3 Nov 2015

The real reason why vegans don't support horse racing

Warning: This article contains distressing and mildly graphic images of abused horses.

Lots of people have different reasons why they think horse racing is wrong. They may disagree with the horses' welfare standards - maybe they want to get rid of whips, or jumps racing, or harnesses. Others may squirm at the thought of a dead horse, like the two horses who were killed last year while racing in the Melbourne Cup. Others want horses to roam freely in soft paddocks at the end of their careers - they don't want horses to be killed and made into pet-food, as many are. These are all valid reasons to oppose horse racing, but they all distract us from the real issue here. The bottom line. The underlying reason why most vegans are so against horse racing.

Exploitation is the key word. In fact, this could be simplified even further: use. Veganism, in its simplest form, is about rejecting animal commodification. We don't use them for food, we don't use them to make clothing or furniture, and, to keep in line with this philosophy, we don't use them for entertainment. That's the basics, and that's the real reason why horse racing isn't vegan.

"Veganism, in its simplest form, is about rejecting animal commodification. We don't use them for food, we don't use them to make clothing or furniture, and, to keep in line with this philosophy, we don't use them for entertainment."

Many proponents of horse racing will talk about how well the animals are treated, how much they are worth, how much their trainers love them, and how they will live out their post-racing lives in peace. In some cases, this may well be true. I am sure there are many racehorses who are cared for. I'm sure there are many jockeys who feel love for the horses they race. But, even if the horses are treated like royalty, they are still being used for human entertainment. They are made to race, and have no choice in the matter. Humans use and exploit these animals for their own enjoyment, a concept that completely goes against the vegan philosophy. Horses do not exist for humans to ride.

One horrifying consequence of using animals as commodities (image from www.horseracingkills.com)

This information is especially relevant now, on the day of the Melbourne Cup. It's a day of celebration and gambling, as many Australians take a day off from work to dress up, spend money, and hope to win something back. Many see Melbourne Cup day as an important aspect of Australian culture. But it's time to shift our thinking. Most of us don't think about why we use horses. We just accept it as 'normal'. Some of us may worry if a horse falls and hurts themselves, or if a horse dies in the race. We may start to think about race safety standards. Of course, issues like this are important. But, the way I see it, we desperately need to focus on the underlying problem. Why do we think we should have the right to use animals in this way? Why do we think we should have the right to own and use animals, to ride them, and to profit from the whole affair?

"Why do we think we should have the right to own and use animals, to ride them, and to profit from the whole affair?"

We would never use humans in this way. Of course, humans race, and many enjoy it - but it would be considered abuse to force a human to race against their will. It is sickening to think of an event in which 'lesser' humans are forced to race while the more privileged humans bet on the outcome. This kind of behaviour would never be accepted in today's world. So why do we impose this fate upon non-human animals? Why is it any different?

Horses cannot express their desire to race. They cannot tell us if they feel tired, or if they don't feel like running, or if they never want to race again. They are voiceless. This is why animal activists must speak out for the animals, encouraging all horse-racers, gamblers and fans to think about whether or not the party is really worth it.

If we treated horses with the respect they deserve, this tragedy could have been avoided (image from www.horseracingkills.com)

If you'd like to show your support for horses, please donate to the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses or any other horse-protection charity of your choice. Many ex-Melbourne Cup attendees have chosen to donate the money they would have once used to bet on a horse. With our support, we can hope that, one day very soon, horses will live lives free from human exploitation. My point is not to downplay the importance of ensuring that horses don't suffer or die - I want only to highlight the underlying issue, the cause of it all: the idea that animals are commodities. If we care about animals, and want them to live full lives, we must accept that they do not belong to us. We must give them the freedom they deserve.