The case against jumps racing

The case against jumps racing

Hugh Wirth

May 12, 2009 12:00am

RSPCA Victoria has campaigned for more than 30 years to abolish hurdle and steeple events, as it is painfully obvious that horses that fall during jumps racing events, suffer serious injuries and death.

The three further fatalities at Warrnambool’s racing carnival last week reinforce that you cannot conduct a jumps race safely and humanely.

How many horses must die before the Minister for Racing and Racing Victoria will take action and ban jumps racing?

Previous jumps racing reviews and subsequent changes to the hurdles have just not worked, and the number of fatalities has not reduced. There were 12 horse fatalities last season and six more so far this year in Victoria alone.

To say the RSPCA was extremely disappointed that another review into jumps racing last year did not produce a permanent ban in Victoria would be a massive understatement. Despite the RSPCA’s submission, there was very little in the final report which showed the RSPCA message was heard.

There are many aspects to the sport that pose serious risk to the horses. The speed of the field is a fundamental problem, as is the breeding and training of the horse. In Australia many jumps horses have been bred as flat-race horses, with jumps racing a last chance to return some of the cost.

The RSPCA has previously recommended that the horse should have a full veterinary examination before reaching the trial stage to ensure that it has the right physical attributes to be qualified as a jumper.

A Senate select committee address on animal welfare in 1991 concluded they had serious concerns about the welfare of horses participating in jump races. The committee recommended that state governments should phase out jump racing over a three-year period. NSW and Tasmania have abandoned jumps racing. Why is it then that Victoria is one of only two states in Australia that still allows what the RSPCA would term “legalised cruelty” to continue?

Over the years, the RSPCA has heard many arguments in support of the sport continuing. Many of these have been based purely on commercial grounds. It is clear from the outcry expressed by the Victorian community recently that that they too no longer support jumps racing because of the clear belief that it is simply legally sanctioned cruelty to horses.

Some interested parties have turned this notion back on to animal welfare associations, arguing that the horses will need to be put down as they will be redundant in racing circles. This idea is preposterous. There are a significant number of animal welfare organisations who have skilled programs to rehouse horses, and could offer owners and trainers assistance.

Not only is it barbaric, but archaic of Racing Victoria and the Minister for Racing to allow these types of races to continue.

It is absolutely imperative that the review this week produces a positive result – a permanent and immediate ban on jumps racing in Victoria.

Dr Hugh Wirth is president of RSPCA Victoria