Grand National: Let’s cut through the crap

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The deaths in the Grand National have made headlines around the world, and for good reason.

A unique race with a long history has claimed two horses. Ornais and Dooneys Gate suffered fatal injuries at different fences.

Animal welfare groups expressed their anger, with Animal Aid describing the deaths as entirely predictable.

Countless thousands of words have been written about this event, but, to be frank, I just can’t understand the math.

According to figures from the League Against Cruel Sports, the latest deaths in the Grand National have taken the Grand National toll to 17 deaths in the last 16 years.

I’m going to use some round numbers here for the sake of simplicity.

With 40 starters in this year’s race, 5 per cent of the starting horses lost their lives. That means for every four and a half minutes of racing this year, a horse lost its life.

In all, 25 per cent of the field either fell or unseated their rider.

If we say, very roughly, that each Grand National lasts nine minutes, then in the last 16 years one horse has losts its life in this race for every 8 minutes and 28 seconds of racing.

These figures completely ignore the horses that may have suffered career-ending injuries in the race.

The headlines online aren’t exactly exulting in the spectacle of it all. The Daily Mail’s online edition described it as Aintree’s darkest day.

The Guardian online headlined one of its pieces: Two horses die as gruelling Grand National takes its toll at Aintree.

The Grand National is a very lucrative event. So lucrative that a death rate that is nothing short of appalling is allowed to continue.

Yes, changes have been made to make the jumps safer and the welfare of the horse is supposedly at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

But, without doubt, commercial realities will see the race run again, with the jumps revisited yet again to make them safer, and the very same lines about horse welfare will be heard again.

The racing industry may make all the right noises, but the statistics, in my view, are just too grim to put up any sort of reasonable argument to justify this annual carnage continuing.

27 thoughts on “Grand National: Let’s cut through the crap

  • April 11, 2011 at 10:41 am
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    But it’s not just the National, horses die point to pointing all the time, 3 died on Saturday. Why does everyone keep blaming the National, take a good look at EVERY other racing stat and then compare. It’s all grim!

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    • April 11, 2011 at 11:23 am
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      good point well presented D Greer, if you are going to ban the National there are a few other things that ought to go. You ought to run the stats from Badminton for example if this is a horse welfare issue or Burghley except that eventing doenst even keep proper records of horse fatalities, not that you can access and see, unlike racing, so what does that tell you.
      as for career threatening injuries that happens every day in nany bloody horse sport including dressage so don’t be throwing in that old chestnut either. The grand national could have a few less runners for sure, 30 would be better but interest in the grand national is responsible for most of the interest in national hunt racing and it is the desire to win it that leads to the massive investments of people like Trevor Hemmings and JP McManus. If it is banned we would need to be really sure of the repercussions.
      Also the second horse killed was nothing to do with the track or the fences or the going. If any of you hysterical lot bother to watch the VT the horse was getting up whern another runner landed almost on top of him. That could happen in any handicap chase with more than half a dozen runners. and I reming you that jockey Peter O’Toole is fighting for his life after being rolled on by his own horse in a seven horse chase over normal fences earlier in the day. This is national hunt racing, everyone involved knows the risks and if you are going to ban it, justify the horse deaths in eventing and the career ending injuries in all the olympic disciplines.

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  • April 13, 2011 at 3:42 am
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    Only way to make national safe is to ban it.
    R.S.P.C.A have an officer present each year, an nothing improves, realy someone should prosecute them for failure to carry out their objectives
    Ginger McCains comments on this years dead horses that they lived a good life an that racing was all they knew so the deaths wre justifiable
    Perhaps Mr McCain woulld like me to get on his back an whip the !!!!!!!!!!! out of him round aintree
    If horseracing was banned the comment that the majority of horses would be killed. What do you think happens when these horses out live their usefullness. There KILLED!
    BallyBriggs was whipped to an inch of his life, Shame on you Jason Maguire an Donald McCain an all those that abuse in the name of sport

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  • April 13, 2011 at 5:12 pm
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    The race is too long, tired horses are overfaced, and the fields are much too big. The starting also looks Mickey Mouse to me, a race following the GN started with a posse of horses galloping out onto the track proper “called out, according to the commentator. No excuse for so many horses falling, or jockeys falling off, let alone either being injured or killed. Accidents do happen to horses, they aren’t safe 100% even in their stables or paddocks, but this race is bloody ridiculous.

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  • April 21, 2011 at 12:12 am
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    Two horses died in the Scottish Grand National last weekend. The fences are not nearly as big, the distance not as long and the field not as great. They were very sad, but freak accidents – not deemed news worthy enough to make the headlines, so the bandwagon jumpers only care about Aintree deaths obviously? It’s National Hunt Racing, sadly such accidents do happen.

    A horse died at a three-day-event in the UK the other week. It’s horse sport, it happens. If we ban the Grand National we should ban all horse sports, as theoretically any horse could die at any time – and they do. But again, these deaths are not publicised – no-one is interested. Hypocritical? If a horse dies three-day-eventing, people say “oh, it’s sad but at least he died doing what he loved.” Why is this not the same for racing? Three-day-eventing is equally as tough on the horse, huge jumps, long distances, etc.

    But hey, lets ban horse riding, as we don’t have the horse’s permission to ride them do we? In fact, let’s ban horses, as I’ve known several who have broken their legs in the field…

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  • April 26, 2011 at 6:21 am
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    Every sport in the world has deaths. I think it is sad, and as a horse lover I think I feel the pinch of horses dying more than those of you who don’t even know horses. It is very evident that the author of this article doesnt. It infuriates me when non-racing fans zone in on the National. Racing is going on every day, all over the world, as are racing fatalities. We, the racing community, are not about to ban one of history’s greatest races, or any race for that matter, just to please you moaners. Have you ever sat on a thoroughbred and let him run free, or a pony, or a show jumper, eventer, any horse!!! There truly is nothing like it, so don’t you dare start giving out about my sport, there’s probably alot I could say about yours!!!

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  • May 3, 2011 at 4:34 pm
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    I’m not a “tree hugger” but lets put the truth out there. Everything having to do with competition is an ego trip for the rider, owner, breeder, etc. To suggest that these horses “love” what they do is a bunch of crap. To suggest that these horses are well cared for because their owners do everything in their power to keep the animal performing including pushing horses to their limits with over training and drugs is just the truth. Do what you will with these animals but get off of your “high horses” and just be honest. Just say it. Admit that you want a horse that will win to make you look accomplished. When you fail to improve your riding it will be the horses fault and the rest of us will continue to pick up the pieces after these animals are tossed aside for another mount that will be needed to satisfy the unending thirst for the human ego. They will be advertised as a companion horse or possible trail horse. Check out the rescue facilities folks perhaps you’ll recognize one of your past mounts!

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  • May 4, 2011 at 12:58 pm
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    Maybe the powers that be should take a leaf out of the Endurance rules book and make sure the horses who are entered into these jumps races have passed a veterinary fitness criteria.It would seem to me that the horse that fell at the second to last jump could have been lacking in fitness and when the stress come on he just run out of fitness.

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    • May 6, 2011 at 2:19 pm
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      I agree with you!! You are a true horse lover.

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  • May 6, 2011 at 2:17 pm
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    I ride horses for pleasure only, In the Rocky Mountains. My family has done this for over 70 years and we have not lost or injured a horse yet. My first horse lived to age 34 and my other to age 27. They were put down due to old age. I am in my 50’s and still riding. If people cared about horses and not the almighty dollar, “the unfortunate” horse deaths wouldn’t happen.

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    • July 6, 2011 at 8:35 am
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      You are lucky, not better. Horses break legs riding around for pleasure in the Rocky Mountains. The fact that you haven’t lost one, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Most horse deaths are unfortunate, as they are fragile animals. Most don’t make enough money to ever be part of the chase for the almighty dollar or even an ego boost for their owner. FWIW, JEAN – some of us, who love horse sport have never tossed a horse aside and have a field just for our retirees.

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      • July 19, 2011 at 7:37 pm
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        Pastures can kill horses, II almost lost mine last night, in his paddock, both horses came in with what looked like botulism, flabby mouths hanging heads, taking little steps, wobbly gait and terrible back leg coordination- but recovered in a day, the vet has no idea what it was with symptoms like that but a fast recovery…Thank goodness. maybe even pasture is too risky a sport, despite pulling every darn toxic plant out there! I am so happy today. My horse is alive!
        – some sports are just too extreme and I can’t imagine how people who say they love their animal force it to risk it’s life. It does seems like a fit sporthorse is better than an obese pasture petr, I don’t think aimless captivity and fat is good for them physically or mentally.

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  • May 6, 2011 at 5:22 pm
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    I am a 3day eventer and heartily agree with the fact that statistics of fatalities and serious injuries need to be recorded and available for all. I am a strong advocate of animal welfare and believe the rules in the sport against abuse mean bugger all really. There are thin horses, obese horses and ones that are clearly not up to it at every event. More needs to be done, starting with national federations, to ensure that the welfare of these animals (who have no choice or voice) remains the number one priority of everyone involved in horsesport.

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  • May 10, 2011 at 6:11 am
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    It is nothing less than scandalous full stop

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  • May 28, 2011 at 7:01 am
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    Amen, horses shouldn’t have to die for some people’s entertainment or profit..

    Nick

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    • June 8, 2011 at 6:59 pm
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      I so agree, Horses should never have their lifes put on the line for entertainment or profit!

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  • June 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm
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    This race is the ultimate test of horse and rider. The good riders and ‘safe jumping’ horses have few problems completing the race. More horses die in paddock accidents and if not for jumps racing most of these horses would be pet food by 5yo. The slaughterhouse is much scarier than jumping fences and a second chance at life. While in training, they are treated extremely well, which could be until they’re 12yo or even older and then retire to a nice paddock. Most jumps horses live-out their full life span. I would however, restrict the number of starters and some horses just aren’t safe enough to take part and should not be allowed to race.

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    • June 9, 2011 at 3:28 am
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      Retire to a nice paddock??? You are totally misinformed. Maybe one or two in every thousand receive this treatment, while the remainder endure horrific and cruel conditions visited upon them in the lucrative horsemeat trade.

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  • June 29, 2011 at 11:51 am
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    Agreed this race is particularly bad. But in NZ our equivelent The Great Northern Steeplechase in the last 10 years there has only been one or two deaths that I can recall.

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  • July 20, 2011 at 12:05 pm
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    What can I say? I’m a horse lover, rider and competitor of well over 40 years. I’ve had many different types of horses from TB’s through to Arabs. They are amazing creatures. And I have loved every minute I’ve spent around each and every one of them. However, recent events (and good, sane friends) have caused me to question my ‘right’ to climb on top of these beautiful animals and “force” them (cos it surely is nothing less, using my brain over their beauty and brawn) to do my bidding. Jumping, dressage, or even simply galloping. A recent photo of me on a horse cantering along, showed so clearly all of our combined weights (his and mine) on one small fetlock joint! No wonder the joints and bones of these beautiful animals often simply fracture! I’ve also watched a few videos on youtube of a man who is training horses to do high school dressage without a bit (cos the bit is one of the forms of torture we put them through and in the wrong hands and there are many of those, is pure evil). And it has all got me thinking. I don’t think I can give up riding. I love it so much. But it has got me thinking. Do we horse lovers really treat them as well as we could/should? Does no harm to reconsider this very important question – often!

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    • August 6, 2011 at 8:49 am
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      LOL James… forcing???? Really… tell me when a maybe 200lb man can force a 1200lb do do anything!! I can tell you right now, if my gelding doesn’t want me on him… I’m not staying aboard.

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      • September 2, 2011 at 4:53 pm
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        Laurna, of course we can force them! If you use that argument then how do you work out how a communist government controls a populace far “heavier” than itself? We use our brains against the theirs. They learn not to fight because we have invented “aids” (bits, whips, side reins, keep chasing them til they learn to stop running away etc etc etc) or simply psychological tools to out-smart them. I think the phrase “If a horse doesn’t want to do it, it won’t do it” (justifying taking them around a huge 4* XC course, forcing them into rollkur for some pretty dressage, etc) is a load of crap. Some horses just give up/make the best of a bad situation faster than others.

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  • July 20, 2011 at 12:09 pm
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    Oh and as an aside (sort of) I believe that any ‘industry’ related to animals is about the money, not the animals. Battery farming is a good example of just how cruel human beings are in the pursuit of the almighty dollar.

    Before we go hammering away at horse rider/lovers… think about the last piece of bacon/ham, the last pate or the last eggs you ate! Can you be sure that the animal that provided them for you wasn’t living a life of unadulterated hell? I try my best – but you can’t always believe it just because it says so on the package!

    SOME horses do lead extraordinarily luxurious lives. But not many and certainly not enough, in my opinion.

    Ride well. Ride kindly. Ride with respect.

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    • October 5, 2011 at 1:02 pm
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      You said the key word…RESPECT…If humans would relise that all animals must be respected then things would be different. I love riding, I had an arab x years ago that I had plans to use fo long distance riding. He didn’t enjoy it however he loved to jump. That was his choise. So I let him jump. If my current horse shows she is havng a bad day and doesn’t want to go riding then we don’t go. Why should I be the only one to enjoy the ride.
      In regards to knowing where the bacon etc comes from….I have the same respect idea there. I raise my own meat and eggs. My chooks free range through paddocks and get to go in and out of thier sleeping shed at will. My pigs are free ranged as well. The way I see it, eating meat is ok, as long as you can garrenty they are raised humanely, killed quick with no suffering and not wasted. My last pig was taken swimming each day when it was hot and she would lay in he pond I dug for her for as long as she wanted.

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  • August 15, 2011 at 1:22 pm
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    we go one about the Grand national as it is so very widely publisied…and the media show us all the details…what about all the race yards all over the world…all competitons stables…even down to pony club level…at any given day, in some training facility there will be a horse die…for whatever reason…but the media doesnt flock to report it… we took these noble animals and we work them, we also use them for sport or hobiies as we call it….as soon as they were taken from the wild to domestic….we were “killing” them…unfortuantly its life…

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  • August 28, 2011 at 9:50 am
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    Please stop the rhetoric (talk and more talk made pretty and presentable) and do what it takes. One horse dead and others maimed in every 8 minutes and 28 seconds of racing. It needs to stop. It can be done. It won’t take “years”.

    Reply

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