Is horse racing cruel?

For many people, including those 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.

Horse racing deaths

According to reports, race-horses are being fatally injured and destroyed on a regular basis at race-courses all over the UK, including lesser known racing events.. Many of these fatalities occur in National Hunt racing (also known as jump racing or steeplechase) which includes the Grand National and Cheltenham Festival.

British Horseracing Authority (BHA) figures revealed that 2018 had the highest number of racing related deaths in six years, with 201 horses fatally injured during competition.

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).

Why is horse racing cruel?

The League Against Cruel Sports considers races on a course of four 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, they should only participate in races and events that are within the capacity of both the horses and the riders. We oppose 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.

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.

These events attract very large crowds and significant amounts of money placed in bets, by attendees enjoying the spectacle of horse racing. However, as horses are pushed further beyond their limits but the very fact that the horses are pushed to such limits makes these events dangerous for them.

In 2019, the deaths of a horse, ‘Up For Review’ at the Grand National and the banning of three jockeys at the Cheltenham Festival resulted in a review of and consultation for both events.

As a result, the Cheltenham Festival will be introducing new guidelines for the event in 2020. These include reducing the track length from four miles to just over 3 miles, alongside reducing the number of jumps from 25 to 23. Furthermore, both the horses and jockeys must meet a set level of experience before participating in the chase.

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 highly strenuous for most horses.

We acknowledge the improvements that have been made at the Grand National and that the number of deaths during the race itself have been reduced. However, the figures still show that 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 animal welfare at racing events could be improved by: reducing the number of horses in races; making fences more manageable for tiring horses; shortening the length of the races.

The League also opposes 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 perform beyond its normal capabilities and can result in injuries and stress. 

How can I help horses?

If you are in the Cheltenham or Aintree areas, become a voice for race horses by contacting your MP and asking them to urgently discuss horse safety with the race organisers.

You can also join the League in our endeavours to protect horses. By joining our supporter groups or sharing this on your social media to express your concerns, together we can lead the way to a future without animals being persecuted in the name of ‘sport’.