The Future for Horses in Thoroughbred Racing and the Sustainability of Welfare Concepts
The international thoroughbred racing industry is increasingly vulnerable to public scrutiny due to its horse welfare record. At the same time, the industry is concerned about its sustainability. The interface of welfare and sustainability however offers little for the horses because of a disconnect between dominant conceptions of sustainability and the protection of animals arising from an anthropocentric orientation of most conceptualisations of sustainability. This study investigates the interface of animal protection and sustainability, a realm of great relevance for animal geographies. It develops a theory of interspecies sustainability and applies it to the horseracing industry. The role of one aspect of this theory, naturalness, is explored further as it plays a salient role in the thoroughbred racing and breeding discourse. Nine industry and seven animal advocacy informants in senior roles from Australia, the US and the UK, have been interviewed using semi-structured interviewing and photo-elicitation. Broadly, the two groups’ differences in conceptualising sustainability, welfare and naturalness follow patterns of contrasting worldviews as expressed in reductionism versus holism, techno-bio-medical control of animal bodies versus the protection of animal integrity, and a downplaying and naturalising of violence committed against the horses versus a recognition of the de-naturalisation of the horses’ life-worlds and its impact on them. Eight analytical layers were identified in the intersecting discourse of sustainability and animal protection, of which two have transformational sway to advance interspecies sustainability. This study seeks to raise conceptual awareness to identify at what layers a particular discourse takes place, to unveil industry co-option of the conceptual space of sustainability and animal protection, and to assist animal advocacy and policy development guided by a paradigm of interspecies sustainability for animal protection.
This chapter explores how representatives of the thoroughbred racing industry conceptualise thoroughbred welfare, what their ethical underpinnings are, how this contrasts with welfare conceptions expressed by thoroughbred protection advocates and what this means for thoroughbred welfare. The research presented here is part of a larger study that investigates the future for horses in thoroughbred racing and the sustainability of welfare concepts. Nine industry representatives from the US and Australia, and seven representatives of thoroughbred advocacy organisations from the US, Australia and Great Britain, have been interviewed. Industry informants characterise welfare mainly in terms of basic health and functioning. The welfare dimensions of thoroughbred agency, integrity and telos are largely ignored. Three main groups of welfare issues emerge: the use and potential overuse of drugs and medication; injuries and death on the racetrack; and the aftercare of thoroughbreds exiting the industry. It appears the industry pursues three objectives with their welfare initiatives: to address only the most egregious welfare violations of industry practices on and off the track; to influence the public’s perception of the industry and its treatment of the thoroughbred; and to focus on productivity, efficiency and optimisation of the commodifiable characteristics of the thoroughbred. It is not likely that this will result in net gains for thoroughbred welfare.
For most of its existence, the thoroughbred racing industry has taken the thoroughbreds and the public for granted. Thoroughbreds die on racetracks and in training and are exposed to a great number of other welfare issues which are an inherent part of training and racing in competition. Support for the industry is to a large part based on notions of tradition. Traditional practice is generally considered reasonable and acceptable and thus protected by the law. The industry claims commitment to welfare but fails to convince in light of recent undercover investigations, ongoing controversy, reviews and hearings. Social acceptance of certain uses of animals and abusive ways of animal treatment and handling are waning. Accordingly, horse welfare in thoroughbred racing has been identified as a growing concern for the public so much so that it is considered a reason contributing to its decline. Some racing jurisdictions have moved beyond the stage of seeing the protection of thoroughbreds as part of an extremist agenda. Voices from within the racing industry call for a culture change. Change is afoot, however, there is controversy over what constitutes welfare and what is good for the horse, which has been labeled the “horse welfare war”. The question arises what kind of welfare paradigm will prevail over time. This paper discusses the various welfare paradigms applied to thoroughbred racehorses, it discusses how these welfare paradigms respond to the nature of the welfare issues faced by thoroughbreds in racing, and what these models say about what is valued. Ideas range from the claim that whipping horses is not a welfare issue but a rights issue - and the industry makes it clear that they do not concern themselves with rights issues, to ethologically oriented approaches and approaches based on learning theory for better equine welfare. Moreover, other animal welfare paradigms are emerging that borrow from human indicators of wellbeing. This paper takes this further and proposes a framework based on a coherent value system and ethical concepts, drawing on the sustainability discourse. It discusses the relevance of the convergence of the animal protection and the sustainability discourse, it discusses the features of this convergence and what it means for thoroughbreds in racing. Finally, it is suggested that this welfare paradigm steeped in a non-speciesist sustainability framework may have relevance for a range of animals and animal issues, for domestic, liminal and wild animals. It provides a new lens through which to analyse animal protection matters which are increasingly leading to social conflict and many of which are entangled in industries of global significance such as thoroughbred racing.
The purpose of this paper is to describe the welfare conceptions of international thoroughbred racing industry bodies and situate them in the wider animal welfare debate. The aim is to assess the industry’s future-readiness in light of a changing social and ethical landscape in which animal protection has been labelled the next social justice movement. The welfare conceptions of the industry are derived from online content of industry websites and from industry reports. These are then mapped against conceptions of welfare in the natural science and social science literature, and those of animal protection organisations. A conceptual map visualises the findings. In conclusion, while the scientific and scholarly work, and social/cultural and ethical viewpoints in terms of animal welfare continue to evolve in a more holistic fashion, the thoroughbred racing industry continues to lag behind on the technocentric pathway. Overall, it appears the industry regards the horse as a resource that can be mined for human purposes. Moreover, it appears that the industry is walking a fine line between claiming to intervene for positive change for thoroughbred welfare, and maintaining the status quo for as long and as far as society allows them to. Consequently, the social sustainability of the industry and the welfare of thoroughbreds continue to be at risk.
Globally, the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry is reporting a declining trend. A report commissioned by the Jockey Club in the US, known as the McKinsey report, explicitly linked the public's concern with animal welfare and the use of drugs to declining betting and attendance in the US. In various racing nations in Europe, in Australia and the US, thoroughbred racing is experiencing pressures from external sources and from within, with even industry participants calling for change. The industry is concerned with the integrity of racing. Structural changes, regulation and transparency in reporting are all issues identified in need of improvement in some racing nations. These are important issues and potentially contribute to better welfare outcomes. However, they do not address the principal question emerging from evolving social norms and values of whether thoroughbred racing is ethically justifiable, and if so, how it can be conducted so that it is socially acceptable. To address the declining trend, the McKinsey report framed the suggested strategies around the concept of sustainable growth and thus adopted the rhetoric of sustainable development. The research in this paper takes up the theme of sustainability and applies it to the thoroughbred industry. Elsewhere it has been shown that a focus on growth, as in the sustainable development model, is at the root of unsustainability. Therefore, it is argued in this research that an ecologically oriented sustainability framework is better suited to fully address the ethical and welfare issues in the industry. In this study, it is assumed that society, for the time being, accepts thoroughbred breeding and racing. Under this assumption, the concept of ecological sustainability is applied as a methodological tool by using it as a language system to investigate ethical and welfare issues in the thoroughbred industry. The following recommendations emerge from this research: There is the need for the industry to engage with issues of normativity and to develop alternative models of what constitutes success beyond winning a race. There is also need to advance knowledge production to better understand and respect the experience of thoroughbreds and thoroughbred knowledge systems, determinants of how to remain within the natural physical and emotional limits of the horse, the limits of human uses of horses, and how to promote the flourishing of horse and human-horse relationships in this industry. Engagement with these matters can better address issues of (un)sustainability and move the industry from an economically driven business and management model to a welfare driven model. The discussion of what constitutes a sustainable horseracing industry is inevitable. The question of the continuation of the use of thoroughbreds requires social negotiations in the interest of social sustainability. This is an ongoing dialogue as society's ethics and values evolve. It would appear that the thoroughbred industry can expect to greatly benefit from proactively engaging with this process. Keywords: Animal welfare / equine welfare / sustainability / sustainable development / systems thinking / thoroughbred racing / thoroughbred industry / naturalness / animal autonomy Citation: Bergmann I. (2015) Sustainability, thoroughbred racing and the need for change. Pferdeheilkunde 31, 490-498