The debate over the ethics of horse racing has been a long one. Every year when national media turns its attention to big races such as ‘The Grand National’ or ‘The Gold Cup’ and, every year, the arguments from both sides renew and intensify. A sport that has been tarnished by corruption, drug use (equine and human, both) and animal cruelty surely has no place in the 21st century. And this is not to mention the bad reputation horse racing has as an endeavour for the upper classes.
But given all of this, why do people like myself tune in to their TVs every week to watch the ‘Sport of Kings’? Why do we trek to racecourses up and down the country, only to lose our hard-earned cash and have our friends scoff at our participation in what they deem to be a barbaric sport?
In short? Well the first port of call is the economics of horse racing. In 2017, the sport was estimated to be a £3.5 billion industry, supporting 85,000 jobs in the UK alone. This means that if horse racing was a company, it would be the 9th largest employer in the UK. Such a large industry, on which so many people rely on for their income would be protected in any other setting, so why not horse racing? These figures don’t even begin to take into account the venues that would shut down, local smaller bookmakers who only turn a profit through race days at their local tracks, and larger bookmakers who would definitely have to lay off staff due to the losses made from a ban. As you can see, the economic impacts of horse racing reach far further and have more influence than one may think.
The obvious argument against horse racing is the cruelty towards the racehorses. To me, horses are the most gorgeous of animals. I have had an affinity with them since I was a child and looking at them up close and in person reveals their true beauty, this is particularly true for racehorses. Their muscular physiques and well-groomed manes amaze me every time I see them. Moreover I’ve never seen a racehorse, in 15 years of viewing and attending race days look malnourished, scared, or unwilling to run. If a horse is reluctant to run or simply isn’t fit for racing, they are not shot, nor are they euthanised, or sent to a special farm, never to be seen again. Often, they will be used for breeding, another equine sport, or simply enjoy their days retired in a field or stable, under great care.
Racehorses are often treated like professional athletes by their trainers. Their care, diet and training is second-to-none. With a roof over their head, top medical care and cradle-to-grave care, racehorses aren’t dissimilar to us as humans. I think it’s very easy to forget that running and jumping is a natural endeavour for horses, otherwise we’d be racing cows. Horses, who you see run on TV today, have been bred for generations to run and race, giving them a will and desire to race and compete just as we do as humans.
I do however think the most important aspect of horse racing is the genuine love and passion people, like myself, have for the sport. After football, horse racing is the second most attended sport in the UK and the thrill of being at the races is like no other. But unlike many sports, horse racing is simply in people’s blood. Like the horses, generations of families have put their all into breeding, training and riding horses, making sure the care and safety of horses is paramount. Since the year 2000, horse racing has invested £35 million in veterinary research, not only benefitting the sport, but wider equine care. I think a lot of other sports can take note of horse racing, investing in the care they put into their athletes and wider society.
Despite my obvious passion for the support, I do understand the concern people have over horse racing. I do believe debates need to be had and issues raised. However, these need to be moderated discussions. They can’t just be one-side berating the other for animal cruelty without understanding the care and science of the sport. On the other hand, horse racing can’t be seen as a simple Saturday out of the house for the wealthy. Horse racing above all is a brilliant sport, one that should welcome all and, at the end of the day, should put the horses first.