It used to be off to the knacker's yard for retired racehorses. Now, a new report published by the British Horseracing Authority shows that the number of racehorses destroyed in UK abattoirs has more than doubled over the past 12 months.
Animal welfare charities suggested that one cause of the increase was the recession, and that this was making it harder for owners of all kinds of horses and ponies to afford their upkeep. They called for the racing industry to do more to look after horses once their racing days are over.
The BHA report, The effect of the recession on the welfare of British Thoroughbred Horses also records an increase of 29% in the number of horses reported to the passport authority as dead, up from 1,994 in 2010 to 2,574 last year. But it is the substantial increase in the use of abattoirs to put racehorses down that is causing most concern. The report says, “1,127 horses either in training, breeding or out of training were reported as killed in abattoirs, from 499 in 2010, an increase of 126%.”
Tim Morris, director of equine science and welfare at the BHA put those figures in the context of the 1 million horses on the authority’s database. He said, “While a 126% increase may sound a lot, in absolute terms it’s not a big number.” Of course that’s true, but you only have to look at the reaction to one or two racehorses losing their life on the track to realise it isn’t the brightest thing to say in defence of the situation.
Morris also referred to the 24% drop in the number of foals registered in Great Britain over the last four years, suggesting this showed that the industry was addressing concerns about over supply of horses. Dene Stansall, from the anti horse racing charity Animal Aid, challenged this claim. He said, “Whilst the supply has gone down, as soon as the economy picks up again it will start to rise again.”
He said that racehorses were so highly strung that it often took a couple of years to calm them down so they could be ridden by anyone other than jockeys. With the growth in ownership through syndicates it was difficult to establish who was responsible for a horse’s welfare once it finished racing.
That’s a fair point.