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


maria said...

Yes, very relevant article, as thourghbreds are usually the cheapest option when buying into the horse riding market.
I have the most mild mannered ex racehorse, but in the wrong hands he would be a dangerous animal. Too often these beautiful animals are recycled and often abused, ive seen many starvation cases over the years. I listened to a jockey representative also whos concerns were that with large numbers of horses being bred the quality of some of the horses and training standards were putting their lives at risk more often. Your image displays your concerns well..

Ophelia said...

thanks for your comments. I have certainly had some lovely experiences riding thoroughbreds (combination of calm attitude and amazing acceleration) - and some nerve-wracking ones (with just the acceleration). I think it's good when these issues get discussed openly. No one likes to see young, healthy horses going to the slaughterhouse, or being placed with inexperienced or abusive riders. Inexperienced riders need experienced horses, abusive riders need no horses!

Grey Horse Matters said...

Wonderful post. I wish the racing industry would be more responsible for the over breeding and then the throw away mentality when it doesn't work out.

I love thoroughbreds, I think they are one of the most beautiful breed in horses. We've had a few and they were all sensitive but well behaved. When retraining these former race horses you really must be calm and tuned in to their needs. I can only remember one horse (a friend's) who I could not stop, the more I tried to stop him the faster he ran. Luckily, no one was hurt but he needed more time on him with the right rider.

It's very sad about the girl I feel sorry for everyone concerned. People really need to be very experienced to ride an ex-racehorse and be ready for anything.

Ophelia said...

A well trained thoroughbred is such a joy. I was doing a little related distances jumping lesson, on a lovely thoroughbred, one day - when three horses galloped suddenly across the menage. We had to make a bit of a detour, but Wink did a lovely circle for me and then straight back at the jump. He had excellent training. Slightly dangerous riding school conditions in retrospect ...