Mistreatment of horses by professional riders questions the continuation of horse racing

Horse racing—an equestrian sport that sees jockeys riding horses pushed to their limits in order to determine who comes out on top as the fastest. Fans of this sport are attracted to its entertainment value and gambling aspect, but the harsh reality is that it is a sport riddled with animal cruelty and mistreatment.

Following a hearing of the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board (IHRB), amateur jockey Rob James faced a year-long ban on his rider’s license and handler’s permit after a video of him sitting on a dead horse taken in 2016 surfaced online on Mar. 10.

The footage in question showed the jockey jumping onto the carcass near the gallops and pretending to ride it while laughing.

This story came out only six days after Grand National-winning trainer Gordon Elliott was banned for the same reasons after a photo of him from 2019 came out.

Incidents like these that have come out recently shed an important light on the mistreatment of animals in this multi-billion dollar industry. After these two stories were made public, the horse racing industry faced heavy scrutiny over animal welfare and their ethical treatment of horses.

According to James, the mare had died of a cardiac arrest earlier in the morning during exercise from exhaustion. He issued an apology wherein he expressed regret over his actions.

“I would just like to apologize for my actions which were wholly inappropriate and disrespectful to a lovely five-year-old mare, who unfortunately suffered a sudden cardiac arrest while at exercise earlier that morning,” James stated. “To try defending my stupidity at the time would add further insult and hurt to the many loyal people that have supported me during my career. I have caused embarrassment to my employers, my family and most importantly, the sport I love.”

This event not only puts into question the morals of the jockey, but it also raises ethical concerns about the industry’s practices that promote the mistreatment of horses through overworking them to the point that they begin to develop physiological problems.

These jockeys might be given the benefit of the doubt: what if the photo was merely taken out of context? At first, this seems to be the case with Elliot, as he issued a statement on Twitter that explained the situation. In his defense, he said that although the photo seems staged, it did not show an accurate depiction of the situation.

“The photo in question was taken some time ago and occurred after the horse had died of an apparent heart attack on the gallops,” Elliot said. “My initial reaction was to get the body removed from where it was positioned. I was standing over the horse waiting to help with the removal of the body, in the course of which, to my memory I received a call and, without thinking, I sat down to take it. Hearing a shout from one of my team, I gestured to wait until I was finished.”

Although the statement sounds dodgy, it is still a possibility. However, in conjunction with the picture itself, it could not be farther from the truth as Elliott is seen smiling and holding a peace sign to the camera as he straddles the dead animal. The jockey has said previously that he started racing because of his love for horses. If that is the case, why would he join an industry that capitalizes off of the pain of these animals as a form of gambling and entertainment? If he truly had a connection to the animals, he would speak out against the conditions that they are put through in preparation for these races instead of desecrating the body of this dead animal.

Justice Raymond Groarke from the IHRB referrals committee expressed that the regulatory body’s decision to uphold a temporary suspension on Elliott’s license was a response to the downright appalling lack of respect that he displayed towards his horse.

“The photograph showed the most appalling bad taste on the part of Mr. Elliott insofar as it demonstrated a complete absence of respect for the horse at a time when it still remained in his charge,” Groarke said.

Horses deserve as much love and respect as any other living creature. They do not deserve to be put through these cruel conditions in order to turn in a profit for these companies through being handled by these jockeys that do not treat them as sentient beings. These recent controversies regarding the two riders highlight just how this industry actually treats their animals. Despite the IHRB revoking the jockeys’ licenses temporarily, will this really put an end to the mistreatment that the horses are put through?

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