Thursday, November 6, 2014

Born To Run, At Any Cost....

IMAGE : HERALDSUN.COM.AU | Born To Run, At Any Cost
Anyone else feeling sad and generally uncomfortable about the outcome of this year's Melbourne Cup? I am.

It's going to sound weird and as though I've just discovered my conscience, but I'm harbouring these sudden feelings of unease given the fact that I've never really given a lot of heartfelt consideration to the ugly side of a sport which can at times, be fully (or at least partly) responsible for the untimely death of defenceless animals. My sense of unease is about both my own lack of objection prior to now and also about my own realisation of what potentially takes place behind the scenes in the racing industry; in the darker shadows of the sport. I would never attend a rodeo, a dog fight and I even detest fishing so I wonder why that one day in November has always simply passed me by as an ordinary event and even at times as a welcome part of the social calendar? 

Before anyone jumps on me about one-off freak incidents, about an objection to banning the sport outright and that one should be a vegetarian to be truly pro animal rights, let it be said that this is just about my own new found feelings of unease towards the 'sport' we call horse racing, not a self-righteous rant about what the world should do and not do. I'm not standing up loudly calling for a ban (although it would be nice in a perfect world, but as we know the world ain't perfect). I'm simply feeling sad about the death of two horses after a race which is well known to be one of the most gruelling, even for the fittest, most enthusiastic thoroughbred. I'm annoyed at my own prior ambivalence and general naivety and I guess I'm now against putting these animals through something that once may have suited their "born to run" nature, but at times maybe not.

While I understand and acknowledge the occurrence of freak accidents, I can't help but wonder if Admire Rakti, the beast pictured above who dropped dead from heart failure was perhaps pushed beyond his limits for the sake of winning; for the sake of profit. It was clear prior to the race that he was distressed and not keen to enter the stalls - I know this is a relatively common occurrence but maybe in this case, it was out of character and the horse was already feeling the effects of what was to become his untimely death? Absurdly, you could draw comparison to some poor human in the throws of heart failure being forced to line up at the start of an ultra marathon, forced to complete the gruelling event for the sake of fulfilling a commitment, and in turn for the financial gain of others. It would never be allowed to happen to a human being, so why a horse? The stats on race horse deaths are pretty horrifying if they are to be believed; a staggering 15-20,000 thoroughbreds are slaughtered yearly and there are many more awful facts on the mental and physical harm caused to these animals directly by the sport we call horse racing. Do a little research and you'll not only understand a whole lot more about the dark side of the sport but perhaps you'll begin to stand a little closer behind the outcry from passionate animal rights' campaigners.

And what then of the other horse Araldo? As he walked the fence line after the event, a spectator waved a flag (a flag of a size which was generally banned from the area but somehow got through) and in fear, the frightened horse tangled himself in a fence, injuring his legs. Seriously-where's the foresight? Humans can be so basic sometimes. Because of that thoughtless over-sized flag bearer, and because of our desire to show off the horses like trophies under any conditions, a horse became frightened, it injured its legs on a fence beyond repair and it too, ultimately met an untimely death. 

 At 2pm on Melbourne Cup Day, it was mostly about pretty hats, uncomfortable heels and expensive champagne for many people. Honestly, it's been about that for me in the past too but embarrassingly, I've always been able to justify my marginal, annual turn-a-blind eye support of a sport that deep down in my heart I now feel is pretty questionable. By 4pm, after the race was won and the favourite had finished last then collapsed and died in its stall immediately after, a sad sick feeling of guilt crept in and I felt ashamed that I had watched such an event with enthusiasm and had even laid down a bet or two. Me supporting a sport which uses animals as a tool for gain at any cost is pretty stupid and out of character if I'm honest with myself.

Obviously the sport isn't going to be banned any time soon, but surely some concessions can be made? Why does the Melbourne Cup 3200m race need to be so damn long? Any why do the jockeys need to use their crops so aggressively (or at all) during the races? Why can't we just witness a horse running at its own speed without the punishing interference? Surely then we can more safely and humanely learn who is the fastest and most worthy winner, if a winner MUST be found? Because of money, glory and winning at any cost, I guess.

Anyway, there it is. I'm not calling for dispute, for banning, or for vehement argument. I'm just thinking that my eyes are open wider to the things we call upon animals to participate in, perhaps unwillingly, for the sake of sport. I have very little trust that the horses are the number one consideration in these events and with that in mind, we should perhaps re-think our own personal views on participating in horse racing generally if we do in fact participate even if for that one day in November. The least we can do is give a second thought to the humanity of the sport, given the very public death of two horses over this year's cup carnival.

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