a very young age, and they need proper provision afterwards.
CHRIS MANN: In terms of loss of horse life, during races and just afterwards, what you’re saying there is it’s a sort of attrition.
DENE STANSHALL: Yes. It’s a high attrition rate of horses in racing. They’re coming in at one end, it’s like a conveyer belt, they come in on one end and they go out at the other. If they’re lucky they survive racing. We did some statistics at Animal Aid that we’ve had for a number of years now. I looked at all the horses killed about five or six years back, over a four year period, and found that one in thirty five horses who start the season are dead by the end of it, for whatever reasons. That needs closer analysis by the industry to look at that. But I basically went through the form book, looked at all those who started, and looked at those who were dead by the end, and one in thirty five horses were dead. And I think the racegoing public would be alarmed, or should be alarmed I guess, at that figure.
CHRIS MANN: A spokesman from the BHA has said to us there were 95,000 races run by individual horses in Britain last year. The overall equine fatality rate was 0.19% of those 95,000 runners.
DENE STANSHALL: Yes I know. That’s what they say all the time. But what they won’t do Chris is list the names of those 0.19%. And those 0.19% actually add up to around 200 horses. They won’t name those 200 horses. They are so disrespectful that they call these 200 horses, instead of them being bold and manning up and naming these horses, all they’ll do is say they’re 0.19% of 95,000. And I think that’s really shocking, that they should categorise horses in such a way. And I think that’s disrespectful. Horses like Synchronised, fantastic racehorses. We’ve no longer got a Gold Cup because he was killed in the Grand National. Britain doesn’t have a Gold Cup horse any more. And he’s just 0.19%. That just shows you, he’s just a figure, isn’t he?
CHRIS MANN: Dean Stanshall from Animal Aid.