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Monday, 17 April, 2000, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Should steeplechases be banned?
Animal rights activists are urging a boycott of the Grand National after five horses died on the famous Aintree racecourse this week.
The RSPCA insist the course was in top condition and officials described the deaths as "freak occurrences" and a "statistical blip". But animal rights campaigners will be picketing betting shops to highlight what they see as an event that promotes "suffering and death".
Will you be placing a bet on this Saturday's race? Do you think accidents like this are an accepted consequence of the sport, or do you think it's unnecessary to subject the horses to what some consider to be a dangerous course?
No, I will never bet on a horse-race or any event where animals are being put at risk for the pure "pleasure of sport" of some group of people who think it is a "noble" sport. Not to mention the course itself; injury, even death, cannot be prevented and therefore this "sport" is no less barbaric then fox-hunting...another sport of this great species we call "Homo sapiens" or "wise man". Not really...
Everyone should look at "Grif-Canada" comments as most people seem to be miss informed. The Grand National claimed no horse fatalities this year. Furthermore a certain horse which
unseated it's rider at the fourteenth fence (before the stable entrance) decided to finish the race itself - riderless and jumped every fence thereafter. This to me doesn't seem like an animal that is not enjoying himself. A horse does not do what it is told and if it doesn't want to jump a fence it will not do so.
Perhaps people should become more informed on this subject before commenting about it.
What if five jockeys had died? What
of all the calls to ban boxing? At least the
boxers can make their own choice.
It is time such primitive barbaric behaviour
was outlawed. This is the 21st. Century after all.
I am perturbed that the British RSPCA makes excuses
for these alleged human beings.
Penalties for all forms of animal cruelty are far too lenient
and must be increased.
Where were all the protesters before the Aintree meetings?
As always it is clueless people latching onto whatever is shown to them on the news.
Do any of these people ever have their own opinions before being spoon fed by the media?
Are we all going soft - its all pathetic, we will soon be stopped from walking because it causes unnecessary harm to insects.
Let's take a look at Boxing; A few individuals lose their lives or are seriously injured over the course of many decades and there's so much uproar that the rules are changed to the point where we now rarely see an actual 'Knock-down' as the fight is usually stopped in the name of 'Safety' before it reaches that point. Hundreds of horses have died for other peoples entertainment over the past few decades and to this day continue to do so... They haven't yet lowered the fences one-inch. The poor things don't even have the choice of whether or not they want to compete.
I feel that the Steeplechase should definitely be banned. What gives human beings the right to gamble with horses knowing that it endangers their lives? It is incredibly cruel to still have the Steeplechase even after so many horses have died as a result of human entertainment. No one should play with life- even if it is that of an animal.
Craig Harry, England
I can't believe the ignorance in this column.
People can choose whether to box, play rugby etc.
The horses do not have a choice.
Why is it assumed that we have the right to
force other creatures to entertain us when this
often results in needless suffering for these
other creatures. Do people have automatic rights
over animals simply because we are more
intelligent? Extending this argument should
intelligent people automatically have rights over
less intelligent people? The whole distinction between
people and "dumb" animals is ridiculous.
In response to Steve Porter of Northern Ireland. Animal activists are not in the business of making martyrs or heroes from dead horses, their aim is to keep them alive and happy hence the objection to the Grand National!!!
What would have happened if it had been 5 Jockeys that had died?
Tessa Jones, England
I have worked with horses for many years in many different aspects but NOT racing! I personally believe that it is a cruel sport - some argue that the horses are bred for it but surely not for the size of the Aintree fences? The world of racing, flat or jumping, is a hard one for the horse - they are no longer an animal but a commodity that can be abused and when necessary replaced with a hefty insurance payout. They are involved in the changing hands of vast sums of money for gambling, breeding and plain prestige this obviously leads to cruelty due to the high stakes and this most magnificent of animals becomes just a lump of MEAT. Please, if nothing else, ban The 'Grand' National
Has anyone asked the horses! Seriously, steeple chasing is dangerous and should be banned or at least the jumps reduced to save horses' lives. Would we ask humans to give their lives jumping over fences?
The use of animals in such a manner is barbaric and blatantly inhumane.
Banning steeplechases is all very well, but what do you think would happen to all the horses suddenly left without anything to do?
Do you think the owners would keep them on through the goodness of their hearts? Do you think the trainers (now suddenly out of work) could afford to?
Hardly. What you would end up with would be one of the largest gluts of horsemeat that the meat market has ever known. I'm not convinced that this is an improvement on one or two horses dying in a year.
Mariska van Geelen, UK (Dutch)
Before all, it isn't just sport, but unique social event and business. Behind this business are powerful persons with their passion for entertainment and money...
5 horses died before the Grand National this week.
That is disgusting.
Any 'sport' which results in animals dying for human pleasure should be banned. This includes hunting AND the steeplechase.
All animal races are not sports, they should not be glorified with the term sport.
Francis Burton, Scotland
Horses die from accident and injury in any equestrian sport. Flat racers have had a heart attack and some have broken legs stumbling. The national is a hard race and accidents will happen. They are always sad but that is no reason to ban it.
Outrageous that 5 horses have to die in the name of steeplechasing. Out of 40 horses that started yesterday, only 17 made it to the finish line. It seems that Britain is like Rome in the old days, the more casualties, the more exiting it is. What would have happened if 5 jockeys had died?
One more time, human beings have proven ourselves to be heartless and outrageously selfish. It is unconscionable that this race continues and should be banned immediately along with regular horse racing!
How many activists can remember the horses who died in the race? I, like most fans of the National remember all their names. They are heroes in my eyes. Horses like Alverton, Eudipe, Dark Ivy & Beau Bob. To activists they are merely dumb animals. The race fan who remembers those who have been lost or the activist who is simply looking for another way to rebel against authority?
Britain has so many great sports that do not involve animals eg football, athletics, etc. Horse racing is purely for gambling purposes and is not even a real sport. Let's make the 21st century the age of compassion.
It's hard when you care about animals, to see them injured or killed, and I do think the National could be modified to make the jumps less hazardous while still maintaining its status as the world's premier steeplechase. Why shouldn't people care equally for humans and animals?
Some of the arguments on this site are so misguided, that they are worthless. Four horses lost their lives on Thursday, one in a race that uses one circuit of the 'National' fences, one over normal Steeplechase fences, one over hurdles (small fences) and one of a heart attack after completing the race and walking back to unsaddle. On Friday there was another fatality, by coincidence, also the first fence in a race using one circuit of the 'National' fences. This fence is actually one of the smallest, but as it is the first, they probably approach it a little to quickly. As far as I know, there were no fatalities in the Grand National today.
Make the jumps lower. It's the obvious answer.
Motor vehicles kill and maim untold numbers of animals and people. Why not ban them all? In my experience, if a horse does not enjoy jumping, you might make a jumper out of him, but you won't go far. Certainly not to the level of a Grand National mount.
It's sad five horses have died in two days at Aintree. Would someone tell me how many people died over the same period in car crashes or of smoking related illness. Then let's focus this outpouring of indignation on reducing this senseless waste of human life before we ban horse racing et al. What a difference we could make if we cared as much about PEOPLE as we appear to care about animals.
I like to strap these so-called jockeys onto motorcross bikes with the throttle wide open and but them on a track with unexpected sheer drops and water pits. See if they enjoy it, and you can bet it will happen if you can bet on it. Freedom for horses, in the new millennium horses should not be ridden at all.
The Grand National has high fences because the organisers know that only the best horses will manage to get over them, even then though they can't say an accident will not happen.
I look at it this way.
Horses are dying because of a human pastime. Not for food or clothing, but like bull fighting, for enjoyment.
That can't be right.
Yes keep the flat racing, but don't let the animals die because you like a flutter.
I think this is similar to the case of speeding drivers occasionally killing people by selfishly driving too fast... It seems the love of money and selfish entertainment are considered more important the horses own suffering and lives. This is just yet another example of our so-called 'Caring' Society!
I don't think horse racing of any form should be banned but surely the courses could be safer for the animals involved?
If the media would ignore such extremism, there would be nothing to get all upset about. I guess they have never seen a jockey fly over the horse because THE HORSE decided not to jump.
Pat van der Veer, Canada
John from England is talking rubbish. The whole point of protecting 'dumb' animals is to demonstrate that we have evolved enough not to cause pain to others, including animals. The horses do not have the choice.
Irene Walsh, England
Why? If steeplechases were banned then there would be a lot less horses in this country - fact. If animals are of no use to mankind they rapidly go extinct - fact (though unpleasant). Horses enjoy racing - fact. Animal rights activists need to think what will happen as a result of their demands - Fat chance of that though.
Yesterday's deaths, dismissed as 'unfortunate accidents' by those horse-racing fanatics who care not one iota for horses but for the money involved, were sickening. What is worse is that they reveal the depth to which the British are utter hypocrites when it comes to animal 'rights'. We deplore other countries' obvious abuses of animals for public entertainment, yet we continue to subject our horses, that most elegant of creatures, to a merciless frenzy which results in them breaking their backs, necks and legs. The whole thing is grotesque.
The self-righteous zealots of the Western world have found a new refuge in animal rights and similar "causes". It makes them feel important. Eat some steak, have a bet, and ignore them.
If you are going to ban fox hunting, you have to ban all sports that involve animals. The animals do not know it's a sport, they are following an instinct to chase or to flee. You have to look at where we want to go with banning animal sports as a country and as the globe in general. I noticed in the news that the Tiger is close to being wiped out again. How many species do WE have to destroy to learn!
To ban the steeple chase would be
as stupid as banning boxing, but I
do feel that if what I heard about the
national (that ditches have been
deepened and fences raised) is true,
I think that this too is idiocy. The
idea should be to have as little risk
to the horses as possible. Doing this
only endangers the horses even further.
If steeplechases are banned in horse racing what implications will this have for the human version of the sport. Should the Olympic Steeplechase event be stopped also?
What is most horrifying, regardless of the
alleged safety of steeplechases, is the despicable
way in which the lives of horses are terminated
and discarded in the most off-hand manner
when the animal is unfortunate enough to
have an accident. As has been said
on this forum: "one favourite for the National
was put down following a training accident
Perhaps if I were to break my wrist
and be unable to sit at this computer
and do my job, I too should be terminated
without delay, as though the further
maintenance of my life were a burden that
no longer deserved to be met?
Whilst the death of the horses during the recent races is a tragedy, it has always happened, and will happen again. Complete banning of the sport just isn't a viable idea. What is viable however, is the introduction of much more 'horse friendly' jumps. This would help to ensure less fatalities whilst not detracting an enormous amount from the quality of the overall racing spectacle.
I think the Grand National should be changed. If you look at how many horses actually complete the race each year, it's about 30%. (Usually 40 or so runners, of which 10 - 15 complete it). It would be better to lower the height of some of the really tough jumps so that more horses complete the race. More importantly, there'd be less casualties, too. The sheer distance is a good enough challenge.
The key to all this is in the word Race horse. Horses like this were bred, raised and trained to race. Without racing there would be no racehorse, which I am sure the animal rights lobby would find equally disagreeable.
The real dangers lie in Steeplechases - hurdling and flat racing are relatively safe for horse and rider. The National is yet another Festival of Greed - which the UK is becoming very good at. Sport it is not!
Jockeys have a choice. Horses don't. End of argument.
Watch the race on Saturday and see how many riderless horses continue to run and jump even without a jockey. Then tell me, with a straight face, that the Grand National is cruel and unnatural for horses.
I like many others do not want to see the race banned but do feel strongly that the course should be altered, either by redesigning the jumps and shortening the length of the course.
There is nothing "grand" about a race that each year claims innocent equine lives. The whole racing industry is based on money and not the love of horses.
We get to this situation every year during Grand National week, purely because it is one of the most famous and publicised races in the world - I would prefer to see these animal rights activists spending more time lobbying for stiffer penalties for those people who abuse, neglect and appallingly mistreat animals rather than pointing their fingers at those who love and respect the noble qualities of the Thoroughbred.
Heather Nash, UK
It is now an unfortunate occurrence in today's society that we value life bellow that of sport. With the tragic deaths in mid-week of the two Leeds supporters and now the Grand National claims another four horses.
I would never bet on any race as I don't believe animals should be made to suffer and die for our entertainment.
Lynne Mitchell, Scotland
I go to Goodwood once a year - as often as I get to hear about a fatality in the world of horse racing. Surely four horses being killed on one day IS exceptional, not the norm and shouldn't be blown up out of proportion. It is a tough course, but should we really be making such a fuss.
Every year it's the same...4...5...6...7...8 horses seem to die during Aintree week. It would be daft to ban steeplechasing though because the horses seem to enjoy it (they wouldn't run if they didn't), but maybe we'll have to think about decreasing the jumps or the size of the field.
Emily McCarthy, England
I was stationed in the UK in the early fifties when Princess Margaret had an entry, considered by many to be a favourite in the Grand National, a mare named Monoveen, as I remember. She went down in the race and had to be put down.
It took some time, but F1 drivers fought, and as a result, the tracks are much safer and it is now rare to hear that a driver has died in a crash. Unfortunately, horses can't tell us how they feel about the courses. Although I suspect that the prospect of running some of theses courses does not thrill them. All things evolve and maybe its time to examine theses courses and change some aspects so that they are humane to all participants. All things in moderation.
I am not a great follower of horse racing, but I do like to watch the really big events. I rate the grand national as an awesome spectacle and find that it would be a shame to lose so much tradition over freak accidents. I would appreciate it if the protesters would rather find something else to do with their time, maybe work would be good idea!!
Most of the people involved in the industry are devoted to the welfare of the horses. I grew up in an area famous for training National winners. The feelings of compassion for the injured horses are felt strongest by those who care for the horses day-in, day-out.
Like most debates about the country, the negative voices will be the loudest, and one can bet that they will be shouted from the rooftops of the city.
Horse racing has always had tragic losses, and the loss of a couple of great old campaigners yesterday in Lake Kariba and Strong Promise is particularly sad. However the National Hunt is continually looking for ways to make the sport safer for the horses and jockeys alike, and Aintree is a much safer course today than it has ever been. However, there are bound to be those in this Talking Point that rely on sentiment and limited understanding of the facts proclaiming the viciousness of this sport and the terrible cruelty.
Michael Carey, N.Ireland
Jockeys, trainers and the owners all claim they have a love for the horses. Would one really risk the lives of the ones they love? I suggest the love lies in money rather than the horses.
I think that races such as the Grand National are abhorrent and should be banned. Anyone who thinks this is entertainment and enjoyable need to take a long hard look at the risks these horses take in pursuit of your "entertainment". Personally, rather than run the Grand National, why don't they just walk down the start line with a loaded gun and have a game of Russian Roulette?
.Jean McCarthy, England
Can you imagine the inquiry that would result if four
athletes in an Olympic event,
died in the race? Would that be accepted
as a "statistical blip"? I suspect if it
were four jockeys who had died, the course
officials would be a little less complacent
in their explanation. Whoever called this a
statistical blip, clearly doesn't understand
06 Apr 00 | Grand National
Fifth horse dies at Aintree
03 Apr 98 | Sport
Horses pay price of failure
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