Tales from Urban Dilettantia

Icon

Wastage, Bleeders, and Murky Data in the Horse Racing Industry

Hey Australia, it’s Melbourne Cup Day.

It turns out that it’s actually quite hard to find well-researched information on issues of animal welfare in the racing industry.  All credit to organisations who lobby against cruelty in the industry, but their sites aren’t always the best of source of resources, and at times show a misunderstanding of the underlying statistics.

Given it’s Cup Day, I’ve put together an overview of some of the studies I’ve encountered during a quick skim of the literature. Bear in mind that I haven’t looked in detail into the authors, nor methodologies used in the studies, so cite with caution.  The two issues that immediately arose when I ran a search were ‘wastage’ (the commercial term for horses lost to the racing industry) and ‘bleeders’ (horses suffering from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage or ‘EIPH’).

One of the most concerning aspects in my opinion is how just murky and under-scrutinised this whole industry appears to be in this respect – pinning down solid, credible data is no simple task, even where suspicions have been raised that the industry may be the horsey equivalent of a puppy mill.   For example, there’s very little information relating to the origin of horses sent to abattoirs.  This in in part due to an glaring absence of record keeping, the complication of abattoirs frequently procuring horses via auctions rather than directly from from racing stables, and the fact that some of the relevant data (where it exists) is considered to be commercial in confidence.

An estimated 80 per cent of those horses that actually end up on the racetrack suffer EIPH – these horses are known in the industry as ‘bleeders’.  (Hinchcliff, K.W., et al., Association between exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage and performance in Thoroughbred  racehorses. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 2005. 227: p. 768-774.)  This is quite an interesting one statistically, as horses can either bleed from the windpipe or in the deeper lung area, with some commentary noting the former applies to ‘around half’ of all racehorses, and the latter up to 90 per cent.  Wikipedia references studies stating the proportion of racehorses suffering EIPH at some point in their career falls between 40 per cent and 70 per cent.   I’m not clear on the number of non-racing horses who suffer from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage, although some of the literature implies it is significantly lower.

It’s been estimated  “pregnancy in 1000 Thoroughbred Australian mares produces only 300 horses which will actually race”.   (Bourke JM (1995) Wastage in Thoroughbreds. In ‘Proceedings from the Annual Seminar, Equine Branch, NZVA’. Auckland pp. 107-119. Veterinary Continuing Education, Massey University)  Where do they go?  One of the more nteresting and recent studies in this area – greatly impaired as it was by lack of industry data – is detailed in a 2008 paper published in the Equine Veterinary Journal.  Here’s an extract of the relevant section:

An assessment was also made on the possibility of collecting further data within the abattoir setting. In this study data was collected over three collection dates from 340 horses processed at an Australian abattoir. This occurred between November 2007 and January 2008. The data showed that 59.8% of the horses had a dental age of  7 years with the remainder (40.2%) being > 7 years. Observations of the types of brands present indicated that 52.9% of the horses processed had originated from the racing industry with 40.0% of the sample group carrying a Thoroughbred brand and 12.9% carrying a Standardbred brand. The remainder of the group (47.1%) had no visible brand.

Wastage or horse loss (Jeffcott, 1990; Bailey, 1998) occurs at all stages of the horse’s life, including prior to racing, and it is estimated that pregnancy in 1000 Thoroughbred Australian mares produces only 300 horses which will actually race (Bourke, 1995). Similar pre-racing wastage has been found in Standardbred horses (trotters and pacers). A survey conducted on the 1990 crop of Western Australian Standardbred foals (Dyer, 1998) reported that 29% of foals were unregistered while approximately 26% were registered but never raced. Of the unregistered foals, 25% died or were destroyed and in 13% of cases, the cause of death was deliberate destruction. Of the registered, unraced horses 15% died and deliberate destruction was the cause of death in 12% of cases.

Bourke (1995) has also estimated that approximately 33% of the Thoroughbred population of Victoria may be lost to wastage each year however, these wastage figures include all areas in which horses are lost to the racing industry (e.g. reproductive failure, death of foals, various training and racing injuries and those relinquished for slaughter: Bailey, 1998). Interestingly, a more recent survey of racehorse trainers in the 2002/2003 race year reported similar figures. Hayek et al. (2005) found that the total wastage rate for horses in training or racing was 39% for Thoroughbreds and 38% for Standardbreds. Of the 39% of Thoroughbreds which left a racing stable only 6% were reported to have been sent to a knackery while 17% of Standardbred horses were reported to have been sent to the same destination. However, as the authors noted these figures do not include horses which were sent to a slaughter plant via a more indirect route, that is being sent to auction and purchased by an agent buying horses for slaughter, so the exact number of Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds in the study group which were ultimately slaughtered remains unknown.”

Doughty, A., Cross, N., Robbins, A. and Phillips, C.J.C. 2009. The origin, dentition and foot condition of slaughtered horses in Australia. Equine Veterinary Journal 41, 808-811.

Additionally, some of the literature suggests that horses who are unsuccessful on the racecourse may transition into the more harmful sport jump racing – a spectacle banned in New South Wales, and recommended to be phased out elsewhere by an Australian Parliamentary Inquiry.   Clearly, in addition to wastage and health issues, not to mention the subjects of gambling and whipping, there’s also a whole discussion to be had about the ethics of meat production versus the breeding of animals for an entertainment industry and so forth.  But, given they’re currently running  a Race That Stops A Nation, that’s one for another day.

Queens, Cabbages and Occupation

This morning I have the time to be down in Forrest Place, sitting at OccupyPerth. On the other hand, this morning I have the time to write about OccupyPerth, and things to say. Regrettably, they’re mutually exclusive options, since my netbook isn’t charged. And so I’m here writing, because I believe it’s the more effective use of my time. And so, at greater than expected length, this is my Perth. This is my Occupy. This is my why.

For those who are reading this from afar, a small and peaceful happening in isolated Perth likely hasn’t made your news. Yesterday, the CHOGM – the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – opened here. It’s something that happens bi-annually in various cities, where a staggering amount of money is spent to close off public spaces, sweep the streets of the embarrassing homeless, and to host a summit of monarchs, prime ministers and presidents, not to mention war-criminals who also fall into one or another of those categories. But that’s another rant, and one that’s been well covered elsewhere.

Yesterday morning, a surprisingly large and enthusiastic protest march happened here. People came along for all kinds of reasons – a colourful and chaotic swirl of concerns that they have chosen to raise. Corporate greed, genocide in Sri Lanka, their objections to CHOGM, democracy (or rather, lack thereof) in Zimbabwe, fractional reserve banking, equal marriage, climate change, refugee rights, deaths in custody, mining, and more. All those and a profound wish to demonstrate that the shiny, sanitised face Perth has presented to the CHOGM delegates is not the city we inhabit from day-to-day. A photograph of a protester holding up a sign saying ‘shit’s fucked up and bullshit’ has been doing the rounds for the last couple of weeks, and that probably comes closest to expressing the overall sentiment.

Riot police and mounted police lined up along the perimeter of the restricted area, watching for violence that never came. Police officers herded me into the media pack, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t wearing the necessary credentials, which was surprising and pleasing given that I’d expected them to throw me out. The local media ranted about it being ‘unfocussed’. The people were there for a multitude of personal reasons, and few people agreed on all the things others were there to say. And I thought hard about it all.

Upon returning to Forrest Place, the protest shifted from the hands of the CHOGM demonstrators to those who had been working to get OccupyPerth off the ground, and people stayed there with their concerns, issues, signs and opinions. The previous month, I’d been reading a diverse mix of commentary around the OccupyX events, and until this week I’d not managed to form a consistent opinion. This month, after speaking to a number of people, and in particular one wonderful man who’d spend time at OccupySydney, my opinion has crystalised into solid support.

Like Perth’s CHOGM demonstration, I believe OccupyX isn’t fundamentally about presenting a single, coherent and targeted message or set of demands. Its value and meaning has everything to do with the stubborn occupation of a public space, generally in the face of disapproval and sometimes violent resistance, and to control that space in a manner such that people can express their frustration, anger, sadness, opinions, hopes and fears. People arrive, sometimes with well-argued concerns, but often with inarticulate, uninformed or plain incomprehensible things to say. Things are sometimes – often – organised poorly, randomly, or even in a manner that involves internal oppression within the gathering.

But the micromanagement, the perfection or otherwise, the execution, the persistent presence of only a small group of people in some cities, these things are not really the point. It’s okay for things not to be done optimally, because the point is to be there and – ever more in the face of official resistance – to occupy and to assert that we have every right to gather and to speak. To assert that we haven’t, that we can be moved away, to be told that we’ve made our point and must return home is against everything in which I believe. Return to your homes people; your government has everything under control.

Last night, in the midst of this, I had a realisation. To encroach upon the ability of ordinary people to gather and to speak of their concerns is to move collective dialogue into the domain of the privileged. The people with homes and private spaces that accommodate gathering. The people without thin common walls, and the threat of eviction in the event of such an action. The people who have never, and will never, have the experience of university that funnels many into large groups who have spaces in which to gather, but are so often elitist and alienate the working class. The people who live on our streets and simply don’t have a home.

And so (in addition to a fundamental belief that it is right for citizens to be able to assemble in a public space and to speak) no matter how bizarre, random, or even factually incorrect people’s words may seem to me, I have spent time at OccupyPerth because I cannot watch the crack-downs and removals in other cities without a rising horror that these remove the freedom to speak and organise from the people who need it most.

There will always be some measure of chaos, disagreement and sheer randomness in any movement that attempts to accommodate the ability of all to speak. Some people will inevitably be oppressed by the movement for the views they air, unfortunate as that is. Because we are human, fallible, confused, we will do things that are peculiar, strange, poorly thought out or articulated or plain half-arsed. And that is not the end of the world. The point of OccupyX is not, in the eyes of many, to evangelise, to overthrow or to charm the media or to change the whole world. It is okay not to be perfect, because the point is not, and never has been, perfection. The point of OccupyX is to occupy, and for it to exist – tautological is it is – is sufficient reason for it to exist.

Flickr

  • LEGO Shinkansen
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • LEGO redback spider
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake
  • Collaborative LEGO snake

Instagram

About

I like animals with too many or too few legs.