Battling misinformation about animal welfare but we’re on the same side

In case you were unaware, racing is under siege with its social licence seriously under scrutiny.

The bizarre thing is, most of those firmly entrenched in the industry have a similar goal as those who are currently giving us the side-eye.  Animal welfare is at the heart of everything we do. However, to read the proclamations of those who have appointed themselves protectors and spokesmen of all animals and, specifically this week thoroughbred race horses, we are intrinsically evil.

SAFE, an organisation which infamously decreed those applying for a role with them should be vegan, came out swinging against racing.  Horses are, according to them, viewed by those in the industry as commodities to be exploited.

A lot of the “facts” they promote are based on figures from overseas and some are sourced from fellow anti-racing groups such as Australia’s Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses.  Occasionally, they are somewhat manipulated and, by the time corrections are made it is too late, the misinformation is already out there being repeated as actual fact.

Interestingly, the article which ran this week on the Stuff website attracted some rather balanced opinion via the comments section – normally a place where no sane person would venture.  There is something of a backlash emerging against the dictatorial stance taken by the likes of SAFE and fellow animal protection outfit PETA.  As a sidebar, the latter came out with a total piece of madness this week where we are now being encouraged to bring home the bagel instead of the bacon.  Cue, all too many comments in the Twittersphere about the possible impact this may have on the gluten intolerant!

Apparently, expressions such as “Flogging a Dead Horse” (or “beating” in PETA world) should be replaced with “Feed a Fed Horse”.  I’m not sure what horses these people have been dealing with, but all the greedy buggers I have ever known would not let the fact that had already been fed stand between them and another meal!  Quite apart from not making sense, the changes trample all over the beauty of the English language and the provenance of the sayings.

The nanny knows best attitude demonstrated by the three aforementioned animal welfare groups means that social media is awash with groups opposing their views.  Most appear to be set up by people frustrated with the response when attempting to provide the view from the other side of the fence, the likes of those who actually live and work with animals daily. Arguments are shut down rapidly with only one viewpoint acceptable.

As mentioned earlier though both sides possess a similar goal – a healthy and happy life for the animals in their lives.

Unfortunately, the mouthpieces for the likes of SAFE trumpet their message with evangelical fervour and cannot be swayed, even when presented with facts which differ from those they spout religiously.

They believe racehorses are discarded when they are not “profitable” something any racehorse owner would find sadly hysterical.  None of us – at least in New Zealand – are in this for the money.  Quite simply because there isn’t any!

It’s not their fault when the only time they see racing coverage in mainstream media the reference is always around money – be it major stakes races or sale topping yearlings, even when it comes to Winx and her record-breaking winning streak, the media focus is on the money.

What they don’t see is the reality and the passion which keeps people in an industry which has been in decline for some years.  We have stuck around for a multitude of reasons, and money and profitability are the stuff of dreams.  There is always the hope that this may be the next big horse; the special one who will sweep all before them; the champion; the once-in-a-lifetime horse.  And then reality bites and we just enjoy the rollercoaster of promise, peppered with disappointments and the occasional win which keeps us dreaming.

Yes, there are those horses which don’t make the grade on the track and I’ve had my share of those.  While the SAFE people would like the public to believe that these horses are discarded and destroyed the horses which would rather not be racehorses which I have been involved with have been diverted to new careers.  That lack of urgency on the track has led to an alternative life as a show horse, eventer or pleasure horse.

If SAFE needed evidence of the industry’s commitment to animal welfare then they need only look at recommendation number 16 of the Messara Report which supports the introduction of “robust processes to establish traceability from birth and the re-homing of the entire thoroughbred herd, as the foundation stone of the industry’s ongoing animal welfare program.”

Any argument put up by industry is vigorously disputed by the SAFE people who are blinkered to the good and positive people who work with our thoroughbreds every day and instead would prefer to paint us all as villains.

Nothing short of banning racing all together will placate them.  However, I am constantly astounded that while journalists give them free rein to make their outlandish claims, not one has thought to ask them the obvious question.

If racing stopped tomorrow what would happen to the current racing stock? The multi-million dollar stallions? The broodmare bands? The foals? The young, unbroken horses?  If you are going to come for us and suggest an entire industry shut down to satisfy your narrow perception of it, then you had better have some thoughts about the aftermath.

Again, we need to come back to the central point of what SAFE claims is its ultimate focus and that is the welfare of the animals at the heart of our industry.  This is our common ground because, whether SAFE wants to accept this or not, that is the key focus of those in the industry.

It galls me when I hear their people pontificate about how thoroughbred race horses are treated as it just confirms they have spent no time with racing people.

One of my enduring memories when interviewing legendary trainer Colin Jillings was his statement that you must treat horses with love, and it is something which comes across time and again when racing people talk about how and why they got into the industry.

You have to love what you do to work the hours these people do, and I wonder whether SAFE’s commitment to animal welfare could extend to some hands-on experience?  If they walked a way in our shoes, they might recognise we have our horses’ best interests at heart.