Animal Aid

BRED TO DEATH: BACKGROUND NOTES

Numbers:

  • More than 17,000 foals are born into the closely-related British and Irish racing industries each year, yet only around one half go on to become racers.
  • Around 5,000 horses leave British racing every year - the same number who enter it. Only a comparatively small proportion of these animals go on to become breeders or enjoy a decent, properly financed retirement.

Breeding:

  • The chase for glory and profit by the global racing industry’s dominant forces has led to over-production of a swift but physically weaker Thoroughbred.
  • In 1957, precisely 7,826 mares were retained for breeding purposes in Britain and Ireland. Together, they produced 4,254 live foals. By 2005, the figure for live foals had more than quadrupled - 30,764 mares were employed and produced 17,474 living foals.
  • The leading breeding operators are now drawing on an increasingly narrow gene pool when producing ‘high status’ foals. This results in inherent weaknesses.
  • During a six month breeding season, stallions can be required to ‘cover’ three mares a day. Whereas 30 years ago covering 100 mares in a year was almost unheard of, it is now routine for leading stallions to have 200 broodmares ‘on their books’.
  • Outside of the breeding shed, stallions are kept well separated from mares and other males. When not housed in a stable, they are confined behind high fences. And to minimise any chance of a costly injury, insurance policies usually state that they must not be ridden. It is a life of near isolation and deadening routine that - barring physical breakdown - can go on for 20 or more years.
  • The industry subjects breeding mares to an almost constant cycle of pregnancy and birth. Left to their own devices, mares in the wild have one foal every two years, or perhaps twice every three years. They deliver in the spring, after a pregnancy lasting 11 months. The racing industry forces healthy and fertile mares to produce a foal every year - as soon after January 1 as possible. To control when the foal is delivered, they are injected with hormones and other drugs, and subjected to long periods of artificial light during winter months. The commercial advantage of being born close to January 1 arises from the fact that they would be one year old and likely to fetch a better price at the crucial yearling sales than a horse that is, say, 9 months old.

Injuries & Deaths:

  • An Animal Aid study of available evidence - including 15,000 pages of race results - shows that around 375 horses are raced to death every year.
  • Some 30% of these fatalities occur during, or immediately after, a race, and result from: a broken leg, back, neck or pelvis; fatal spinal injuries; heart attack; or burst blood vessels. The other victims perish from training injuries or are killed after being assessed by their owners as no-hopers.
  • The majority of fatalities occur in jump (National Hunt) racing. Horses used to be selectively bred for this sector. They were heavier-boned and more robust than the faster animals racing on the flat. Because of the increasing emphasis on speed in all racing sectors, horses entered into jump races are now more often 'cast-offs' from the flat. Deaths, as a consequence, are more common.
  • Bone fractures in animals racing on the flat were once comparatively rare. The attrition rate is now approaching that of jump racers. Amongst a typical group of 100 flat racing horses, one fracture will occur every month.
  • Serious racing-related illnesses are now endemic. 82% of flat race horses older than three years of age suffer from bleeding lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage). Gastric ulcers are present in 93% of horses in training, in whom the condition gets progressively worse. When horses are retired, the condition improves.

Retirement:

  • The Horserace Betting Levy Board (racing’s principal funding body) was established in the early 1960s when gambling laws were eased. It takes 10% of bookmakers’ annual gross profits and re-channels them into the industry and its associated activities. For 2006, the Levy Board was able to draw on close to £100 million. Scandalously, it thought fit to donate just £54,000 to the retraining and rehabilitation of race horses. This is an insultingly small amount (0.05% of the Levy’s total income) considering that some 5,000 horses leave racing each year. There is an equal or even greater need with respect to the annual ‘crop’ of Thoroughbreds who are produced for racing but never set foot on a racecourse. They are, instead, destroyed, sold off or given away to be used in other equestrian events.

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