62.5% of horses did not finish the 2021 Grand National and two died. Are we all guilty for allowing this unnecessary suffering to continue.
In memory of The Long Mile & Houx Gris
The 2021 Grand National spectacle and pageant is over with just two deaths and those are anti-horseracing and those that stage the event are both probably breathing a sigh of relief but for different reasons. Those against because only two horses were sacrificed in the carnage to satiate our betting addiction and for the organisers it means the any bad publicity and outrage is kept minimal. Only 15 horses finished or to put it another way, 25 (62.5%) of the field of 40 did not finish. It is a very telling statistic.
Are we putting too much emphasis on how many die?
We are obviously all thankful that only two horses died, but this is still too many. But are we being side tracked by putting too much emphasis on how many die rather than concentrating on the legalities of putting all these horses through such mental and physical suffering, and the unnecessary danger and over exertion just to entertain and feed our entrenched gambling habits.
In this years race, 15 horses pulled up, 4 fell, 4 unseated their rider, and one very sensible horse named Ballyoptic called it quits and refused to jump. This is an increase on last year. Realistically the large number of non-finishers must mean that the course is too punishing for most of the horses and they are either not fit enough or just not up to it. So are we all guilty of condoning this unnecessary suffering and could it be classified as contravening welfare laws? The evidence may be in the statistics.
15 horses were pulled up meaning their riders felt they were suffering and it was cruel to put them through any more punishment. The four that unseated their riders were no doubt too weakened and exhausted and did not jump in the way the rider anticipated. The four who fell were pushed too far risking serious injury and possible fatal consequences. The two that died were definitely pushed beyond their capabilities.
Trivial changes to the course will never prevent horse suffering.
Although the racecourse authorities have made changes to the fences, stables, cooling down procedures and god knows what to improve “horse welfare,” everyone knows that the race in its present state will never be safe for the horses or riders unless you remove the fences altogether and shorten the race. At present it is purely an endurance event and more like the Charge of the Light Brigade or ancient Rome’s chariot racing than a civilised sporting event.
In Australia jump racing is increasingly being viewed as outdated and attendances are falling in Victoria and South Australia, the only two states which haven’t banned jump racing. These states are under pressure to follow suit in the wake of the others who banned jumping decades ago. 74 horses were killed in races and many more injured in 2020 in the two states. There is considerable campaigning at the moment, but in the UK there isn’t the same level of interest in stopping it.
To truly do everything to protect the horses and jockey’s welfare would involve removing all the excitement, the spectacle and the pageant for the baying crowd to enjoy. Unfortunately horse racing like football is ingrained into our sporting pysche and is a sport enjoyed by the masses and so will never be banned entirely, but the death rate could easily be banished by banning jumps to the history books.
But RSPCA will seek statutory powers under the Animal Welfare Act.
The RSPCA has recently announced that they are withdrawing from their prosecuting role by ending private prosecutions of animal cruelty offenders as part of their new Together for Animal Welfare 2021-2030 Strategy Plan.Considering that they instigate 95% of all the prosecutions taken under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 this leaves quite a vacuum to fill particularly when the police and government have relied on them for so long to do this work for them.
This decision, although not stated, is no doubt influenced by the fact that it costs tens of millions of pounds to take these actions and the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted their funds to the point where they have made hundreds of staff redundant and closed many of their facilities.
This announcement will please many MP’s, judges and certain sections of the legal profession who have long been uncomfortable about the RSPCA prosecuting and have repeatably campaigned to stop them. In 2016 the Commons environment, food and rural affairs committee said the charity should only bring cases to court in exceptional cases. And it will of course be of great news and a relief to all those involved in animal abuse.
RSPCA inspectors will continue to investigate.
But the RSPCA are pointing out that their inspectors will “still be rescuing, investigating and collecting evidence of cruelty and abuse and seeking to hand this over to the CPS and we would like to reassure the public that we would not step back from the role of prosecuting unless we are assured that the CPS has the commitment, the resources, and the expertise to make sure that animals continue to get the justice they deserve.”
The use of the word seeking does not give much confidence that the over stretched Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Police will give much priority to animal welfare prosecutions There is also scope for a great difference in opinion and interpretation between professional legal minds and empathetic animal welfare professionals as to what cases should be subject to prosecution which will result in a low priority being given to animal welfare cases. At the moment the CPS do not seem that keen on the idea.
Will cases ever reach the courts without the RSPCA
On the surface this all seems rather alarming for the future welfare of English and Welsh animals but confusingly the RSPCA have also stated that “We will work with governments in Westminster and Cardiff to achieve statutory powers for our inspectors under the Animal Welfare Act 2006”. This means that they will endeavour to persuade the Governments to give their inspectors similar powers of entry and seizure as the Police and local authority inspectors.
This blog has pointed out many times before that other countries like Australia, New Zealand and the USA have successfully given such powers to animal charity officers, but the RSPCA have always been very tentative on this subject before because of paranoia in the media and a backlash from the legal profession. In 2015 they stepped back from prosecuting hunting because they feared media attention would affect their reputation.
The Government recently raised the maximum punishment for animal cruelty to 5 years imprisonment and increased the fines to much acclaim and fanfare but for what purpose if the cases never reach the courts.