Wastage, whips, tongue ties and injury and death on the track – with a side of excessive gambling – there is both an animal and human cost to the racing industry.
Horses are treated as commodities
Horses are intelligent and emotional animals with unique personalities. They can recognise human emotion, they can even learn to communicate their preferences to us, and they may also form bonds with other horses that can withstand years of separation. But in the high stakes racing industry, they are often treated as commodities.
One of the most disturbing words in the racing lexicon is ‘wastage’. Wastage refers to the horses that are discarded by the industry. Around 13,000 thoroughbred foals are born every year in Australia. Thousands of these horses will never make it to a racetrack, either because they don’t run fast enough, or because of illness, injury or unsuitable temperament. For the horses that do make it, they will likely have a racing career of only 2-3 years, yet their life expectancy is 25-30 years.
We do not know what happens to horses when they exit the racing industry. What we do know is that around 8,500 adult thoroughbreds will exit the racing industry each year. Even thoroughbreds that have won hundreds of thousands of dollars in prize money can end up in saleyards and sell for as little as $340. Around 9,000 horses are slaughtered in abattoirs each year, half of which may be ex-racehorses.
And while it’s horrible to think of a racehorse ending their life in an abattoir, these horses are potentially avoiding an even worse fate. Some horses endure years of neglect, which the RSPCA has identified as being a significant welfare problem across all breeds and types of horses in Australia.
Whips and tongue ties
Whipping is likely to inflict pain and distress on horses, yet each year millions of Australians watch horses being repeatedly whipped during the Melbourne Cup and other horse racing events. One researcher has commented that whipping in horse-racing is the most public form of violence to animals in Australia today.
Another practice, which is less visible to spectators but also causes pain and discomfort, is the use of tongue ties. A tongue tie is a piece of nylon or elastic that is wrapped tightly around the horse’s tongue and tied to the lower jaw to keep the tongue in place during a race. Tongue ties cause pain, anxiety and distress, difficulty swallowing, cuts and lacerations to the tongue, bruising and swelling. The restriction of blood flow by the tongue tie use can cause the tongue to turn blue and can result in permanent tissue damage. In recognition of the welfare issues, tongue ties have been banned or restricted in other countries.
Injury and death on the racetrack
In recent years, the Melbourne Cup has been marred by tragic deaths. Verema broke the cannon bone in her near foreleg during the 2013 Melbourne Cup and was put down, Admire Rakti collapsed and died in his stall after finishing last in the 2014 Melbourne Cup, Araldo was put down after breaking his leg post-race in 2014 and Red Cadeaux sustained an injury during the 2015 Melbourne Cup and was subsequently euthanised.
While some industry representatives will claim these events are rare, on average, one horse died on Australian racetracks every three days in 2017-18.
But injury and death aren’t the only on-track welfare risks. Exercise-Induced Pulmonary Haemorrhage is another one. The exertion of the races leads a large proportion of horses to bleed into their lungs and windpipe. A study carried out by the University of Melbourne found that 50% of racehorses had blood in their windpipe, and 90% had blood deeper in the lungs. Other health issues from training and racing include gastric ulcers (one study at Randwick found 89% of racehorses were affected), painful muscular-skeletal injuries, such as torn ligaments and tendons, dislocated joints and even fractured bones.
At Australian Ethical we don’t invest in the gambling industry because of the financial, psychological and relationship harm caused to problem gamblers and their families. While many Australians enjoy the occasional bet, for some, it is highly destructive and can ruin lives and destroy families.
Problem gamblers lose about $21,000 annually through their addiction, causing severe stress, anxiety and feelings of helplessness. This can lead to a breakdown in family relationships. Problem Gambling reported problem gamblers are six times more likely to be divorced, four times more likely to have alcohol problems and four times more likely to smoke daily.
We don’t want to see people spiralling into out of control debt, family breakdown, mental health issues or substance abuse because of gambling.
The horse racing industry values animals on the basis of financial return, which means profit is often put before kindness. But the good news is there are plenty of other ways to have a fun day out. Check out our list of five ways to have a cruelty free Cup day!!
 Newby J, Welfare issues raised by racehorse ulcer study, The Veterinarian, March 2000