A Dead Cert : Introduction
Over the last seven years, Animal Aid has produced a series of detailed reports exposing the major welfare problems associated with Thoroughbred breeding, racing, training and the disposal of commercially ‘unproductive’ horses.
Animals are highly in-bred for speed at the expense of skeletal strength and general robustness. Two-thirds of the 16,000 foals produced for racing every year are deemed unsuitable. Some go into other equestrian events but as many as 2,000 are sent for slaughter.
The formidable and unnatural challenges that racecourses present to horses result in about 130 on-course fatalities every year. An additional 250 Thoroughbreds die in training annually, or they are killed because they fail to pay their way. The pressure on modern race horses is so immense that, apart from the incidents of broken backs and legs and heart attacks and burst blood vessels, the vast majority suffer from two debilitating stress-related conditions: gastric ulcers and bleeding lungs (exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage).
Instead of reducing the pressure on the animals – and thereby reducing sickness and death – the industry commissions lethal experiments on Thoroughbreds and other horses. The declared aim of this research is to understand why race horses damage their limbs and suffer other illnesses – and to deliver remedies. A principal practitioner of this black art is the Animal Health Trust (AHT), a veterinary charity based in the home of horse racing – Newmarket.
The summaries of experiments that follow are taken directly from the researchers’ own accounts – published in equine veterinary and other scientific journals. They describe horses being deliberately infected with devastating viruses; pregnant animals undergoing abdominal surgery and subsequently aborting their young; other pregnant animals being deliberately under-fed; and newborn foals being subjected to stress experiments. Most of the ‘procedures’ end with the horses – Thoroughbreds or ponies – being killed and their tissues examined.
Such experiments are often justified by the claim that they are for the greater good: a few horses suffer so that many can benefit. That formulation is morally corrupt. The high levels of injury and developmental problems these invasive experiments are supposed to address, are the product of industry greed and callousness.
Commissioning lethal ‘scientific’ experiments on horses is the industry’s attempt to avoid its responsibility to the horses it so readily and systematically exploits.
The Animal Health Trust
The AHT has the strongest of bonds with the racing industry. Much of its research is directly funded by industry bodies; an AHT Honorary Vice President, Sheikh Mohammed, is one of the world’s most powerful race horse breeders and owners; and its recently-appointed chief executive, Peter Webbon, previously held senior positions with the Jockey Club and the Horseracing Regulatory Authority. Indicative of such links is the fact that several thousand pounds from one of the races staged at this year’s Grand National meeting was donated to the AHT.
Professor W R ‘Twink’ Allen, of Cambridge University’s Equine Fertility Unit, is another long-standing and prominent practitioner of laboratory research on horses. Allen was involved in two of the ten experiments that we feature in this report. One was funded by the Horseracing Betting Levy Board, the industry body that boosts breeder and racecourse profitability by distributing the money it collects from bookmakers. In 2001, Allen was reported to have produced the world’s first test-tube foals and is now engaged in horse cloning experiments. His son-in-law is jockey Frankie Dettori.