Jumps Racing Policy
Jumps racing is an inherently cruel and unsafe form of ‘entertainment’. The Animal Justice Party opposes jumps racing and will work to achieve its abolition in Victoria and South Australia, the only two remaining States of Australia in which it is still allowed to occur.
There were a number of inquiries into jumps racing in Victoria during the 1990s, followed more recently by reviews in 2002, 2005 and 2008. These reviews were on each occasion prompted by concerns about the welfare of the horses involved. While there have been countless recommendations over the past two decades, often repeated with only minor variations, there has been one constant – none of those recommendations has reduced the unacceptably high rates of death and injuries sustained by horses.
Survey after survey has demonstrated majority support for a ban on jumps racing. For example, in an online poll conducted immediately after the tragic death of Tradesman’s Choice at Morphettville Racecourse (South Australia) on July 24 2010, 75 per cent of over 1500 respondents surveyed supported such a ban. On December 1 2009 a 5000-signature petition supporting a ban on jumps racing was presented to the South Australian parliament by Greens’ MLC, Mark Parnell. Community support for a ban on jumps racing has never been higher.
In South Australia and Victoria combined, 14 horses died as a result of jumps racing in 2009 and 13 in 2008. What is also becoming increasingly clear is the dramatic increase across both states in the number of horses ‘failing to finish’ a race as they are pulled up by their jockeys. The significantly lower death rate (and fall rate) in flat racing provides clear evidence of the increased and inherent risks of death just under 30 times greater for jumps horses than for horses used in flat racing.
A structurally sound horse will rarely fall over a jump as they have a remarkable ability to maintain their footing and balance. They will however, often sustain injuries in doing so. They will also suffer from a chronic deterioration of their bone structure due to the high-impact forces they are exposed to in a jumps race. Eventually this will result in more serious damage and the horse will inevitably fall if it is made to continue racing.
Horses jumping over large fences experience higher impact forces than during normal locomotion. These forces are exerted on a small area on the hoof and are transmitted across small contact areas at the joint surfaces and up the front limbs. Since pressure on the hooves and the joints is high, it is not surprising that jumpers are prone to wear and tear injuries of their limbs.
The causes of death of jumps horses reflect the much higher pressures exerted on a horse’s body and limbs during jumps racing compared to flat racing.
- death risk due to catastrophic limb injury – 17.7 times greater in jumps starts than flat starts
- death risk due to fatal cranial or vertebral injury – 120.7 times greater in jumps starts than flat starts
- risk of sudden death – 3.5 times greater in jumps starts than flat starts
The risks of jumps racing exacerbate pre-existing problems associated with general horse racing, including exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage, gastric ulcers in the majority of horses in training, skeletal and muscular injuries and persistent lameness – all at rates far in excess of what would be expected in a similar horse that had not been raced.
The brutal nature of jumps racing cannot be measured by statistics (falls and death rates) alone. Inquiries have been provided with numerous photos and descriptions of the horrific injuries experienced by jumps horses, some of whom have been put down on the track in full view of the public. While many other horses sustain significant injuries through falls or through hitting jumps or fences during races and do survive the race, the vast majority of these are never seen on an Australian racetrack again. It would be wonderful to imagine that they would be allowed a peaceful and comfortable retirement but a trip to the knackers is a much more likely outcome.
Horses love to jump?
One of the more common arguments put forward by the jumps industry is that the horse is a natural jumper, possessing a flexible and supple body capable of maintaining balance at all gaits and speeds. The reality is very different. In fact, of all the athletic animals, the horse possesses a surprisingly inflexible carcass of great bulk and weight. Apart from the trunk providing anchorage for muscles responsible for limb movement, its weight is a serious handicap to rapid and flexible progression.
Animals used for entertainment are generally conditioned to perform tasks that they normally would not, by way of reward or the threat of punishment. Similar principles apply to training a horse for jumping, with horses conditioned to jump under duress.
A major national inquiry was held in the late 1980s, culminating in the 1991 report of the Senate Select Committee on Animal Welfare. The Committee concluded:
‘… the Committee has serious concerns about the welfare of horses participating in jump races. These concerns are based on the significant probability of a horse suffering serious injury or even death as a result of participating in these events and, in particular, steeplechasing. This concern is exacerbated by evidence suggesting that, even with improvements to the height and placing of jumps, training and education, the fatality rate would remain constant. The Committee, therefore, can only conclude that there is an inherent conflict between these activities and animal welfare. Accordingly, the Committee is of the view that relevant State Governments should phase out jump racing over the next three years.’ (www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/history/animalwelfare_ctte/welfare_racing_industry/03ch3.pdf Conclusions pg. 24)
The minority dissenting Senators stated:
‘Senators Brownhill, Calvert and Cooney share the Committee’s concern about the fatality rate in jump racing. The Senators, however, consider that improvements to jump racing facilities and practices will alleviate many animal welfare problems. Changes should include the bandaging of legs, improvements to jump height, placement and the material used in jumps, as well as better training and preparation of horses and jockeys’. (www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/history/animalwelfare_ctte/welfare_racing_industry/03ch3.pdf Reservation pg. 24)
All the improvements suggested by the dissenting Senators have been introduced, but the fatality rate has not fallen. It must be noted that this unacceptable outcome was predicted by the majority Senators 20 years ago, based on evidence before them at that time. As the statistics show, the modular jumps (introduced from 2003) have failed, the further training of jockeys has failed, and the increased trialling and greater scrutiny of jumps horses has also failed to significantly reduce the inherent problems and hazards of jumps racing. Jumps racing cannot be made safe – it is an inherently dangerous form of entertainment that puts the lives of jumps jockeys at risk, as well as being a significant animal welfare issue.
New South Wales and Queensland have made jumps racing an offence under their animal protection legislation, and most other States no longer permit jumps races. The South Australian Racing Minister has the authority to undertake a ministerial review of The Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA), introduce an amendment bill to parliament, and ban the sport on animal cruelty grounds. He has steadfastly refused to do so, claiming that the issue is one for TRSA (Thoroughbred Racing South Australia) to decide.
By its very nature, jumps racing breaches the Victorian Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. In particular, Section 9 (1) (c) relates to a person who ‘does or omits to do an act with the result that unreasonable pain or suffering is caused, or is likely to be caused, to an animal…’ A legislative ban in Victoria would lead to the elimination of jumps racing from Australia’s sporting calendar once and for all, and a cascade effect would also see the end of this cruel practice in South Australia (even without a legislative ban there) as its survival would be impossible without Victorian horses, jockeys and trainers.
This AJP policy should be read in association with the following other policy:
- Animals in Entertainment.