Citation: Bergmann, Iris 2019. “He Loves to Race – or Does He? Ethics and Welfare in
Racing.” In Equine Cultures in Transition: Ethical Questions, 1st edition, edited by Jonna
Bornemark, Petra Andersson and Ulla Ekström von Essen, pp. 117-133. Milton Park,
Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge. DOI: 10.4324/9781351002479-9
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HE LOVES TO RACE - OR DOES HE? ETHICS AND WELFARE IN RACING
Abstract (for indexing purposes, not included in published version)
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.
On the racetrack
Eight year old gelding Chautauqua refused to jump out of the starting barriers. It is an image to behold,
the grey standing upright and still in the stall, ears pricked, looking straight into the camera (see image
in Marks, 2018). Some describe it as “defiance”, his connections would call it “troublesome” (Marks,
2018), and they now have to “decide his fate” (Miles, 2018). Marks suggests that such act of defiance
“brings home the absurdity of relatively unquestioned conventions (…) and societal practices”.
Chautauqua prods us to appraise the ethics of racing horses (Marks, 2018). Images that generally make
us question this practice are those of injury and death on the racetrack, described by well-known
Australian racing commentator Smith as “moments of great sadness, (…) cast in distressing pictures of
horses with broken legs flapping like a long sock on a line” (Smith, 2017). These are amongst the
images thoroughbred racing strives to keep from public scrutiny. With the beginning of this century, it
has become increasingly difficult if not impossible for thoroughbred racing to continue, as Arthur
(2011, p. 236), equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB), says,
“[sweeping] the dark side of racing out of the public eye”. The rise of social media has enabled animal
advocates to expose to a wider public what is happening to thoroughbreds on and off the track. These
alternative narratives have the potential to centre the perspective of the horse, rather than that of the
human, in the public discourse (McManus, Graham and Ruse, 2014).
The ethics in thoroughbred racing
In the animal studies literature, there is general agreement that the thoroughbred racing industry is
guided by an instrumental, anthropocentric value system in their engagement with thoroughbreds
(McManus, Albrecht and Graham, 2013). It is suggested that in the majority, thoroughbreds are valued
on the basis of their earning potential for their connections (Markwell, Firth and Hing, 2017, p. 596).
At best, industry participants adhere to a stewardship model of human-horse relationships. According
to the stewardship ethic, it is reasonable for humans to tame animals, and manage and use them for
“useful” activities (McManus, Albrecht and Graham, 2013, p. 142). From this perspective,
thoroughbred racing is acceptable as long as the industry conforms to agreed standards of stewardship
and animal welfare (McManus, Albrecht and Graham, 2013, p. 142). However, many question directly
or implicitly the industry’s willingness and ability to even conform to the most minimal standards of
stewardship (for example, Drape et al., 2012; Winter and Young, 2014).
Models of animal welfare – now and for the future
Society’s views of the ethical treatment of animals continue to evolve, and so do models of animal
welfare. Thirty years ago, Broom (1988, p. 5) described welfare as the animal’s state “as regards its
attempts to cope with its environment”, meaning to cope with “adversity” and “difficult conditions”
(Broom, 1988, pp. 12, 16), a description of animal experience in the negative. More recently, animal
welfare science increasingly draws on human indicators of well-being (Phillips, 2009; Lerner and
Silfverberg, this volume). Ideas of good welfare have moved on to providing opportunities for animals
to “thrive”, not simply “survive” (Mellor, 2016), a shift toward describing welfare in positive terms.
Basic health and functioning (especially freedom from disease and injury), affective states (states like
pain, distress and pleasure that are experienced as positive or negative) and natural living or
“naturalness” (the ability of animals to live reasonably natural lives by carrying out natural behaviour
and having natural elements in their environment, and a respect for the “nature” of the animals
themselves) are now discussed as the main concerns of animal welfare (Fraser, 2008; Yeates, 2018).
Fraser states that these three dimensions (basic health and functioning, affective states, naturalness)
represent different criteria used to assess animal welfare. They are independent but also overlap
substantially, so for good welfare, all three areas need to be considered in some way. However, he
comes to this conclusion not based on the animal’s perspective, but because individual humans and
groups assign different values to each criterion. Deciding on criteria for assessing welfare is about
making “a reasonable fit to the major value positions about what constitutes a good life for animals”
(Fraser, 2008, p. 7). At this point it comes apparent that racing regulators have to negotiate difficult
terrain – different conceptions of welfare, and differing values of participants in thoroughbred racing.
But it does not stop there.
Animal studies scholars in the social sciences and the humanities including the Arts, supported by
recent work in cognitive ethology, have far extended the discourse of animal welfare (for example,
Bekoff, 2007; Bussolini, 2013). They emphasise what might constitute a fourth dimension: animal
agency, with animals being the co-creators of their lives - Chautauqua being a most powerful example
of exercising his agency, even within the environmental constraints imposed on him. Animal agency
includes animal sense of control, identity, autonomy, integrity of body and mind, meaningful
relationships, subjectivity, and crucially, the questioning of the status of animal-human-relationships. It
also includes animal knowledge systems and species cultural practices (see, for example, Garlick and
Austen, 2014). With this, we have moved into the realm of animal rights rather than welfare. It is
suggested here that this criterion could be situated as a fourth, next to the other three described above,
independently as well as overlapping with all of them. Or, alternatively, this fourth criterion might
incorporate all other three and thus be an overarching dimension. Again, there needs to be awareness
that the relationship of the four criteria to each other, and the weighting given to each of them, is value-
dependent as much as it depends on worldviews.
A focus on the dimension of animal agency is consistent with an intrinsic values perspective. From the
intrinsic values perspective, and based on how human-horse relationships are enacted in the industry,
thoroughbred racing is considered an act of speciesism that is ethically unjustifiable (McManus,
Albrecht and Graham, 2013, pp. 143-144). The intrinsic values perspective questions any use of
horses. It may never be reconcilable with a view that suggests that there is potential for the flourishing
of both when “working together”, horse and human, within an interspecies relationship, as explored by
scholars focusing on human-horse interaction such as Birke and Hockenhull (2015). Many agree
however, that a “mutually symbiotic relationship” between animals and humans will continue to be
accepted by most people (see, for example, Phillips, 2009, p. 57), at the academic level as well as
within society at large.
Pressures on welfare initiatives from within the industry
Not surprisingly, there is a gulf between academic theory, and the manifestations of human-horse
relations on the racetrack (McManus, Graham and Ruse, 2014, pp. 190–191). The current status of
horses within the racing industry is such that, as expressed by a senior regulator of the industry, “[t]he
vast majority of people in the industry view horses as livestock rather than as pets or companions (…)
and that is not going to change in the short term” (Stewart, 2016). This is reinforced by Cassidy (2005,
p. 65, Note 1) who concludes that thoroughbred racehorses “are commodities, however unpleasant that
may seem.” And Arthur, equine medical director of the CHRB, states that “[i]t’s hard to justify how
many horses we [in the racing industry] go through” (cited in Bogdanich et al., 2012). At the senior
administrative and regulatory level in the thoroughbred industry, there is the realisation that the
industry’s social license to conduct thoroughbred racing is at risk (Duncan, Graham and McManus,
2018). However, the gulf between industry practices and academic theory is mirrored in the gulf
between racing authorities and those on the ground such as trainers and jockeys. Regulators and other
relevant industry bodies willing to move on with thoroughbred welfare measures often seem to sit
between a rock and a hard place. For example, thoroughbred protection advocates lobby for the
abandonment of the whip. Regulators know that this is politically very difficult to enforce – there
would be disagreement amongst themselves, but also between the regulators and those training and
racing horses. Up to now, and in order to respond to public pressure and changing views on animal
welfare, thoroughbred racing regulators have only ever introduced padded whips, rules restricting the
number of times a horse can be whipped in a race, and the kind of stroke applied. However, jockeys
regularly protest successfully to have new rules restricting whip use abandoned or relaxed, as examples
in Great Britain and Australia show (Graham and McManus, 2016). The only country where the whip
in thoroughbred racing is not allowed is Norway, but notably, this was enforced by animal welfare
legislation rather than industry self-regulation (McGreevy, 2016).
Nonetheless, there is evidence that the industry discourse on thoroughbred welfare is shifting. The
industry has accepted that it needs to address issues of thoroughbred welfare that have entered the
public discourse. Through their messaging in Annual Reports, at conferences, through pouring funds
into particular research constructed as addressing the welfare of thoroughbreds, and through marketing
the “love for the thoroughbred”, unprecedented effort is being put into demonstrating how much the
industry cares about the welfare of the thoroughbred. Indeed, we may be tempted to believe that we are
experiencing the dawn of a new era in thoroughbred racing.
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. Considering the many perspectives on
welfare, the pressures on the industry to address thoroughbred welfare, and the serious welfare issues
thoroughbreds are exposed to, it is important to advance the discourse by understanding the welfare
conceptualisations held by industry participants who have the potential to influence regulation,
mindsets and practices on the ground. This chapter explores how representatives of the thoroughbred
racing industry conceptualise thoroughbred welfare, what they consider to be the main welfare issues,
what their ethical underpinnings are, and what this might mean for the welfare of thoroughbreds. This
study then contrasts the industry perspectives with those held by representatives of the animal
Nine informants affiliated with thoroughbred racing bodies from the US and Australia, and seven
thoroughbred protection campaigners and lobbyists from Australia, the US and Great Britain, have
been interviewed. Pseudonyms are used to protect the participants’ anonymity. Capital T for
thoroughbred industry informants and capital A for animal protection informants are added for clarity.
The organisations the industry informants were affiliated with include racetrack operators, owners and
breeders associations, and international, national and state authorities and regulators based in the US
and Australia. In one case, the informant is a senior administrator who at the time of interviewing was
not affiliated with a particular organisation. The affiliated animal protection organisations include both,
rights and welfare groups. The perspectives of the informants are discussed in relation to initiatives
addressing welfare as evident in relevant reports, conference proceedings, and online content of
affiliated industry websites. This discussion is held in light of the academic discourse, the discourse of
the protection movement for thoroughbreds, public controversies and pressure, and the resistance from
within the industry.
Although there are differences in regulation and risk factors between racing jurisdictions, this cannot
be considered in greater detail within the scope of this discussion unless it contributes to the
understanding of a particular argument being made. Moreover, there are efforts underway within the
industry for national and international harmonisation of the Rules of Racing. To this end, the
International Federation of Horse Racing Authorities (IFHA) works towards identifying and promoting
best practice in the administration of horseracing worldwide (IFHA, 2016). This means that within the
context of this discussion, it is justifiable to refer to the thoroughbred racing industry as a whole, whilst
also considering relevant national differences that are emerging in this study.
Striking a balance
Based on the industry informants’ responses there is no doubt in their minds that thoroughbred welfare
is indispensable for the sustainability of the thoroughbred racing industry. The more encompassing the
remit of the organisation the informant is affiliated with, the more encompassing their perspective on
welfare. Consequently, we come to hear about what is the ideal model of enactment and enforcement
of thoroughbred welfare: “[T]he well-being and the protection of the horse” is to be “an overarching
philosophy, it is about what is correct and proper for the horses” (Thomas – T). Moreover, all aspects
of welfare “should be at the forefront of each policy decision, on the racetrack, the breeders, the
jockeys, nutritional, or anybody interested in horseracing”, for the entire lifespan of the horse,
including the provision of aftercare when the horse exits the racing industry (Thomas – T). Albeit
Thomas (T) concedes that welfare is dependent on the values of each nation, and thus presumably has
to be adapted by each nation accordingly to some degree, a theme present in the animal welfare science
discourse above. Other industry informants refer to shorter timeframes when describing welfare
responsibilities, for example, “the care of the athlete from the beginning of its career and to and
through its retirement” (Ben – T). It is not clear whether this is due to a focus of their own role within
the industry or whether there is indeed a limited understanding of the concept of thoroughbred welfare.
Overall, industry informants define welfare in terms of the horses’ “basic health and functioning” (as
described by Broom, 1988). They refer to welfare as dealing with “proper care, from the protection of
health, of the movement of horses, taking all precautions, disease control, proper husbandry, to
responsible ownership, to responsible rehoming and aftercare, and the right procedures and processes
across the entire spectrum.” (Thomas – T). Others specified care and housing, husbandry conditions,
medication including vaccinations. One informant explained that “it’s just not in a negative sense, but
also in a positive sense” (Evan – T), possibly referring to the idea of positive experiences rather than
just defining welfare by negative experiences. However, it was not evident that industry informants
were familiar with any perspectives on welfare as laid out in the four spheres above. In fact, one
informant explained that within the industry, there is some concern about using the term “welfare” in
particular in the aftercare and rehoming context because industry participants do not want to convey
the images that these retired thoroughbreds are “RSPCA [Royal Society for the Prevention of cruelty
of Animals] sort of” cases (Ruth – T). Crucially, one informant reminds us of the real limits to welfare
in the industry: “I mean, obviously, we have to strike a balance between high performance, athletic
performance and the possibility of injury in that context” (Kingsley – T).
Beyond basic health and functioning
Four industry informants refer to dimensions of welfare beyond basic health and functioning. Two of
them (Evan – T and Ruth – T) extend their definition of welfare to a “mental” dimension, although
their references are not as strong and numerous as can be found in responses of the thoroughbred
protection informants. The other two, Will (T) and Allen (T), include the dimension of respect.
“Thoroughbred welfare at its basic level is just doing the right thing by the horse. These horses want to
run for us, they want to run for us very hard, and therefore I owe them a standard of care and respect.”
It is a measure that comes from within the human rather than a dimension applied externally based on
physical measurements and thus stands out from other comments. Allen (T) also refers, perhaps
unintentionally, to the concept of reciprocity in the stewardship model, what has been coined the
ancient contract (Dawkins and Bonney, 2008). This position has some positive ethical dimension, from
the informant’s perspective an ethics of care. Others however would question the contract idea since
the thoroughbred has not participated as an active or autonomous agent in this agreement, rather, as
some describe it, he is a “conscript to the sport” (McGreevy and McManus, 2017).
That the horses are willing participants wanting to run is often claimed by industry participants at
large, believing that “running” is what the horses “love doing”: “When I watch a horse race and the
rider falls off, and the horse continues to race and still wants to win, that makes me believe that that’s
what the horse wants to do. So it’s a completely natural activity for the horse. I think, thoroughbreds by
definition like that herd mentality and they race in the fields when they are babies too. I really feel
racing is natural, it’s innate in them.” (Jacob – T). The industry informant contradicts himself in
alluding to the fact that the horse follows his “herd mentality”. An alternative interpretation based on
animal behaviour science would be that the horse keeps running with the field for fear of losing the
comfort and security of the herd (e.g. McGreevy, 2012).
In referring to “respect”, Will (T) gives one of the few examples where an industry informant relates to
a dimension of thoroughbred individuality as part of the horse’s telos: “I think that the animal itself has
to be respected for what they are. If a horse is quick, that’s fantastic. But if it’s not, then it’s a matter of
identifying what other purposes it can be used for. I have regularly taken horses from trainers and
moved to home to find new homes for them. Let them calm down from the feed they have been on
when racing to be suitable for other adventures” (Will – T). The individuality of the horse is respected
here by acknowledging early on, or so it seems, when she or he is not suited for the racetrack. This
may simply be a pragmatic decision in the interest of the owner, but it seems there is a caring element
in his expression, as well as a sense of responsibility. He takes it on himself to help the horse adjust
and find a new home that is more suited to his temperament and ability.
The main welfare issues defined
From the responses of both groups of informants, industry as well as animal protection informants,
three sets of main welfare issues emerge: the use and potential overuse of drugs and medication, legal
and illegal; injuries and death on the racetrack; and the aftercare (retirement) of thoroughbreds exiting
the industry. Importantly it is recognised that these sets of welfare issues impact upon each other,
whereby drugs and medication are described as impacting on both the other two sets (retirement and
injuries), as well as on a number of other welfare issues, often in a two-way relationship. For example:
“To me, I think, the main welfare issues are overuse of medication that is debilitating and I say
specifically, here in North America, we have an issue with joint injections with cortical steroids that
cause debilitation in these athletes so that they are not really healthy enough for second careers when
they are done which to me is counterproductive” (Jacob – T). Allen (T) describes catastrophic injuries
in racing and training as “the Achilles heel of all of horseracing”. The use of drugs and medication are
named as one of the main causes of breakdowns, and one of the reasons is that they mask injury (Ava –
Another significant issue with drugs is lack of transparency. With his investigation, Ross (2016)
provides an overview of the particular situation in the US. Corticosteroid drugs are legal to use in
racehorses for therapeutic reasons, but their misuse has increased. Ben (T) explains that regulation is
urgently needed so that “if the thoroughbred changes hands, (…) that horse’s medical history,
particularly involving cortical steroid injections, is passed on to the new connections. So what they are
trying to avoid is, the new connections, being the first thing they do is injecting a joint that may have
had just recently been injected but they didn’t know it.”
There are numerous other drugs, legal and illegal, in use but the issues are beyond the scope of this
paper (for more see, for example, Benns, 2013; Voss 2018). While these are problems internationally,
Ava (A) believes that in the US, there is an entrenched drug culture. Jacob (T) also refers to it being a
cultural issue. “(…) there is a generation of trainers who believe that using medication is the quickest
way, most effective way to get a horse back to the soundness if it’s lame. There is a generation prior
that would use the old-fashioned turn-out time and ice method and there is a big disconnect, so (…) it’s
In the US, the problem with drugs is exacerbated by the fact that there are 38 state racing jurisdictions
and no uniform rules for medication in terms of what is allowed and how much, no uniform testing, lab
accreditation, and enforcement (Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, n.d.; Irby, 2018). This facilitates
corruption with owners and trainers being able to move racehorses from one jurisdiction to another to
avoid penalties and to enjoy more lenient oversight (Irby, 2018). In contrast, there are nationwide
Rules of Racing in Australia addressing the use of drugs and medication, which nonetheless present the
country with not insignificant levels of drug use risking racing integrity and horse and jockey welfare
and safety (see, for example, Benns, 2013; Crawford and Thompson, 2015).
Differences between industry and thoroughbred protection informants
Thoroughbred protection informants include in the concept of welfare a broader range of concerns,
ranging from the tack being used to horses being able to perform most of their natural behaviours, two-
year old racing, and the breeding of thoroughbreds. Overall, most share the sentiment expressed by Sue
(A): “I can’t use the word welfare without qualifying it. If I was to talk about what I think is the
welfare state of thoroughbred horses in the racing industry, I would generally say that it is poor.”
Perhaps due to this experience, three of the seven in the thoroughbred protection group define welfare
in terms of what it is not: Good welfare means the horse is “not fearful”, “not broken down in some
way”, “not stressed”, not prevented from being able to continue their lives, not subjected to “practice or
action that causes harm” and they should “not have negative experiences”. Some of these responses
refer to the emotional state and the psychological dimension of welfare (stress and fear).
There is evidence that most of the industry informants feel sympathy for the well-being of the
thoroughbred. But empathy, that is being able to take the other person’s position and feel what they
feel, is only expressed by a thoroughbred protection informant:
I have seen horses fall (…) and that is personally very confronting because (…) these are 500 kg
animals that are stumbling and hitting the ground with significant force, which to me not just
represents risks of physical damage but psychological damage as well (…), especially being a
prey animal who relies very much on their capacity to be fit and fast. So anything that
compromises that is likely to cause them to be vulnerable and no doubt you would be getting a
flight response kicking in (…) while they are experiencing that fall. (…) it must be quite difficult
for them (…) to face going through that whole scenario again, [at other] places and trials. (Ella –
In contrast to industry informants, thoroughbred protection informants make reference to what is
natural to the horse, and that good welfare means that thoroughbreds have the opportunity to express
their natural behaviours (Monique – A). The only argument made by industry informants to support
natural behaviour comes up when they state the horses love to “run” or “race”, it is natural to them.
This is questioned by advocates: “[H]orses all run, but I don’t think they all would race if left to their
own devices” (Ava – A).
In terms of two year old races, Ava (A) laments that: “We looked at (…) the 2-year old training sale
where horses who sometimes aren’t even chronologically 2-years old, are raced at speeds greater than
they will ever run in their lives and therefore, (…) a percentage of them, broke down or were injured or
were burnt up and used before they had even reached their chronological second birthday.” She goes
on to explain that “[t]hey are raced too young. I am not suggesting that young horses shouldn’t run.
They need to run for development of bones, but they are certainly raced far too early, by, in my
opinion, a year.”
Breeding was not considered as a welfare issue in itself (other than the need to provide for good
welfare in terms of basic health and functioning) by the industry informants. However, it was identified
as a significant issue by thoroughbred protection informants. Most refer to the problem of “over-
breeding”. There is the view that while numbers in breeding have gone down (see, for example, IFHA,
n.d.), there are “still many more thoroughbreds who are bred and born into the world than we can
provide for in any serious way” (Ava - A). Ella (A) finds that “there is the drive to find that champion.
The more horses you breed, I guess the perception is the higher the chance that you will find that
champion.” Taylor (A) underlines, that “there is a lack of strategic planning within the industry that
allows random unregulated breeding which is throwing thousands of horses into the industry, most of
whom will never win a race, or perform to their full abilities, or earn enough economically, to maintain
them within that system.” He also suggests that the smaller number of preferred horses is then used for
breeding which he considers to be in itself an exploitation of the horse just as racing is. Breeding is, as
he suggests, part of the way “the industry sustains itself. (…) [by] producing vast numbers of horses
[who are] then thrown at, ruthlessly, at an industry where some succeed and many don’t (…)” (Taylor
Mark (A) raises the concern about breeding that “over the years has been focused entirely on speed”
which, as he suggests, is causing welfare issues: The integrity of the “bone in the horses and their
ability to work for long periods in their life has diminished in the pursuit of trying to get the faster
horse”. With this, he addresses the issue of bodily integrity of the horse, which is part of the horse’s
telos. He goes on to say that it “is a very tricky balance because, obviously, they have to breed a certain
number of racehorses to produce the quality of animals that needs to go into the racing industry” (Mark
Ava (A) states that “[t]he problem with the racing industry is that they believe it is a problem of
perception, when it is a problem of reality. And they need to fix the problems.” And indeed, Evan (T),
in presenting his list of welfare issues in racing, refers to “the public perception and the industry use of
the whip”, and the need for “management of public perception of horses who exit the racing industry”.
Thoroughbred protection informants convey a sense of resignation about what welfare means in the
industry as expressed by Ava (A): “In today’s world, I think welfare is anything that means a horse
does not end up arthritic or broken down on the track; that a horse has as decent a life as can be created
for them under the circumstances, and that they don’t end up at auctions and slaughter houses.”
There are some significant differences in the conceptualisation of welfare in the thoroughbred industry
between industry and thoroughbred protection informants. Some may seem self-evident, others less so.
The thoroughbred protection informants can be considered leaders in the public animal protection
realm and thus give an insight into the way the public discourse is likely to further develop. From that
it is clear that there is still a lot of catch-up to do on the side of the industry despite the impression they
are seeking to convey in terms of their action for welfare. Most of the industry informants, that is all
those based in the US, would agree that there are systemic problems with thoroughbred welfare. But it
needs to be considered that all informants based in the US are in positions in their respective
organisations where welfare is a specific focus of their mandate. They have somewhat progressive
views, are the leaders in terms of welfare in their industry, and in that sense, are in the minority.
The industry informants based in Australia were less forthcoming in acknowledging the magnitude and
systemic nature of the welfare issues in the industry. Several informants referred to some of the welfare
issues as a matter of perception within the public. This is reflected in the statement by Peter McGauran,
then Chief Executive Officer of Racing Australia (Racing Australia, 2015, p.13), in the organisation’s
Point 2. Animal Welfare
Whilst it is self-evident to industry participants that racehorses enjoy the highest standards of
care and handling, we must communicate our values and welfare practices to the wider
community in the face of ongoing campaigns by some extremists with a penchant for untruths.
All animal industries, let alone competition animal sports, face a challenge in engaging an
increasingly urbanized population with a growing disconnect to rural Australia and a decreasing
understanding of animal husbandry. We welcome any scrutiny and believe in complete
transparency knowing that overwhelmingly participants do the right thing and love and care for
It is a common claim by industry participants that the general public does not understand
thoroughbreds and thoroughbred racing. This is used to present themselves as experts dealing with an
ignorant public, thus a priory excluding and belittling the public’s concerns and demands, a common
strategy to uphold one’s authority (compare Kelsey in Hufnagel, Kelly and Henderson, 2018, p. 735).
McGauran’s framing of animal advocates as “extremists with a penchant for untruths” is designed to
have a marginalising effect. McGauran then goes on to frame public concerns about thoroughbred
welfare as an issue of growing disconnection to rural life and animal husbandry. However, based on
the literature, it is more likely that the urbanised public, due to animal advocacy initiatives and access
to information on social media, has greater knowledge of thoroughbred welfare issues (McManus,
Graham and Ruse, 2014), and increased knowledge of animal welfare issues leads to increased
advocacy (Erian and Phillips, 2017). Racing journalist Matt Stewart refers to the industry as a “racing
bubble”: “There is a damaging mood in racing that the world outside the bubble is wrong and that
racing is right; that racing can prosper quite nicely, thank you, without being influenced by agendas of
politically correct hippies who wouldn’t swat a mosquito” (cited in Graham and McManus, 2016, p. 7).
This is a common attitude internationally despite the presence of more progressive perspectives
expressed by the informants of this study. It is not conducive to addressing the real welfare issues
within racing in a meaningful way.
What about the fourth dimension?
The discussion above evidences that the fourth dimension of thoroughbred welfare plays no role in the
industry at large. Those with deeper sensibilities for this dimension sense feelings of sadness and loss
about the compromise to thoroughbred autonomy and bodily and mental integrity. Ava (A) describes
how she has visited the retirement home of Cigar,
a very, very famous thoroughbred in the United States 25 years ago or so. He had an
inauspicious beginning in racing, and then he reached a point where it just seemed like he could
not be beaten. He was just a beautiful animal to watch run. [At his retirement home, he] lived a
very nice life there. He had pasture and he had the company of other horses and [nothing was
ever] expected of him. But the reason that he had ended up this way, instead of as breeding
stallion is that he was infertile. (…) he was racing at a time when steroids were beginning to be
used in thoroughbreds, at least in the US. They are now illegal in most racing jurisdictions. But
there was a period of time when a lot of thoroughbreds were given anabolic steroids. And it
really messed up the breeding possibilities for those horses later. It wasn’t that I (…) wanted him
to have been standing at stud for years and creating new horses. It was just to me so sad that this
beautiful animal who appeared to love to race had been given medication that changed him
physically in such a serious way. I remember sitting there and watch[ing] him. They brought
these horses who had been retired out in front of the crowds and I just remember feeling just
incredibly moved by his whole story.
Things are being done to thoroughbreds, their agency and their bodily integrity is continuously and
severely compromised. Supporting thoroughbred agency means inter alia, and in Nussbaum’s terms, to
provide thoroughbreds with the opportunity to pursue their innate various forms of flourishing they
would chose to pursue (Nussbaum in Haynes, 2008, p. 123), to provide opportunities to exercise choice
(elsewhere referred to as “preference autonomy”, a concept developed by Regan, cited in Haynes,
2008, p. 53). It also means to not severely compromise their bodily and mental integrity. Nussbaum
argues that “all animals have an equal right to lead a flourishing life” and it is a matter of justice that
“all animals are entitled to a flourishing life and it is morally wrong for anyone to prevent such
flourishing” (Nussbaum in Haynes, 2008, pp. 123, 155).
To know how to best support and protect thoroughbred agency, we need to better understand their
knowledge system, that is how thoroughbreds view and feel about the environment they live and work
in, and what they know about it. Following Garlick's (2013) argument developed in the context of
wildlife conservation, taking account of the thoroughbreds’ knowledge system is about giving
cognitive justice to the agent, the thoroughbred. In pursuing cognitive justice, the thoroughbred has
ethical agency (as per Garlick, 2013). This ethical agency can come to bear by allowing the
thoroughbred to have a voice in matters that concern them.
In “doing things to the thoroughbred” and making them fit into a life in breeding and racing, the
knowledge system of the thoroughbred is not only being ignored but distorted and misrepresented,
their flourishing and opportunities to exercise choice and preference are also severely compromised.
We can place the thoroughbred into an environment that is either “reinforcing or restricting” in terms
of exercising his capability (as per Garlick and Austen, 2014, p. 36). The racing and breeding
environment is mostly restricting. Thoroughbreds have a view on this and at times, they express it, for
example, by resisting. Despret (2013, p. 41) states that "when animals ‘resist’, their very resistance
seems to operate as a vector of agency". She refers to the work of Baratay, who has described how
working animals resist, including horses in mines. Despret (2013, p. 41) suggests "[t]his very resistance
not only conveys their perspective on the situation but credits them with full agency: they have
opinions, will, desires, and interests."
Some of the questions that the industry has an obligation to explore relate to how the thoroughbred
perceives his environment, and what are the consequences of that for his welfare? For example, when
he runs with the field in a race, does he demonstrate that he loves racing? When Chautauqua refuses to
jump out of his barriers, does he then also demonstrate that he loves racing as one of his syndicate
owners claims (AAP, 2018)? Finally, as Garlick and Austen (2014, p. 34) suggest, “by excluding the
knowledge held by non-human [animals], (…) particular science disciplines may be challenged as not
fully meeting their own epistemological rules of empiricism – particularly the correspondence and
comprehensiveness tests.” In other words, it is not good animal welfare science to ignore the
knowledge system of the thoroughbred.
Based on the industry informant’s responses, it seems that the industry currently pursues three
objectives with their welfare initiatives:
to address the most egregious welfare violations of industry practices on and off the track,
to modify the public’s perception of the industry and its treatment of the thoroughbred (with
minimal resources allocated to those initiatives unless they are marketing strategies),
and to focus on productivity, efficiency and optimisation of the commodifiable characteristics
of the thoroughbred.
There has been progress in acknowledging welfare issues and implementing measures to address
welfare within the industry within the last ten years or so. However, it is not clear whether the three
objectives above will result in net gains for thoroughbred welfare. There may be some gains to some
aspects of basic health and functioning, but there may also be further compromises to those, and there
are likely to be compromises to aspects of thoroughbred autonomy and integrity with advances in
science and technology applied to increase the manipulation, modification, and control of thoroughbred
body and mind.
Thoroughbred protection informants have some desire to protect aspects of thoroughbred agency, and
express some form of grief at the loss of such aspects, even though they are not referring to those
concepts by their names. In contrast, industry informants have lost the ability to relate to them, or they
dismiss them. The confines of racing and breeding require them to suppress thoroughbred agency as
much as they can get away with.
Epilogue: Back on the track
Leading part-owner Legh is, according to Gould (2018), “confident that ‘to keep sending Chautauqua
back to the barrier trials, is what the horse wants’”. Legh and the training team are apparently
supported by “other trainers, people in racing, who can see through those arguing that ‘he clearly
doesn’t want to race’”. To convince the audience, Legh states that he is a horse-lover, in fact an animal
lover, he wouldn’t step on an ant; the trainer John Hawkes is a Hall of Fame trainer and deserves
respect (Gould, 2018). “Up at the farm you see a very happy, healthy racehorse”, states Legh (Gould,
On 25 August 2018, Chautauqua refused for the seventh time. Racing NSW stewards ruled this most
recent barrier test unsatisfactory. Their preliminary decision two days later was that Chautauqua should
be barred from trials and races. However, Racing NSW did not “rule out giving the former world's best
sprinter another chance to prove himself” (Miles 2018). The steward’s decision is now pending a
submission by the majority of shareholders in Chautauqua (AAP, 2018). In his career, Chautauqua has
won his connections nearly nine million Australian Dollars. He is an eight-year old gelding, not worth
anything for the otherwise lucrative breeding market.
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