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OPINION: Too Many Horses Brutalised At The Hands Of Cheltenham Festival

The shockingly high number of 86 racehorses have died at the Cheltenham Festival since 2010.

With the event starting again this week Park Life Sport evaluates the ethical questions surrounding the largest national hunt race in Europe.

Horses have died at the event every year since 2000, except for the 2001 festival which was cancelled due to Foot and Mouth Disease. Last year’s meet was shrouded in controversy, as it was one of the last major sporting events to go ahead in the wake of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

While the buzz surrounding the festival may not be as high due to the ban on spectators at this year’s event, for some animal lovers it is difficult to see races go ahead in the first place. The Gloucestershire track has been top of the league in Britain’s most lethal courses for the last 17 years and despite the absence of spectators, it’s safe to expect at least one casualty this time around.

The torment so many horses are put through at the hands of Prestbury Park is sickening. In a 2014 report produced by Animal Aid, titled “Why more horses die at Cheltenham than at any other British racecourse?” The group produced an in-depth review of some of the problems facing the Cheltenham Racecourse. The report included crowded races, stiff fences and novice horses as aspects that result in a higher frequency of horse deaths.

Jockey Rob James has been banned from racing for 12 months recently, following a video clip emerging of the rider climbing on to the back of a dead horse, the tension surrounding how these animals are treated by their trainers and jockeys is at breaking point.

The mentality surrounding horse racing is ‘win at all costs’ which often means a disregard for the wellbeing of the horses. Cheltenham have consistently featured jockeys who beat their horses with whips, and in a public opinion poll in 2018 over 68% of respondents oppose the use of a whip in racing. Despite the public’s distaste for the barbaric instrument, the whip remains an integral tool for jockeys.

While new guidelines were introduced in 2011, limiting the number of times a whip can be used in a race, highly competitive events like the Cheltenham Gold Cup have seen winning riders handed subsequent bans for breaking the regulations. The whipping of horses has been shown to be ineffective and even cause painful welts, while the jockey’s use the whip to increase their horse’s performance, they are in fact causing great stress and even injuries.

The British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) announced it would undertake a review of the deaths of horses from Cheltenham, and while the BHA managed to identify the lethal “win at all costs” mentality possessed by many of the jockeys and trainers, the recommendations they made fell well short of what is required to properly protect the horses.

Its seems there is quite a way to go before racing becomes less lethal for the horses taking part. While steps have been taken to ensure the safety of spectators during the ongoing pandemic the same can’t be said for the horses who undergo at times such horrendous treatment. Tell us what you think on Twitter: @ParkLife_Sport

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