Cheltenham Review 2018: A missed opportunity

Posted on the 17th December 2018

The British Horseracing Authority has released its review of an investigation into the multiple horse deaths at the March 2018 Cheltenham Festival.

Six horses lost their lives, and it has now come to light that a seventh horse was destroyed as a result of his injuries after the Festival.[1]

The BHA’s review was in reaction to increasing public pressure on the Authority, which was quoted as saying ‘Six deaths are simply unacceptable’.[2]

However, there was no such review announced in 2016 when seven horses died at the annual meeting, or in 2017 when four horses were killed.

In 2014, Animal Aid issued a report which examined the possible causes of equine fatalities at Cheltenham Racecourse – which has the highest level of horse fatalities of any of the 60 racecourses in Great Britain. [3] The report highlighted many dangerous aspects, including: crowded races; horses running over long distances often on challenging ground; unacceptable demands on novice horses; and stiff ‘unforgiving’ fences. The report was sent to the BHA, Cheltenham Racecourse’s directors and other key figures in British racing. No responses were received.

It has taken the BHA nine months to produce a response to this year’s Cheltenham Festival deaths, and many of the recommendations fall well short of what is needed (eg reducing maximum numbers of horses in a race from 24 to 20 does not go far enough) and, above all, fail to address key issues such as the “win at all costs” mentality of many jockeys at the event, the number of obstacles or the gruelling length of some races.

Says Dene Stansall, Animal Aid’s Horseracing Consultant and author of the 2014 report:

‘This feeble and toothless review represents a missed opportunity to make meaningful changes that could save horses’ lives. We believe that it shies away from the kind of robust, practical changes that would help to prevent horses from dying for the sake of sport. This deeply disappointing document adds to the now overwhelming case for an independent horse welfare regulator. If race horse welfare is left in the hands of the BHA, we believe that these innocent animals will continue to lose their lives for the sake of sport. For as long as horses continue to be exploited for entertainment, Animal Aid will continue to campaign vigorously for an independent body that would make concrete changes to stop horses losing their lives.’

Notes to Editors:

In 2018, the government held a debate on whether the BHA should be replaced by an independent body to look after race horse welfare. The debate was the result of Animal Aid collecting 105,000 signatures on a government e-petition.

The BHA’s Review can be found here.

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/horse-racing/46539212

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/horse-racing/46539212

[3] https://www.horsedeathwatch.com/downloads/Cheltenham2014.pdf

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