Urban Hymn falls in The Gaskells Waste Management Handicap Hurdle Race. Thankfully, the horse survived. (Image Credit: Laurence Griffiths / Staff)
Every year, the barbarism of the Grand National is brought into question. An annual horse racing event that since the year 2000 has seen the deaths of 47 horses, the carnage of the Grand National race itself – which typically features around 40 horses jumping over particularly high hurdles – has seen activists attempt to force a change in the stipulations of the race, or have it banned outright.
While the main race hasn’t brought an end to a horse’s life since the two deaths that took place in 2002, the other races that take place during the course of the three-day event rarely conclude without at least two fatalities, with five horses having died this year as a result of injuries they sustained as a result of the demanding jumps they’re forced to make. Clonbanan Lad and Marasonnien died on the opening day of the event after suffering mid-race injuries during the Fox Hunters’ Chase, while Gullinbursti and Minella Reception died on Friday following a fall over the infamous Becher’s Brook hurdle, which has claimed the lives of many horses in the past. This hurdle has been altered by Aintree three times since 1987, following a number of fatalities.
Now it has been announced that Kings Palace has been destroyed after pulling up lame during a three-mile handicap hurdle on Saturday, with the Grand National 2016, therefore resulting in five confirmed fatalities thus far, the highest number recorded since 2010. Speaking to Huffington Post, Animal Aid’s horse racing consultant Dene Stansall said: “The Aintree authorities and the official industry regulator, the British Horseracing Authority, have sought, over the last two years, to lure the public into believing that equine deaths at Aintree were now to be thought of as a rarity in this modern age.
“But history shows that, over the long term, the Grand National Course continues to be a perversely harsh test for horses, and one that often proves lethal. Making horses race on that course does not add up to a sporting spectacle, but the most selfish form of animal abuse.”
Kings Palace (number 4) died as a result of this hurdle race at the Grand National 2016. (Image Credit: Michael Steele / Getty Images)
As someone who has been brought up in a family that is deeply passionate about horse racing, and who has experienced the love, affection and time invested in these animals by their owners, trainers and everyone around them, I would therefore strongly argue against the suggestion that selfishness is the only motivation that drives commercial horse racing forward. However, I am very much of the opinion that the Grand National continues to pose a major health risk for the horses taking part in it, and that despite Aintree’s hand having been forced multiple times in the past when it comes to altering the course, it clearly isn’t enough.
But the Grand National is not alone in the mistreatment of its horses. Cheltenham Festival also frequently sees a number of fatalities, with seven horses reportedly dying this year, a ten-year high for the four-day event. Despite the British Horseracing Authority having stated that the number of fatalities in horse racing has fallen by a third over the past 15 years, that the sport’s biggest events rarely go by without a fatality is impossible to justify, and the lack of national attention it receives is evidence of how readily the UK accepts that these animals are unwittingly risking their lives each year for our entertainment.
As a devoted horse racing fan who also possesses a conscience, it is impossible to watch the Grand National without feeling a notable amount of guilt, knowing that I’m essentially complicit in allowing this event to continue taking place unimpeded. That the people involved in raising these horses are so devoted to ensuring their well-being for the majority of the year, does not excuse the complete lack of respect that the animals are shown when it comes to these major events. Hopefully, this latest backlash against its organisers will mark the start of some much-needed change in the sport.