Is the life of a horse worth betting on?

In the wake of the ABC exposing the bloody hands of the horse racing industry, the conversation should now turn to the upcoming season and those we previously trusted.



In the lead up to this year’s racing season, I heard a lot of ads urging punters to indulge their habit while simultaneously instructing them to “gamble responsibly”.

Needless to say, this immediately set off my bullshit-detector.

Gamble: take risky action in the hope of a desired result
Responsible: having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action

If that’s not an oxymoron, I don’t know what is.

Is engaging in unprotected sex, despite the risk of contracting or transmitting an STI, responsible behaviour? What about driving without a seatbelt or under the influence of intoxicants? Is scaring the shit out of 500kg animals and hoping they don’t snap their toothpick legs responsible?

Is the life of a horse worth betting on?

In his memoir Bypass, Michael McGirr observed that licensed clubs, “which dance to the tune of gaming machines” are the “abattoirs of the human spirit”.

Could starting gates be considered the slot-machines of death?

In 2014, after coming in at last place in the “great race”, Caulfield Cup champion and Melbourne Cup favourite, Admire Rakti collapsed and died. Verema was euthanised at 2013’s Melbourne Cup after shattering her cannon bone. Having suffered a similar injury, Araldo has met with the same fate. Going by this track record, it would seem punters aren’t just gambling their hard-earned cash, but the lives of the animals that are exploited to accommodate their addiction.



How can the supporters of horse racing defend the “sport”? Are these unnecessary deaths chalked up to an occupational hazard? Does the reward outweigh the risk? Is it a matter of intent?

Obviously, these deaths were accidental, but then again, how accidental is “accidental” when one is aware of what’s at stake? Surely one has to assume some level of culpability whenever a tragedy of this nature occurs?

You can’t gamble responsibly.

As a part-time carnivore, albeit one who consumes free-range eggs, and “happy” pigs, it’s difficult to broach this subject without seeming a hypocrite (to some degree at least). Indeed, while I have no love for horse racing, it’s impossible to deal in absolutes where animal rights are concerned. Field animals die en masse during harvesting“organic” farmers still use pesticides, albeit “non-synthetic” types, and the swim-bladders of fish have beer on-tap.

So despite their best intentions, even the most conscientious of vegans are not without blood on their hands. When meat-eaters such as myself slam horseracing, are we justified in doing so because using animals for fuel is a lesser evil than using them for “entertainment” (discounting those whom “play with their food”, of course)? It’s no secret that whatever nutritional benefits animal products provide can be easily obtained more ethically elsewhere, but a boycott of horseracing is far easier than a complete dietary overhaul. Is decrying horse racing simply a matter of convenience and/or laziness since it requires nothing of us except vitriolic Facebook posts or an article on The Big Smoke?

When pigs, sheep, cattle and horses meet their end due to human negligence or in circumstances that are considered particularly heinous by “western standards”, the public backlash is severe. Is it because we can actually hear the suffering of these animals? Does the squeal of pigs, and the whinnying of distressed horses act as auditory cues that recall the sound of human suffering? Have we been conditioned to care more about “cute” animals because we spent our childhoods watching anthropomorphised cartoon characters on TV? Is it that we see the big, disapproving doe-eyes of Bambi’s mum when we bite into a cut of veal and hear Porky Pig stutter “that’s all folks” as we fry up rashers of bacon? When a fly stops buzzing after we unload an aerosol can in its face, however, we do not give its demise a second thought.

So, by what yardstick do we measure the value of a certain animal’s life?

I imagine this all sounds very naïve (and perhaps slightly off-point), but the mere suggestion that horse racing should be banned is even more so. Punters, owners, trainers, breeders, and jockeys – the list goes on. Horse racing is a lucrative business. In fact, it’s a billion-dollar industry. Indeed, with a public holiday observed in its “honour”, and a dedicated time-slot on national TV, it seems unlikely that horse racing will ever cross the finish line.

If we were to ban horse racing and steeplechasing, what would become of horses? We certainly don’t need them for transport anymore. Would they instead occupy supermarket shelves as gluesticks, cans of dog-food and steaks?

There would certainly be no need for stud farms if none of the above constituted financially viable options.

Perhaps a more practical question is this: In the event of a horse’s death, who is accountable, and how should they be punished, if they can be at all?




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