By Zafrir Rinat
1 March 2012, Tel Aviv
Translated from Hebrew
What lies behind the glittering façade of the horse race? According to animal rights association Hakol Chai, which is fighting government plans to promote racing for gambling in Israel, mainly serious abuse
Amutat Hakol Chai, whose objective is to prevent harm to animals in Israel, chose to dedicate Animal Rights Day, which took place the day before yesterday and was marked by the Knesset, to protest activities against government plans to promote horseracing in Israel for the purpose of gambling.
Race horses have the glittering aura of animals which, although they work hard, enjoy special treatment from their breeders and have become the heroes of movies and books. However, according to Hakol Chai this romantic glitter conceals a depressing reality. According to the information collected by the amuta and presented in a letter to Orit Noked, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, the worldwide horseracing industry generates thousands of horses serving as backup to the animals that actually race. Many of these become unnecessary over time, and after considerable suffering due to neglect, they, as well as horses that have competed in the past, eventually end up in the knackers yard.
A number of prominent newspapers around the world, including the New York Times and the Guardian, have published investigative pieces in recent years on the tough situation of retired racehorses. The New York Times revealed that a fund intended to care for these horses has not proved useful and many of them have starved to death. The Guardian reported on knackers yards in Britain where thousands of horses are put down.
When the colts are only two years old, and their bones are still soft, they already undergo grueling training and take part in races in which the tremendous effort demanded of them can cause irreversible injuries. In its letter to Noked, Hakol Chai mentions testimony from veterinarians in the United States stating that failed treatment of such injuries means that it is even hard for these horses later to be adopted as pets.
Horses also die during races, due to accidents and mishaps; only last month the media in Ireland reported the deaths of five young horses during races. According to the data of the British RSPCA, in the past four years more than 700 horses collapsed and were put down on the racecourse.
Another significant problem is the use of stimulants or painkillers, even those that are permitted by law, to produce better results from the horses while causing long-term harm. The people at Hakol Chai write in their letter that "drug testing is carried out retroactively, after the horse has been declared the winner and the gambler has received his winnings. Some substances that are permitted for use, but the cost of testing is high and the sanctions against the infringers are ineffective."
At the amuta they also point out that this is the only animal in the world, apart from bulls, that may be whipped in public for amusement and sport. Horses are whipped dozens of times in the course of the race, and exhausted horses that no longer have any chance of winning are the ones that are flogged the most. The British organization Animal Aid has launched a campaign to impose limits on use of the whip, and is now calling for its complete prohibition.
The people at Hakol Chai are not limiting themselves to protest actions. They have recently joined up with a group of members of Knesset, headed by MK Yoel Hasson of Kadima, and have helped draw up an amendment to the Animal Welfare Law prohibiting the exploitation of animals for gambling. "Animals used in the gambling industry suffer from diseases, doping, injuries and early death", it says in the explanation to the amendment; "they are turned into machines, pushed to the very limit of their ability in any way possible".
Horses racing in Hong Kong. "Pampered athletes" or the objects of abuse?
A completely different view of the racing industry is offered by Elhanan Froilich, a horse breeder and former manager of the professional riding club in Israel. "The race horse is a pampered and well groomed athlete", claims Froilich. "It lives in much better conditions than horses used in other spheres, because it receives a controlled and high standard of diet and training, protection from heat and cold, medical and hygienic care. Horses that do not continue racing are used for breeding, or end up in places like riding schools.
"The percentage of horses that die during races is smaller than the numbers that die in places like riding schools or in other uses", Froilich adds. "As in any branch of sport, there is a danger of bending the rules and of prohibited use of medical substances, and therefore it is obvious that without close supervision, there is no moral justification for holding horse races. In Israel, it is possible to start with 400 horses, with the aim of increasing the number to 1500, and to hold races with the required standard of supervision and conditions."
The response of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development: "the Ministry has recently decided to recognize horse breeding as an agricultural branch, in light of the considerable development that has taken place in this field in Israel. The Ministry is working to raise the standard of the branch, as is usual in Western countries. It supports activities relating to promoting the welfare of the animals, their breeding and reproduction, training and care. Although the government has taken a decision to establish a hippodrome for horseracing, the Ministry's actions are not intended to serve the use of this facility but to provide a fitting response to the developing branch. The Ministry and the Minister attribute considerable importance to the welfare of horses in general, and racehorses in particular. In Israel, races take place under the supervision of the Ministry and since the procedures for racing were laid down six years ago there have not been any accidents and no horse has died.