Horse Racing and Ethical Concerns

Well, as Cheltenham Festival (the racing one) comes to an end after the Gold Cup, I have spoke to a number of students who have had moral concerns about the status of horse racing – mostly jump racing…

Well- – I thought it was an intriguing topic for the blog..

The Animal Aid website at says:

Most people regard horse racing as a harmless sport in which the animals are
willing participants who thoroughly enjoy the thrill. The truth is that, behind
the scenes, lies a story of immense suffering. Approximately 15,000
foals are born into the closely-related British and Irish racing industries
each year, yet only a third go on to become racers. Those horses who do not
make the grade may be slaughtered for meat or repeatedly change hands in a
downward spiral of neglect. Of those horses who do go on to race, around 375
are raced to death every year.
Beneath its glamorous façade, commercial horse racing is a ruthless industry motivated by financial gain and prestige. Cruelty? You can bet on it!

And a campaign to ban the use of the whip says (see: )

Why should the whip be banned?
ITS USE IS TO PROMOTE UNNATURAL SPEED – The overiding reason for using a whip upon a racehorse is to get it to perfom at its absolute optimum – to encourge it to try harder or run faster than it would under natural conditions. This is of little benefit to the horse itself. Surely, to demand a horse runs at an artifically engineered speed through using a whip is done merely to satisfy human expectations and desires to see how fast horses will go in competition with each other.
A RACE IS STILL A RACE IF A WHIP IS USED OR NOT – The point of horse racing must be that they race against each other over a predetermined course and distance and the horse that passes the finishing post first wins. Whether a whip is used or not in this process is immaterial – without whips, a race could still be run and winners declared.
FOR SAFETY REASONS – Some horses veer or at least run away from a whip,
especially if inexperienced – this means that if for example a jockey is using
his whip in his right hand, the horse will move to the left. This can potentially cause accidents. Also, by running at an unatural speed – flat out – horses can make mistakes, especially when jumping.
WHAT WAS ACCEPTABLE THEN SHOULDN’T BE NOW – We do not use physical persuasions upon humans to control their behvaiour any longer, eg corporal punishment – why should horses be physically persuaded by the use of the whip to give unreasonably beyond their all? In different times, using a whip upon an animal was viewed as acceptable as it could be used on a human being, but this should no longer be the case.

Is this convincing? Clearly the are issues about the instrumental use of animals, but for those who eat meat, wear leather and have pets – can we really criticse here without being hypocrites? What defence is offered by the industry? The Horseracing Regulatory Authority has guidance on the whip:

The HRA will not tolerate abuse of the horse and consider its welfare, and the safety of the rider, to be paramount. The whip should be used for safety, correction and encouragement only and they therefore advise all riders to consider the following good ways of using the whip which are not exhaustive:

Showing the horse the whip and giving it time to respond before hitting it.
Using the whip in the backhand position for a reminder.
Having used the whip, giving the horse a chance to respond before using it again.
Keeping both hands on the reins when using the whip down the shoulder in the backhand position.
Using the whip in rhythm with the horse’s stride and close to its side.
Swinging the whip to keep a horse running straight.

The HRA has asked Stewards of Meetings to consider holding an enquiry into any case where a rider has used his whip in such a way as to cause them concern and publish the following examples of uses of the whip which may be regarded as improper riding:
Hitting horses:to the extent of causing
with the whip arm above shoulder height;
rapidly without regard to their stride, i.e. twice or more in one stride;
with excessive force;
without giving the horse time to respond.

In this view – the whip is of benefit to the horse – it helps it race well and stay safe… But what of the wider moral argument? Many feel that horse-owners love and care deeply for their animals, the business provides employment and pleasure to thousands and further to this – many feel that the horses derive pleasure from racing themselves (and that racing is natural to them)- and that the critics are sentimental hypocrites…

Well – enough from me – what do you think on this topic..



David W... says:

Thanks to an e-mailer who suggests: ‘See Albert Hammond’s essay on horse racing in Proprieties and Vagaries. I think its Hopkins around 1960.’..Dave

David W... says:

The full title and reference to Thanks to Michael D. Garral, for the clarification below:Albert L. Hammond’s essay “A Defense of Horse Racing” is as follows:Proprieties and VagariesJohns Hopkins PressBaltimore, 1961

jasonrpe says:

I simply don’t know enough about the day to day running of trainers yards, or how animals are treated, to have any kind of opinion I could substantiate.The whip, though, does seem somewhat archaic and unneccesary as surely if whips were baned for all, the race would still be ‘fair’ (if such a thing exists in horse racing)_ as all are playing with the same tools as it were?

Anonymous says:

there are always 2 sides to an argument, and there will always be people that insistthat the horses love running these races, but seeing as how they cannot speak ourlanguage it can only be assumed by our standards that they do not enjoy being beatenrepeatedly to try and get them to run faster…the whip is a barbaric implement oftorture that should be banned from this sport. there is a female trainer, i forget her name right now, not venetia williams, thathas banned her jockeys from the use of a whip, and she still enjoys successfulwins… she shows her horses respect and gets results. personally i see it as a signof a bad jockey that has to rely on beating the horse into producing an extraterrified spurt of speed, rather than using his own skills of riding properly usinghis knees and the reins to produce results… that horses enjoy running and jumping is obvious, and can be seen when a rider fallsand the horse invariably keeps running. last week a riderless horse came insecond.. for sure he wasn’t carrying the weight of the jockey, but was flying alonghappily without anything being demanded of him and without being beaten. the HRA has regulations in place to supposedly protect the horses but it is clearthat these regulations are broken repeatedly… with the horses being continuallybeaten as they approach the finish line, even when it is obvious that they are notgoing to win or even be placed… it seems that more must be done to police thissport… there are certainly owners and trainers that keep their horses in good conditionsand treat them well… there are also those that don’t, that see the horses as merecollateral that must earn their keep, if not, they’re out…to end up as dog food…are there any reguations about the keeping of these creatures? horses are literally raced to death each year.. this year at cheltenham there were 2put down due to injuries as oppose to the 11 of last year.. a small victory, but notfor the 2 horses.. and it is not so long ago that the horse Best Mate died of aheart attack whilst being trained on the gallops… the racing world ‘mourned’ himand hailed him a hero amongst horses.. no one uttered a cry about the fact that hehad been pushed and pushed and run so hard that his heart had eventually givenout… this sport is too embedded in today’s society to be banned, but more could be doneto ensure that these beautiful creatures are treated properly as they deserve.. andmost certainly things could begin with the banning of the whip.. it would alsoensure a fairer race based on the natural speed of the horse and the skill of thejockey. sadly there will always be a place for this sport while people get a thrill out ofracing these horses at unnaturally fast speeds for the entertainment of a crowd ofbrawling gambling addicts….

Anonymous says:

Horseracing is just another sad example of sentient beings being exploited and used, in this case for entertainment. Its the same with dog racing. I know someone who went to the races who told me that the crowd went wild when a fallen horse managed to get back up-if they are so concerned with the animals welfare why contribute to an industry of suffering? The person in question is not going again as they were so horrified to watch the horse fall. Wherever animals and money are involved(for production of food, entertainmnet, experimentation etc)they are no longer seen as sentient but as tools or machine, a means to an ends.

Anonymous says:

Ethics in relation to Horse Racing is very problematic. To my knowledge, the 2.35 at Cheltenham last Tuesday threw up no ethical complaints from the participating horses. At no stage did one of our equine superstars stop mid race and say balls to this, this is not correct, we need to have a full open and frank discussion on the meaning of meta, normative, descriptive and applied ethics in relation to my equine life… Let’s look at this logically. Of the 15,000 thoroughbreds bred Annually in the U.K. and Ireland, how many would be bred without Horse Racing. Answer….ZERO. The thoroughbred breed was started specifically for the purpose of racing. These animals are bred for speed, bred to race. The thoroughbred is a problematic, highly strung breed, quite simply they are useless at anything else. Are the P.C., “RIGHT ON” brigade arguing that these animals and their breed be phased out of existence, due to their own flawed ethical sensibilities? Secondly, the namby pamby brigade have no idea what the sport entails. Thoroughbreds are generally treated regally. Most training establishments boats Equine Swimming pools, tailormade gallops that facilitate safe exercise, no expense being spared to provide Horses with the best living conditions. Furthermore, the industry is highly regulated safeguarding the welfare of the horses involved. Horses die racing…so what, life is always a risk. There is an element of this in everything we do. If we did not take risks, we would not get out of bed in the morning. The important point is the percentage that die racing is minimal. Do you deny 15,000 horses a year the right to life because a handful die in tragic circumstances…

jasonrpe says:

Thats an interesting point, what is better, for a horse to have a life – even if that life has some suffering in it – or no life at all, to not exist to begin with?similarly with farm animals reared for food perhaps? Is having a ‘life’ regardless of its quality always preferable to not existening to begin with?

jasonrpe says:

further to my last post, this article is perhaps asking the same fundemental question?

jasonrpe says:

sorry to go on, but if we decide that horses who would be born into racing should not be born at all, can it then not be argued that we should advise limiting human births in situations where suffering is highly likely? if, on the other hand, we decide having a life full of suffering is better than no life at all, do we abolish all abortion and euthanasia? or perhaps we could argue life is more mportant, but so is choice, and if a being decides vocally to end their own life they should be allowed to. if thats the case, are we then not discriminatng aganst those unable to speak or express that wish?I know I am asking more questions than providing answers, but Im genuinely keen to know what people think

Welshman says:

jasonrpe’s question is flawed. He asks, “What is better, for a horse to have a life-even if it has some suffering in it, or no life at all, to not to exist to begin with? What? Fundamentally the question assumes the suffering of horses. As previously stated some horses unfortunately suffer…MOST DO NOT… Jason then goes onto to question if the birth of Humans likely to be born into suffering should be limited? This is very dangerous, the causes of suffering should be tackled before questioning the right of victims to life…

jasonrpe says:

Welshman – Firstly, I was not nor do I assume a Horse is suffering, I was merely asking what peoples opinions would be if we knew the horse was suffering. I was asking the question on a worse case scenario. Secondly, why should the cause of suffering be questioned before questioning the right to life? and what Is dangerous about making asking a question, I was not asserting any belief either way. I think you have perhaps misread my very general comments on the initial question. Either that, or I have not relayed them very well.

jasonrpe says:

and again to welshman, you assert;’ …As previously stated some horses unfortunately suffer…MOST DO NOT… ‘how do you know some suffer and most do not? and how do you define suffering? what constitutes a non-suffering or a suffering horse? Once again I should make it clear I am not saying you are wrong or right, I am just intrigued as to how you reach such a conclusion. says:

Hi – could anyone kindly suggest how I can access a copy of Albert L Hammond’s Defense of Horse Racing in the next 2-3 days? All for sale copies seem to be in the US and I am in Bucks! Many thanks,David

I’ll refer to ‘anonymous’ of the above blog who seems to be levelling at the ‘right on’ and ‘namby pamby’ brigade. Anonymous questions the relevance of the discussion because horses, themselves, aren’t pondering the meta, normative, descriptive and applied ethics of their equine life. After name-calling and diminishing the discussion, anonymous suggests ‘logic’. Sorry. If logic comes from schoolyard, bully, ‘us and them’ administration, count me out.Horses discuss ethics? That’s silly. Neither do most people. Slaves weren’t discussing ethics of injustice. Small children who are abused don’t discuss the ethics of their rights. Battered women, same. Rape victims, ditto. In fact, victims are not effective advocates for themselves. They are ashamed, they shut up. Your argument states that in the absence of ethical concern by the horse the discussion isn’t valid. Really?Also, your idea that thoroughbreds were bred for speed, concerns me. Speed is a good attribute for racing, but does speed lead to the industry of racing? Does it lead to a mechanised system of ambition, money-lending, betting, addiction, brawling mayhem that takes place at the race course once a year? Does having an attribute, aptitude or talent necessarily lead to exploitation? Thoroughbreds love running. This is the argument I hear mostly which is used to justify horse-racing. Is this argument simply a get-out clause for those who are willing to exploit and torment these creatures. ‘Anonymous’ describes them as ‘highly strung’ and ‘problematical’; to me they look tormented.But as horse racing is not going away in a hurry, maybe a better lobby is the welfare and safe-keeping of these powerful, beautiful, albeit tormented, creatures. And on the tormenters (weak, ugly) side, society will continue with rehab centres for alcohol and betting addictions.

StickyManSam says:

A well written article there. I have just recently started reading blogs on blogger on one of my favourite topics. My first introduction to Horse Racing was when I went to the races with some friends from work. After that I was introduced to online horse racing betting. After this I’ve never looked back.

Anonymous says:

in response to ‘yourneighbour’.to start with, your post is flawed, at best it is hypocritical. you blast ‘anonymous’ for bias, before launching into a full assault on ethics, at least of your perception of things anyhow.your fundamental problem may be that you are uneducated? do you know anything about thoroughbred horses? if so, you will understand and know that without the energy taken up in their racing, they would crazed, deranged… lunatics… you get the point, horses are reared to race, they do enjoy the race, I mean what do you want them to do; smile for the camera… will that make you happy? will it?

Anonymous says:

there only horses!!! get over it

Anonymous says:

Firstly, I have to fully disagree with the point that thoroughbreds are good for nothing other than horse racing. Their agility and intelligence means that there are few horse breeds that do not have some thoroghbred bred into them at some point in history. My own horse’s sire is a racehorse, I will never be using my horse for racing, not because I disagree with it, but because my boy will never make a good race horse.
Yes, every year thousands of horses are bred for racing, and many do not make it. This does not go to say that those that say, do not leave the starting blocks or never even make it to a rave course are sold on for meat. Nor do they ‘repeatedly change hands in a
downward spiral of neglect’. The majority (and i speak for the UK here, as I do not have enough knowledge on the situation in the US to comment) are actually sold on to be reschooled as something else. I cannot count the number of horses I know that were originally bred as race horses but did not make it and now are excellent horses who are loved, cared for and spoilt by their owners. These horses probably be in the same home until (a very natural, non racing related) death takes its course.
I’m not saying no horses are killed for meat, but this is not because they are no good at racing, this is just what happens in the equine world, the same happens to evey other breed of horse, it is inexcusable but it happens.

As for the use of a whip being banned in horse racing, I have ridden since the age of 3 and since before I can remember I have been taught to carry a whip every time I ride. I have never caused any kind of injury to a horse from the use of a whip, much the opposite infact. Horses have caused alot of damage to me and part of the reason for carrying a whip is just that. You must not forget that when riding a horse you are trying to gain the trust and cooperation of half a tonne of animal, and horses are not he shy retiring type. When a horse decides they aren’t going to listen to you any more, that is when things become dangerous. A quick tap with the whip can just wake them up and make them listen. There are race officials watching jockeys in every race and if they feel that there has been unneccesary use of the whip the jockey WILL be questioned about it. If the officials feel that the use cannot be justified the jockeys are penalised. No self respecting jockey would ever cause any real discomfort to their horse, believe it or not there really is a very strong emotional bond between horse and rider whether it is ‘just a job’ or not. I have seen jockeys thrown from their horses and instanly get back up and run over to their horses to chekc they are ok. I also have witnessed the death of a horse on a racetrack and it is a heartbreaking experience. However on this occasion the jockey ran over to the horse and lay down with it, placed its head across him and comforted it until the vet arrived.
Horses do not know when they are physically exhausted in the same way humans do, this is scientifically proven. There is no excuse for horses being raced to the point their hearts give in but perhaps better training for jockeys to recognise the signs of exhaustion would be better than to argue that racing should be stopped all together. The majority of jockeys will pull up their horses when they are getting overly tired. It also seems unfair to enter a horse into a race when they are not fit enough to complete the distance. This responsibility is on trainer, owner and the jockey as a team. While the majority of racers, owners and jockeys see the horses as the most important aspect of their lives (trainers especially as they have the strongest emotional connection on the whole), there will always be some that are either too ignorant to understand they are putting their horses in danger to race them unfit or in races they are not capable of or just too greedy.
As for accidents such as falling, watch horses in the field… they hunt out injuries. It sounds stupid but I bet if there were statistics showing the number of injuries of horses in fields, out on quiet hacks and at small shows and competitions these numbers would be alot higher than horse racing, these just aren’t in the public eye.
There will always be those who do not look after and protect their horses to the best of their ability – you are only ever as strong as your weakest link and until the weakest link in horse racing is someone who truly prioritises the welfare of their horses above all else, the arguments against horse racing will be fuelled!

Anonymous says:

Animal aid is a biased organization, they will not consider anyone elses opinion.

Thoroughbreds were designed to race, they were purpose bred by humans. So yes thousands would die if racing stopped and the breed would begin to disappear.

Since race horses are highly valuable hey are treated like royalty. Go to any trainers yard and you will see that for yourself.

The whip is as necessary in racing as it is in any other equine sport for exaple, riders carry a whip cross country and polo. Horses, ghowever calm and trustworthy, are unpredictable by nature. The whip is used to help keep control, and also the encorage the horse to go faster.

Perhaps the best use for a whip is to flash it past the horses head without touching the horse. This will signal it to run faster and in my opinion the nicest way. The whip IS abused, jockeys do use it too much and should be punished.

Anonymous says:

Well said.

Anonymous says:

'No ethical complaints from the participating horses…' you should be a comedian mate. I love the references to the namby pamby/right on brigade. What qualifies you to state what sport entails, best living conditions… you need to do your research. As for horses die racing so what… I believe this is called speciesism. …a prejudice or bias in favour of the interests of members of one's own species and against those of members of other species – (as defined by) Peter Singer.
Life is life – whether in a cat, or dog or man. There is no difference there between a cat or a man. The idea of difference is a human conception for man's own advantage. ~Sri Aurobindo

You seem to regard the life of a horse and probably other animals too as worthless I imagine you are in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives. Glad I don't know you. Commercial horse racing is a ruthless industry motivated by financial gain and prestige. Cruelty? You can bet on it!

Anonymous says:


Anonymous says:

The horses enjoy the challenge
They are not equal to the challenge. The modern industry concentrates on breeding lighter-boned, speedier animals for Flat racing. Less successful Flat racers, or those good at clearing fences, are consigned to jump racing. But, because they are fine-tuned for speed rather than skeletal strength, they risk fatal injury when they fall – a common occurrence at Aintree.
The horses are treated like kings
Evidence suggests that, every year, thousands of horses who don’t pay their way are slaughtered for meat or killed in their yards.
Horses in the wild die too – death is natural
There is nothing natural about whipping highly inbred horses to force them to run to their physical limit and jump a series of life-threatening obstacles.

Approximately 12,000 foals are born into the closely-related British and Irish racing industries each year, yet only around 50 per cent go on to become racers. Those horses who do not make the grade may be slaughtered for meat or repeatedly change hands in a downward spiral of neglect. Of those horses who do go on to race, around 420 are raced to death every year.

It's about money and you know it. Shame on you.

Anonymous says:

What do Animal Aid have to gain?

Shawn Henry says:

Horses are the only animals who may be beaten in public for entertainment. Many jockeys repeatedly misuse the whip because, even when they are found guilty of misconduct, they still keep their riding fees and may not lose their winnings.

Irish Racing

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.