Published 29 October 2014
Professor Phil McManus, who is a member of the Human Animal Research Network at The University of Sydney, has contributed two articles to The Sydney Morning Herald in the lead up to the 2014 Melbourne Cup.
First, he took a look at the post-race “retirement” fate of thoroughbred horses:
In support of its claim that people in the thoroughbred racing industry do not care, the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses also protests at race meetings, shows images of carnage at jumps races, films horses waiting to be killed at an abattoir or slaughterhouse and has erected a billboard showing a dead horse.
The post-racing fate of thoroughbreds is an important question, and having accurate statistics of the horses’ fate is crucial to inform a genuine debate. At present, the opposing sides are using different statistics to argue their case, which is preventing the discussion moving to meaningful action. Instead, the focus becomes the billboard itself, not the problem of a lack of verifiable information that allows both sides to make claims using different evidence.
Then he asked whether the Melbourne Cup could become the race that stops the whip.
Imagine contemporary sports without innovation – soccer matches would last for days and be played between two towns, literally. Boxing matches would be bare fisted, and potentially exceed 100 rounds of three minutes each. Many sports would look very different today if administrators had not made changes over the years.
The thoroughbred racing industry is innovative, yet proud to maintain traditions – both at the track and in the breeding barn. This is not necessarily bad, but when should an activity involving the use of animals for human entertainment maintain tradition, and when should it change?
One answer is to do what is best for the horse. If a tradition is detrimental to the horse, then innovate to improve horse welfare.
The issue of whipping horses is a questionable tradition. It is traditional to hit horses on a racetrack. It is visible. Is it necessary?