Raising A Big Question-Mark Over Horse Racing?

By Bernie Bell

I regularly receive the Newsletter of Hillside Animal Sanctuary  https://www.hillside.org.uk/.   The Newsletter always contains a mixture of positive news about animal rescue and welfare, and some negative – that’s how it is, unfortunately.

In this edition, one item which caused me a great deal of distress was an article written by an ex-racehorse trainer about how racehorses are treated. I felt that I needed to do something – but that can I do?   Whenever I get the opportunity, I tell people how much I am against horse, and dog racing.  People don’t want to think about it – don’t want to look at it.

I checked with Hillside if it is OK for me to send this to ‘The Orkney News’, and they agree that the more folk know about these abuses, the better.  So …here it is…as it appeared in the Newsletter.  

I realise that the image is disturbing – it needs to be.

“As a person on the outside looking in, the world of horse training looks like a world for the elite, working with such elegant animals a lot of the time belonging to the rich and famous, rubbing shoulders with the wealthy as you gently care and nurture these impressive animals for their owner. Unfortunately, that scene is a long way from the truth.

Charlie Brooks wrote an article in The Telegraph (January 2006), in which he blames modern trends and inexperienced stable staff for the spate of injuries to racehorses. His theory is that the standards of the staff within the stables have dropped, a simple need to get paid, more important than any form of pride in their work or any form of caring for the animals involved. Another of his theories is based on the modern day need to create more profit, at the same time less expenditure. The amount of horses that are being taken on by trainers has often increased from what used to be the normal two or three and they are now finding they have to train more animals in less time. He states quite rightly that it physically isn’t possible to train and condition tendons, ligaments and muscles in a 45-minute walk, especially at the beginning of the season when the tissue strengthening foundations are laid. And the fact remains, regardless how many horse walkers a trainer has, the horse is a finely tuned, muscular animal and in the same way an Olympic athlete couldn’t win the gold medal 100-metre sprint by training on a tread mill, a horse needs open fluent exercise and to be ridden by a trained person that can work out all of the different muscles and use himself properly. However you look at it, a walk just isn’t going to do that.

Old money owners have always appreciated if you want the best from your horse it takes time to develop and mature adequately. Unfortunately, they have mostly disappeared, being replaced instead by new money owners that see owning a horse as a statement within their social circles, and just want the horse to run on their wife’s birthday and cost as little as possible for the rest of the year. These facts were a true account in 2006 and are escalating today, creating more fatalities and injuries. To a degree, the finger has to be pointed at the stable staff whose job it is to look after the horse on a daily routine, albeit to a budget of the owner. Training fees have increased over the years, however stable staff wages haven’t increased at the same rate, and inevitably job satisfaction is at an all-time low, meaning a number of staff leave to seek new careers, forcing trainers to find alternative staff with lower wages. More often than not, staff see the role as a job, a way to get paid, not a passion, not something to enjoy and do your best at. Stable staff are often inexperienced with little or no knowledge of horses, being employed by trainers that are taking on too many horses in the first place. The result – a surprisingly high number of violent and unacceptable abuses against the animals.

A jaw breaker, (a short and violent jerk on the reins) is a daily occurrence, this results in a sore mouth and at worst, a cracked jaw and most will never be treated, or perhaps a few hefty kicks in the stomach, or the favourite is a kick between the colts legs when dismounted!! But the list doesn’t end there… constant beatings with pitch forks and brooms, these really are daily occurrences and the whole thing happens behind the closed doors of the racecourse stables where only those with a security pass can enter and when you see the damage they cause to these amazing creatures it’s not entirely surprising they want to keep it hidden.

At every race meeting I attended, the sickening abuse became worse, and there were no exceptions. On a number of occasions I tried to intervene, but was told in no uncertain terms that I was bringing racing into disrepute as they were not employed by me, and yet in the distance I see a girl returning to her stable after her horse had run. She was kicking him hard in the stomach and exclaiming to the animal that he would be ‘glue’ the next day, at which point she tied him up and continued to abuse him with punches to the face and a broom across his back. Once she was behind him she gave a few whacks between his legs for good measure! Before this got completely out of hand, I sent my assistant in to intervene. Five minutes later, the horse’s owners arrived and the groom proudly showed off their very expensive pride and joy, which not long before she had been beating the life out of. The favourite saying towards owners is keeping them in the dark and feed them plenty of s**t!! It rings very true today and this is by no means an isolated case. At a different meeting a lad returned with his horse, having obviously lost a week’s wages on him, put him straight back into the stables and set about beating him over the head with the lead reins, followed by the normal kicking and punching. He then left the stable and headed for the stable lads canteen, at which point I ran over and made sure the horse was ok. Had the stable lad taken the time to notice or indeed had the knowledge to see, he would have noticed the horse had run so badly because he had ‘burst’ (rupturing of trachea/lungs) with blood trickling down from both nostrils, I informed the racecourse vet, who promptly went mad after being told the stable lad was now enjoying a coffee.. it’s nice to occasionally find some that still care about the horses.

The epitome of the abuse and the suffering towards the horses behind closed doors came when one of my owners offered to drive me to the racecourse to check the day’s runners, when we came across two men trying to load a two year old filly into the horsebox. I recognised her as she had won earlier in the day, yet it appears winning isn’t enough, as she was still being violently beaten with brooms, and being kicked in the belly and punched in the face. My owner thinking this wasn’t a way to treat an animal asked them to leave her alone, at which point they told him to **** off. He turned to me and asked why I didn’t intervene and get the name of their trainer…. my answer was clear and definitive – one of those two men WAS the trainer. Welcome to racing…

So next time you think about the fun filled, shoulder rubbing, wealthy lifestyle of horse racing, remember these incredible muscular creatures are often being brought to their knees with vicious and violent abuse by trainers and stable hands alike, the two groups of people that are being paid to look after them in the first place…”

Image of trainer Gordon Eliot sitting across a deceased horse appeared all over social media prompting an investigation

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4 replies »

  1. An informative and interesting article, completely shameful and disturbing treatment though by people who should not be allowed anywhere near animals. Couldn’t bring myself to press the “like” option.

  2. Bernie, while much of what you say might be true a close look at the horse picture and I’ve never seen a thoroughbred race horse that looked liked the photo. Do you not think that this could be a bit of ‘Fake News Pic’? Just saying doesn’t look right to me.

    • Well, Charlie – maybe you’ve never seen one in the state that one ended up in.

      If you’re questioning the validity of this item – take it up with Hillside Animal Sanctuary – they should be able to give you the Chapter and Verse on the subject.

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