Monday 24 July 2017

Have your say

Safety has to be our main concern

I wish to respond to the article written by Ian McClean on April 17 entitled 'Living with a fatal attraction'.

In it he justifies the endangerment of horses in the Grand National on the basis that it adds excitement and that the horses are otherwise treated well. Ian comments that all public policies currently "converge in the service of risk mitigation", suggesting this "sanitisation" is draining society of excitement. Does he mean to suggest that such standards of safety are generally unnecessary and counter-productive? Should we reverse our alcohol driving laws and abolish speed limits to allow some people the thrill of driving recklessly? Or should we continue to pursue policies that favour both human and animal safety over short-lived highs and thrills.

The author accepts the Grand National is a cruel use of animals in the service of human entertainment but any wrongdoing or guilt is absolved by treating the horses with care. This argument could be used to defend illegal blood sports like dog fighting where well-treated animals are put at risk for entertainment. The type of animal cruelty is not identical here but the process is the same. One is merely a more socially accepted and lucrative form of entertainment.

Ian cites animal use in the food and drug industry as comparative forms of cruelty which we fail to confront. The difference is these fields aim to serve useful purposes, for example nutrition and the scientific understanding and treatment of disease. Not to condone animal cruelty in any case but when compared to horse racing the above motives at least form a more ethically sound reason for animal use.

The author is coming from a very subjective view to suggest that horseracing is unique in its capacity to "connect joy to the human spirit". There are thousands of ways in which humans seek and attain this 'joy' which don't involve endangering animals.

I can fully recognise the benefits of using horses for sport and leisure as long as the animal is not endangered or harmed. Can we say that the Grand National meets this very simple criterion? Akin to safety changes in Formula 1 over the years, why can't the Grand National course be modified to make the jumps less perilous?

If a jockey chooses to risk his life then it's of his own volition, we choose for the horse. Should we not then, as intelligent and empathetic beings, choose to let go of the thrill of watching animal carnage and modify the Grand National so that the safety of the horse (and hence the jockey) are paramount?

Patrick Hallinan

Racing falls short in equine welfare

The deaths of two horses in the Grand National has re-focused attention on the downside of the ancient pursuit of horseracing as practised in Britain and Ireland. It would surely benefit the sport itself, apart from the long-suffering equines, if we could effectively tackle the cruelties associated with it.

A day at the races or the odd flutter can be a fun experience, and the bloodstock industry is deemed crucial to our economic well-being.

But racehorses fall victim to a wide range of injuries. Driven to their absolute limits, many of them suffer from extreme fatigue and bodily strain and among the afflictions they may have to endure include ulcerated stomachs, bleeding lungs, and damage to bone and muscle, all of which can be very painful for the horse. Wrongly administered drugs can also cause distress and immense suffering.

And of course the use of whips in racing is wide open to abuse, resulting in raw flesh wounds and/or internal injuries.

Racing could be made more animal welfare-friendly by easing the pressure on the horses. Fences should be lowered for all races to a height that is not overly demanding for the horses.

The whip should ideally be banned altogether, as in Norway, allowing jockeys to use their heels and hands instead to urge on the horses without hurting them. Alternatively, a padded whip like the one now used in Australia could replace the medieval-style flogging instrument which so often brings British and Irish horseracing into disrepute.

That would be an eminently reasonable measure, though it might infuriate the die-hard anti-reform elements within the industry.

While horseracing is not remotely as cruel or objectionable from an animal protection standpoint as, for example, live hare coursing or fox hunting, it will continue to project a negative and disturbing image of itself until the welfare of the horse has been prioritised and properly enshrined in law.

John Fitzgerald

Sunday Indo Sport

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