Sunday, March 13, 2011

what does 'wastage' refer to in relation to the horse racing industry?

“Once the horses, rather than the profits, are put first, the flow-on effect will be felt by trainers, owners, riders, breeders and punters; in other words, the entire racing community. It always has to be horse first, people later.” 
Bart Cummings: My life, 2009

'Wastage' refers to the large number of horses that are lost from the racing industry each year due to injury, poor performance or behavioural problems. Some are rehomed in the equestrian/pleasure riding industry, but an alarming number of young (often healthy) thoroughbreds and standardbreds are sent to the slaughterhouse on a yearly basis. It is estimated that for every 1000 foals born to the racing industry, only 300 will race.* And of those who race, their racing career may make up only a third or a quarter of their life time.

If you'd like to find out more about 'wastage' and some ideas on how to combat the problem, you may find Jane Duckworth's article of interest:

"What responsibility does the racing industry take for the horses that are excess to requirements? Leith Babian, a well known former jockey (rider of Lord Penn) and horse welfare advocate says: ‘[The industry] mass-produce thoroughbreds and we injure them physically and mentally. 
It follows that we are responsible for giving them a fair go at living a full life where they can be retrained’. Leith agrees that the vast majority of the hands-on racing participants in the industry like the horses, and most love them. He says that there are a lot of people who get very attached to them and spend most of their time nurturing, cleaning and feeding thoroughbreds. Their world revolves around horses ..." but how does this fit with the potentially ruthless requirements of business profits? (see link below for Jane's article).

The dangers involved when inexperienced riders are paired with inexperienced horses were recently highlighted in a very sad story by the 7.30 Report, after a young rider was paired with a very young racehorse (I think I heard four years??), recently off the track. The horse bolted and, tragically, the girl fell and was killed. The story focused on the concept of tracking horses' histories, but I thought it would have better spent even more time on questioning why a young racehorse was used in a basic riding/training course. It's natural for a racehorse to gallop (often unexpectedly) but many racehorses can be successfully retrained for pleasure riding with time and patience (and preferably years spent with experienced riders before they are paired with beginner or intermediate riders). I should say that one of the quietest and most reliable beginner horses I have ridden was a thoroughbred. The horse in this tragic story was not necessarily a dangerous horse, simply an inexperienced one that required much more training.

The question is, how many people are willing to take the time and expense to retrain these horses? And is the industry responsible for what happens to these horses once they go to the saleyards?

Read more of Jane Duckworth's article from Horses and People Magazine
See what steps the racing industry is taking to address this serious problem.
*See RSPCA site