Retired racehorses' welfare poses huge challenge to racing industry, amid calls for change across the board

POSTED ON  |  07-11-2019

Weekend Hussler retirement
Jo McKinnon's love for horses began even before she could walk. "Apparently back then, I was completely enamoured with the animal," she said. McKinnon's mother was a keen equestrian rider, and each year she would bring her daughter with her as she went from stable to stable, meeting with some of Victoria's leading trainers.

"Most of those trainers back then just needed to move those horses on," she said. "We would give them a decent break in the paddock to let down from racing, then you would start on that horse when you felt that it was at a turning point." The pair was looking for the next potential equine star of the show ring, which they would need to firstly re-home and then patiently re-train. "They don't all make the grade, but you give it your best shot," she said.

It's a reality that hasn't been lost on the now-racing journalist and commentator, as discussion around horse welfare lingers throughout the Spring Carnival. "[Re-training] can be dangerous, it can be very challenging, it can be very disappointing," she said. "The number that would go on to become elite competitors and the ideal equestrian mount; it was the minority of those horses, mainly just through temperament and soundness issues."

Last breeding season, around 14,000 thoroughbred foals hit the ground in Australia. Thousands are being retired each year and not all of them are adequately re-purposed. While many successful female racehorses go on to have a breeding career, geldings and slower runners are often exposed to racing's wastage threat.

An ABC expose of widespread slaughter of racehorses for pet food and human consumption in New South Wales and Queensland has led to increased scrutiny of the industry nationwide. "I think we have to be realistic and we may have to accept that a certain number of horses will be [euthanased]," leading trainer Richard Freedman said. "[But] if we get a coordinated effort and if we are working from a number of angles, to reduce the problem, we can make a significant impact."

 

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