Thursday, 15 May 2014

Horse deaths on course rising

Taken from the current edition of the Big Issue in the North magazine, please buy a copy when you see a seller. 
The horseracing industry has denied claims by a leading animal welfare organisation that it is failing to keep horse fatalities to a minimum.
Horseracing combines three sectors – sport, betting and the rural economy. The industry is second only to football in terms of attendances, jobs supported, tax contribution and capital investment. However, each year, hundreds of horses are killed competing in races that vary widely in format and can include hurdles.

 Animal Aid campaigns against horseracing deaths. The organisation wants the Grand National at Aintree banned, arguing that “it is a deliberately hazardous race”.
In March, Animal Aid recorded 22 horses being killed. Two were killed at Sedgefield and two at Newcastle on the same day. The total death rate was four times higher than in March 2013, when five horses died.
Animal Aid recorded a total of 445 deaths in the three years from January 2010. A parliamentary question last year revealed the true figure was 617, with over 70 per cent dying jumping in races with fences and ditches.
‘Rising costs’
Animal Aid horse racing consultant Dene Stansall said: “Horses are being over- stretched, especially during jump races. The situation is worsening because horses are being rushed to race at an early age due to the rising costs of keeping them.
“Owners hope to recoup some funds by winning races. When the majority of horses don’t succeed they can end up going to abattoirs or being fed to hunting hounds. Only a few hundred horses from amongst 7,000 are retrained annually.
“We want the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) to admit there is a problem, then do a proper course assessment on each death and afterwards adopt best practice. Why are there fewer deaths at Hexham than Cheltenham? It is because races at the latter present horses with a challenge that is harsh and unnatural.
“If the industry won’t tackle the problem the Government should introduce an independent regulator – someone who understands the industry but has no vested interest in maintaining its current practices that are killing horses.”
Animal Aid wants the British Horseracing Authority, the regulatory body for horse racing, to publish the on-course death toll on an ongoing basis and explain why the March 2014 death rate was significantly higher than the previous year. Animal Aid would also like the numbers on racehorse fatalities during training to be collected, which does not currently happen.
Robin Mounsey, BHA media manager, defended the industry.
He said: “British racing is among the world’s best regulated animal activities. Together with the RSPCA and World Horse Welfare, the BHA is a leading signatory of the National Equine Welfare Protocol under which all 1,450 racing fixtures are held annually in Britain.
‘Inherent risk’
“Six-thousand people care for 14,000 horses that enjoy a quality of life virtually unsurpassed by any other domesticated animal. Despite everyone’s best efforts there is an inherent injury risk in a sport involving speed and athleticism. Yet, in 15 years, the equine fatality rate has fallen from 0.3 per cent of runners to 0.2 per cent.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which oversees animal health and welfare in the UK, said: “We are satisfied that the BHA, who work with other animal welfare organisations, does take the necessary steps to make racecourses as safe as possible for horses.”

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