I remember being a kid, living in Liverpool, and there always being huge buzz whenever the Grand National was on. In the days leading up to it we’d get together as a family and look at the names of all the horses in the paper, then we’d each choose the one we wanted. It was a treat! I loved horses, they were so beautiful and strong and graceful. I’d look through the names until I found one I felt had some kind of affinity with. I never understood or even looked at the odds. I was too young. It was on name alone that I’d make my selection!
Bets placed, we’d plan our whole Saturday around it. Making sure whatever we did, we were back in time to get together around the TV, with snacks and chocolate, to watch the big event. Hearts racing with excitement and cheering with joy as we caught sight of our horses! I can’t really ever remember winning anything, but that wasn’t the point.
That sense of fun and excitement carried on as I grew up. At work we’d have sweepstakes and there’d always be laughter when people picked the horse with the worst odds out of the hat. “Hahaaa! You got Swing Bill! 100-1! You’ve got NO CHANCE!” And then on Monday smug Tim would waltz in, all grins and cockiness having picked the winner… “Hand it over!” he’d laugh, as I had to relinquish the prized jackpot of £32.50.
Six years ago I placed a bet on the Grand National, during which two horses, ‘Synchronised’ and ‘According To Pete’ were killed. Shortly after, I happened upon an article from the owner of the latter. He said he’d never again enter a horse in the Grand National, and that he and his family were heartbroken. They’d had him since he was a foal, he was part of their family, and they still had his Mum at home. Returning back to his empty stable would be devastating.
Something made me shudder. ‘According To Pete’ had collided with another horse when jumping the race’s most notorious fence, Becher’s Brook, for the second time. He had broken his shoulder and was subsequently destroyed.
This was something we never talked about. Why would we? I guess I’d never really thought about it. But then I started to. I loved horses. Was the reality that we were forcing horses down a deadly course, risking fatal accidents just for our entertainment? Shit. I’d never thought of it like that before.
In the last 10 years alone, the Grand National course at Aintree has seen 41 horses meet their death.
What happened to all these horses? I looked into it because I felt I had a duty to know. Many of them had broken legs, knees and fractured bones during the race, so were subsequently shot. Others fell and broke their necks, spines and shoulders, collapsing with fatal injuries, and either dying on the course or dying by lethal injection. Some were trampled on and some had heart attacks.
This, was horrific.
Are horses that disposable to us?
Animal Aid set up a website Race Horse Death Watch in 2007. Its purpose is to expose and record every on-course thoroughbred fatality in Britain. You can use their filter to select date ranges and courses to source this data. They also expose welfare problems associated with thoroughbred breeding, racing and training.
I had to ask myself some questions. Have I been inadvertently contributing to this? Can I really say I love horses whilst betting on races that hugely risk their innocent lives?
In just the last 12 months, horse racing in the U.K. has seen 202 horses killed. That’s more than 16 horses every month being raced to their death.
This cast a whole new light and perspective on the previously perceived glamour of ‘Ladies Day’ at Aintree and elsewhere. Suddenly the posh frocks and fancy hats, laughter and champagne bubbles looked quite vulgar. Whilst groups of friends sat clinking glasses, getting tipsy and celebrating wins, an innocent animal suffered in agony with a bone fracture or broken leg, and was about to be shot in the head.
Was that something I really want to be a part of?
I realised I had a choice. I could stick my head back in the sand, like I never knew, pretending I still loved horses whilst they were being ferociously whipped around a deadly course – or I could align my actions with my moral core. The core that loves animals and would never knowingly contribute to cruelty.
So that was that.
Never again will I bet on a horse’s life. And I am so so sorry, no matter how oblivious, that I was ever a part of it.
This Saturday, you can can be sure of one thing. You bet – they die.
You bet they die.
For the sake of these beautiful animals, boycott the Grand National this weekend.
Choose compassion instead.