Should jumps racing be banned?

Animal ethics 9 Comments
Picture of a steeplechase horse race taken by en:User:Lorax (image via Wikipedia)

Picture of a steeplechase horse race taken by en:User:Lorax (image via Wikipedia)

Hi all. It seems like awhile since the last discussion on this site. I hope you are all well.

Today, I would like to talk jumps racing and about what I see as a courageous decision announced last week by Racing Victoria, the governing principle racing authority in my home state of Victoria (South-East Australia) to ban all forms of horse races involving hurdles as at the conclusion of the 2010 season.

In in spite of genuine concerns voiced by some participants within the racing industry, I am inclined to agree with the decision.

Horse racing should not be banned outright. But animal welfare considerations dictate that the most hazardous elements associated with the sport should be curtailed. Given that jumps racing involves horse fatality rate of double that of traditional flat racing (see below), its discontinuation is warranted in spite of the significant amount of value that jumps racing adds to the sport and the industry.

Sure, jumps do add value to the racing experience …
To be sure, jumps racing does contribute a substantial amount of value to the sport, and things just won’t be the same without it.

Steeplechases have that extra sense of unpredictability about them which many punters find appealling. And for racegoers, daily programs involving one or two hurdle races have more variety than those consisting entirely of races on the flat.

… and their banning has a harsh impact …
There is alos no question that this latest move will involve considerable cost for a range of stakeholders associated with the sport:

• The racing industry

Hardest hit will be the industry itself.

Whilst the discontinuation of jumps racing may enhance the sport’s public image somewhat, I highly doubt that this will anywhere near compensate for the loss of direct revenue which will no doubt result.

Owners of steeplechase horses will be especially hard hit, not to mention jockeys and trainers who specialize in jumps.

• Regional towns.

Also hard hit will be the local economies within some regional towns.

The town of Warnambool, for instance, on the South West Coast of the state, is a case in point, where the famous three day racing carnival held each year in May, which brings in an estimated fifteen million Australian dollars (about $14m USD), and creates 576 local jobs (471 on course, 105 off-course)  within the local area (refer article).

Without the premier event, the 137 year old Grand National Steeplechase, the popularity and viability of the entire carnival may be placed in jeapordy.

• Horses themselves.

Some trainers claim that many current competitors in jumps racing face the prospect of slaughter once the ban takes effect.

Trainers also claim that the ban may indeed result in more deaths per year than what it will save, as jumps racing provides an alternative to being put down from the point of view of those horses which are unable to make it in traditional thoroughbred racing.

(Not knowing a great deal about horse breeding, I am not really in a great position to comment, but I don’t really buy this argument.

Surely, there must be a better alternative than being put down for otherwise healthy horses which are not able to make it in racing)

… but animal welfare concerns should prevail  
Despite all this, I feel that animal welfare considerations are sufficient to warrant the decision to discontinue jumps racing.

To be sure, horse racing is a dangerous sport, and accidents occur in all of its forms – not just jumps.

But steeplechases are exceptionally hazardous – too hazardous. A submission to a national senate enquiry in 1989 (see below) from the Australian Conference of Principle Racing Clubs estimated that approximately two per cent of all jumping horses are killed or destroyed as a result of horse racing accidents each year [refer PDF file (section 3.20)].

Whilst that figure may not necessarily seem particularly high, it is double the fatality rate quoted in the same submission for flat racing horses, which would appear to indicatethat jumps racing is about twice as hazardous as races on flat.

(These figures are twenty years old, but from what I understand, the death rate of jumps horses has not, at least in Australia, declined particularly significantly since these figures were quoted)

As I said earlier, horse racing should not be banned outright. Nevertheless, animal rights considerations do dictate that the most hazardous aspects of the sport should be curtailed.

Given the high fatility rate associated with steeplechases, that, I say with some regret, means that jumps racing should be stopped.

Over to you
Is jumps racing allowed in your state/country?
How would you describe attitudes toward jumps racing in your state/country?

Do you think jumps racing should be banned? Why/Why not?

9 Responses to “Should jumps racing be banned?”

  1. Brad Shorr Says:
    December 2nd, 2009 at 9:44 pm

    Hi Andrew, Interesting … this sort of racing is not popular where I live, so I don’t have much insight or opinion. One question, though: how about human fatality/serious injury incidence with jumps racing? Wasn’t actor Christopher Reeve was paralyzed when thrown from a horse? I just wonder what’s happening to the riders when these horses are injured during the race.

  2. Andrew Says:
    December 3rd, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Hi Brad,

    That’s an interesting question – yes, I’m fairly sure that was Christopher Reeve’s fate by memory. Obviously, riders are usually injured when the horse falls unless they are extremely fortunate, and I have it does not seem unusual to hear stories about jockeys being crippled for life. But I’m not entirely sure whether or not the percentage of human injuries is much greater for jumps racing than for ordinary racing. I suppose it would be.

    I guess the reason that calls for jumps racing focus around animal welfare is that for the jockey, participation in jumps racing is a choice. Riders know the risks and they choose to participate in this type of racing in spite of the risk. So whilst any human injury arising out of any form of horse racing – jumps or flat – is a tragedy, such injuries do arise out of a result of the choice of the individual riders concerned to participate.

    Horses on the other hand (whilst not ranking with the same importance as humans), do not have a choice, and that I would think would be the main reason why ethical questions surrounding any form of the sport tend to focus around animal welfare, rather than the welfare of humans.

  3. Brad Shorr Says:
    December 3rd, 2009 at 7:50 am

    Andrew, Thanks for the further insight. I was just wondering because it seemed to me the potential for serious injury to humans as well as horses made the whole concept of jump racing extremely flawed. But you’re right: race car drivers, boxers, etc., know what they’re getting into.

  4. drew Says:
    December 3rd, 2009 at 12:41 pm

    No problem, Brad.

    Glad I was able to clear this particular matter up for you.

  5. Fred H Schlegel Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 3:10 am

    Hi Andrew, One of the scariest events I have ever been to was an indoor horse jumping competition. Fear for the horse, fear for the rider. I was really uncomfortable the entire time.

    However, I’m going to play devils advocate here a little. Is there any indication that the horse has a tormented life with the exception of the risk for injury? If the horse receives good care and is trained well, I wonder if there is a way to know if the horse enjoys or loves the sport itself. I would certainly put their quality of life ahead of that of cows, pigs or chickens raised factory style here in the U.S.

    I guess I would ask the question whether the relationship between horse and rider or groomer is solid, whether the horse appears healthy and to what extent they may enjoy the race if that is even possible. It is certainly a different life than living in a pasture, but that is not going to be an option. Removing the race means horses that will never be raised or live at all.

    In wild days horses would have been prone to hurt by predators and trips and starvation. Is this life that much different or more dangerous?

  6. Andrew Says:
    December 5th, 2009 at 7:43 am

    Hi Fred,

    These are very thoughtful questions.

    Unfortunately, it is difficult to know exactly how horses feel about the situation. On one hand, some trainers say that some horses ‘love jumping.’ Critics, on the other hand, say that ‘a horse has no choice but to jump when there is a three-foot obstacle in front of him.

    I would probably say that most horses look to my untrained eye to be fairly healthy, at least when they are paraded in the mounting yard, and I would imagine that professional racehorses would be well looked after and that there relationship with jockeys/trainers would be pretty good in most cases.

    But I have no idea as to the question of whether jumps racing (or horse racing in general) is a better or worse life than what the horses in question would have outside the racing world is a very good question.

  7. Ana Says:
    December 19th, 2009 at 5:17 am

    If there is a high rate of fatalities for animals in this kind of racing, then the activity should be banned. No living thing should be endangered for human entertainment, in my opinion.

    On a broader level, there are a variety of ethical issues about whether any animal should be used in sport whatsoever. To me, it really depends on the animals’ welfare and I do think that humans are capable of working with animals in a productive, healthy partnership. But there must be oversight. There is too much room for abuse when no one is looking. How many cases of elderly abuse and child abuse occur when no one is looking? And those are victims who can speak for themselves. And when such abuse of animals is detected, it must be severely punished.

    The idea that animal welfare should be monitored and cruelty should be punished would seem a no-brainer. But it’s not because we get to the issue of the animal being property. If that animal is just a piece of property, like my coat and hat, why should you tell me what I can do with it? In addition, if you start actively monitoring and effectively punishing the abuse of horses, then what’s next? Farm animals? Laboratory animals? But detractors will say that costs money, creates “red tape” and is too much government involvement that prevents an industry from thriving and creating jobs. The animals are essentially raw material, not living things, in this viewpoint.

    It’s a viewpoint that needs to fundamentally shift at some point for any real, effective protection of animals to occur in any industry, including sports.

  8. Andrew Says:
    December 23rd, 2009 at 7:18 am


    I had a feeling you might have a strong opinion on this, given your passion for animal welfare shown on the Critter News blog.

    I wonder if most countries around the world have some form of regulator for the horse racing industry. Or for that matter, in other industries where animals are used for entertainment. It’s an interesting question.

    With regard to the racing industry, I would think that the majority of jockeys and trainers would take good care of their horses, not only because horses need to be kept in good condition if they are to win races, but also I think because most of the people involved in that line of work would have some form of liking for, or care for, horses. There might be a few who might enter the industry to try to win a quick buck, but the majority of trainers and jockeys would have a genuine liking for the horses.

    Nevertheless, I do agree with your broader point about the need for effective protection of animal welfare in any industry where animals are involved or affected.

  9. Mark Says:
    August 31st, 2010 at 1:45 pm

    If it’s hard on the animals, then I say it should be abolished. Having fun at an animals expense is inhumane.
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