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Horse Racing Myths Debunked

Horse racing is always under scrutiny from animal rights activists, which anyone who is involved in the industry can appreciate considering the well-being of the horses should always be at the forefront of any equestrian sport. The information being relayed, however, is often misleading and incorrect and, with the introduction of social media, often gets shared to provoke negative and emotional responses and reactions without readers checking the validity of the content.

Let’s take a look at some of the more common myths surrounding racing:

MYTH: Horses don’t like to race
Thoroughbreds, as a breed, are born to run and are bred for their agility, speed and spirit. Whilst naysayers claim horses are forced to compete, it’s interesting to note that horses who manage to dislodge their riders during a race will continue to race with the pack out of their own accord. Considering the size and strength of a horse in relation to the jockey, it’s fair to believe that should it be unwilling to race, it won’t. There has been the rare occasion where horses will plant their feet and refuse to jump from the starting stalls and this is generally an indication to the trainer and connections that it’s time to reconsider its racing career. Trainers and jockeys work closely with the horses every day and develop strong bonds and a deep understanding of their traits and behaviours which enables them to recognise changes and signals that may indicate a need to retire from the sport.

MYTH: Horses are just discarded when they retire from racing
Thoroughbreds are a versatile breed – speedy, nimble and intelligent – which makes them ideally suited for a number of disciplines in addition to racing. Whilst those with good bloodlines may be retained for breeding purposes, most racehorses are rehomed with the intention of finding an alternate career in other equestrian disciplines, such as showjumping, dressage or eventing. Professional organisations, such as the National Horse Trust, who works with the various provincial horse care units, was established to protect Thoroughbreds after their racing careers are over to help prevent abuse and neglect. All racehorses are microchipped to enable authorities to trace their origins at any point in their racing or recreational careers.

MYTH: It hurts the horses when the Jockeys whip them
The use of the word “whip” is in fact incorrect in modern racing, with jockeys now making use of “persuaders” – even though the industry still refers to them as ‘whips’ out of habit. The design has changed over the years as the intention is to persuade the horse to lengthen its stride as opposed to inflict pain. Modern day persuaders are made with extended padded flaps which make a loud cracking noise to encourage a reaction from the horse without inflicting pain. Majority of the time, the jockeys are in fact moving it forward to show it to the horse in order to persuade them as opposed to making contact with their bodies. The use of the ‘whip’ is also strictly regulated by the Stipendary Stewards who hand out lengthy fines and suspensions to any jockeys who use it excessively in a race.

No matter how strictly regulated any sport is, accidents, abuse and mistreatment can happen, but with regulatory bodies, membership associations and Stipendary Stewards in place to oversee and manage the industry, horse racing has taken preventative measures to minimise this and ensure animal welfare remains paramount.

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