Is horse racing cruel?

Even for those people who don’t normally follow horse racing, watching and betting on big events like Cheltenham and the Grand National is something they do every year. Although these occasions are hugely popular with the general public the high numbers of injuries and fatalities of horses involved has led many to call for the most gruelling races to be banned.

But it’s not just a problem confined to the most famous events. According to reports , race-horses are being fatally injured and destroyed on a regular basis at race-courses all over the UK. British Horseracing Authority (BHA) figures reveal that from 2010 to 2015 the average number of horses killed every year because of racing is 193. Most of these fatalities occur in National Hunt racing (also known as jump racing or steeplechase) which includes the Grand National and Cheltenham Festival.

These figures do not include horse deaths that occur during training or elective euthanasia (this is defined by the BHA as euthanasia carried out on welfare and/or economic grounds when the injuries do not fulfil the criteria for immediate humane euthanasia).

The League Against Cruel Sports considers races over a course of four and a half miles over large and difficult fences to be too long and gruelling for most horses. The high number of fatalities on the course of long and very demanding races makes it clear that unnecessary suffering is being caused for sport.

The League believes that if horses are to be raced, this should only be in races and events that are well within their capacity and that of their riders. We are against the whipping of horses, as the horse is being urged to go beyond what it is inclined to do, attempting to override the horse's own instincts which are to protect itself from over doing it.

Legs of a falling horse during a race.

Fatal injuries at the Grand National and Cheltenham

The Grand National (which is just one race among several on the same course at the Aintree Festival), and the Cheltenham Festival, are two of the biggest events in the horse racing calendar. The Grand National is so famous that even some of the jumps became household names – Becher’s Brook, the Canal Turn and The Chair.

The very fact that jumps like Becher’s Brook are famous is because huge numbers of horses and riders have fallen there – often leading to injury and death.

These events attract massive crowds and huge amounts of money placed in bets, potentially because the spectacle of seeing magnificent horses jumping over high hurdles over long distances is an amazing one. But the very fact that the horses are pushed to such limits makes these events dangerous for them.

Data shows that six horses died or were put down because of injury at the Aintree Festival in 2016 alone, while 10 horses suffered the same fate on the Cheltenham course. Over the last few years, the number of horses dying on just these two courses is totally unacceptable.
While race organisers continue to prioritise the ‘unique character’ of these races over the safety and welfare of horse and jockeys, then terrible injuries and fatalities will continue to be a sure bet.

The League Against Cruel Sports is calling for the abolition of the Aintree Grand National until and unless it improves its practices to such an extent that animal welfare and not the ‘unique character’ of the race is the priority.

Horse race with one horse ahead and two horses behind

What can be done to make horse racing safe?

We believe that horses should only be used in races and events which are within their own capacity and that of their riders. For example, many races have fences that are too high and courses too long which makes them extremely gruelling for most horses.

We acknowledge that improvements have been made at the Grand National particularly, and the number of deaths during the race itself have been reduced. But as the figures show, horses still die at the wider Aintree Festival, as they do at Cheltenham and other courses across the country. One horse death is too many.

The League believes that the number of horses in these key races should be reduced, fences should be made more manageable for tiring horses, and the length of the races should be shortened.

The League is also against the whipping of horses which has been shown to be ineffective and can cause painful welts. The use of the whip urges the horse to go beyond what it is able to comfortably do, and can result in injuries and stress. 

How can I help horses?

  • If you are in the Cheltenham or Aintree areas, Contact your MP and ask them to urgently discuss horse safety with the race organisers
  • Share this page on your social media