A matter of Conscience

The question of horse fatalities has come to the fore again in the last ten days, following the death’s of Exotic Dancer and Wichita Lineman and, of course, the gut wrenching images of Mel In Blue’s fall in the Foxhunters at Aintree.

Imagine if there was a human sport which had the same ratio of fatalities as racing, especially NH racing. There would be a massive clamour, and quite justifiably so, to have it banned.

Are we saying we value the life of a horse any less than the life of a human?  If so should we actually be making such a judgement? What gives homo-sapiens the right to think it is superior to other species?

If we do accept the view the life of a horse is valued less than that of a human at what stage does the loss of life become too high?

A 0.1% attrition rate, 1%, 5%, 10% and if so how do you judge how much is too much?

Some will argue, and a quote from a contributor to The Racing Forum, “there would be a helluva lot of people (and horses) out of work if NH racing was banned.”

Is that an argument for doing nothing? People’s livelihoods used to depend on sending children up chimneys or exploiting manual workers in dangerous working conditions. Neither of those, quite rightly so, would be tolerated in this day and age.

Attitudes change and it is possible the attitude of society may well change so that one day in the future racing, especially, national hunt racing, is banned because the cost to the equine contenders is considered too high.

I have posed many questions here – I am not pretending I know all or indeed any of the answers.

I do know I love horse racing, I love NH racing, it does not mean that I do not seriously have to examine my conscience on occasion.

I can see why many consider it cruel and when you see some of the events of the past few weeks it is nigh on impossible to morally justify the sport. The deaths of high profile horses like Wichita Lineman of Exotic Dancer bring the fatalities more into the headlines, but the death of some 60 rated novice chaser is no less tragic.

I also realise there may well be a time when the sport is considered too cruel and it becomes impossible to justify it on moral grounds and the fact its banning would result in thousands being put out of work would hold now sway whatsoever.

Such an argument did not work when the ban on hunting was being put through Parliament. It would not work if there was a proposal to ban NH racing

Racing is not exempt from the court of public opinion and we must not assume our sport is in some way a sacred institution – no matter how much we may love it.

Just because an activity is deemed acceptable now does not mean it will be acceptable in five, ten, fifty,one hundred years time. Public opinion changes.

There of those who say if you feel that strongly about injuries and fatalities then you should not follow the sport. Would that achieve anything?

With the amount of racing I go to I probably seeing more accidents on the track than most and that does not make them any more acceptable. I freely admit I have, more than once, shed a tear.

If I close my eyes I can still see Conny Noble, a beautiful grey, lowly rated, collapsing in front of me at Chepstow a few weeks ago.

Do I walk away from the sport because of that - if I thought, for one moment it would improve things of course I would - without hesitation. But I know it would make no difference at all.

I am not at a stage in life where I am getting long in the tooth.

I have seen countless changes over the years which have really improved the safety of our sport.

It is almost impossible to believe now that when I first stated following racing the running rails were made of wood and the posts concrete. They claimed numerous lives both human and equine.

Fences were much more unforgiving and dangerous. Fences are now by-passed if there are stricken horses or riders on the other side. Anyone who remembers racing before fence by-passing will have a story of the field charging over a fence and some ambulance man doing his best to protect a stricken jockey.

The safety of racing has improved beyond recognition over the years - why? Because of people who had consciences questioning what was wrong having concerns and doing something about it.

Had they decided to walk away from the sport would we still have a sport today?

We will never eliminate the risks and dangers that are inherent in the sport, however I believe it is incumbent upon everyone who follows the sport to still look at ways of making it safer.

Yes Beechers Brook was spectacular in the 1960's but it claimed too many victims. It has been made less dangerous but it is still, nevertheless, spectacular in its own way.

As a species we do not like change - sometimes change is necessary. When they first appeared I hated the fixed brush hurdles with a vengeance - because they are different - having seen them I am coming round to believe they are safer.

Everything in life carries risk. Do we not get into a car because so many die needlessly in car accidents? Do we avoid having an operation because some people don't recover from an anaesthetic?

Of course not.

Do we expect the authorities to make things safer to reduce the risk?

Of course we do and racing should be no different.   

If racing is to survive in the 21st Century it must be seen to be continually reducing the risks to all those who take part - be they human or equine.


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