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Rest in Peace, Regal Monarch - We Will Not Forget You

Rest in Peace, Regal Monarch - We Will Not Forget You

By Sandra Kyle

One of the most poignant photos I have seen lately was in a Facebook post. This photo was of a large tangled pile of collars taken from ex-race horses as they entered the kill floor of a slaughterhouse. The collars, symbols of ownership and mastery, had once been brightly-coloured but were now faded and frayed, discarded just as the animals themselves were discarded when they were no longer useful and profitable.

The writer of the post imagined her own horse companion being sold to a kill buyer. She thought with sorrow at him being tied to a wall while people poked and prodded him, and the auctioneer’s rhythmic repetition of numbers sought the best price for his flesh. She imagined him being squeezed into a trailer with dozens of other horses, still hoping in his heart of hearts that his owner would come to save him. But he would call out for her in vain. The last moments of his life he would be alone with rough and indifferent strangers, terror invading his innocent and noble heart, the only remains of his former life being a collar jettisoned onto a pile with many others.

I have never owned a horse but I learned to ride them decades ago when I was a young woman living in France. I know first-hand that they are strong and gentle, massive and graceful, proud and vulnerable all at the same time. Some are temperamental, some skittish. Many are calm, the archetypal gentle giants. Atop their well-muscled body is their handsome head and mane, and their sensitive, expressive eyes that mirror their soul. It is mainly their eyes that I recall all these years later.

Humankind’s relationship with the horse is unique in history, and includes myth and legend. The Unicorn with its glowing white coat and single spiral horn represents elements of magic in the realistic narrative of our lives, and symbolises both purity and elusiveness. The Unicorn is the symbol for those who believe that despite all the darkness, there is still something that is good and beautiful in this world.

From the beginning of history we have dominated the horse. Whole civilisations have been built on their backs, including early New Zealand. Their past is glorious and blood-soaked. In the centuries before automation we used them in battle: World War I was a collision of men and horses. Six million soldiers marched against each other in 1914, along with two million horses conscripted from farms and fields all over the world. Steven Spielberg’s moving film ‘War Horse’ shows the terror the horses endured, and is an eloquent hymn to the special bond that can exist between man and horse. The film reminds us that to conscript young men to War is one thing, but to willingly sacrifice animals, subjecting them to horror pain and death for purpose they can never understand, is another.

Which brings me to horse racing, a timely subject with The Melbourne Cup being held recently. The Cup, with its combination of glitz, glamour and drunkenness, stops a nation – two nations – and while thousands of beautiful and powerful people egg on their horses to run faster, the animals themselves are running scared, knowing they are in danger of injury and death and powerless to do anything about it.

In 2017 the Melbourne Cup cost the life of 5-years old Regal Monarch. In a “horror fall” he injured his shoulders and ribs and had to be put down. It’s a common occurrence in Australia, where a racehorse dies on the track every 3 days. In New Zealand there have been 6 we know about so far this year.

Quite apart from the rights of an animal not to be exploited for entertainment and profit, there are serious welfare concerns around horse racing.

Striking a horse with a padded racing whip causes indentations of the skin, and is painful. That the horse fears the whip and is afraid of what might happen to it in extreme racing conditions can be seen by close up shots of their faces. They look worried at best, terrified at worst. Jumps Racing is particularly lethal, and should be immediately banned.

The SAFE website says:

Long distance races pose particular risks for horses. These include mechanical problems (stresses to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones, all of which can cause lameness and predispose to injury), as well as metabolic problems (exhaustion, dehydration, over-heating, electrolyte loss, and body pH changes, which can cause metabolic disease). Outcomes for affected horses can include incapacitation, death, lameness of many types, metabolic diseases, heatstroke, colic (abdominal pain caused by gastrointestinal problems), exertional rhabdomyolysis (muscle break-down), synchronous diaphragmatic flutter (which causes breathing difficulties), and exhausted horse syndrome. Exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage (EIPH) is bleeding within the lungs (and can cause) massive internal bleeding, asphyxia and death.”

Drugs are also a factor in horse racing. In the artificially-created lives of racehorses, drugs are legitimately used to treat the consequent medical conditions that inevitably occur. That drugs are also illegitimately used to enhance their performance is also beyond doubt.

To come back now to their slaughter. Horses no longer able to race fast enough to be profitable face uncertain futures. A lucky few get to live out their lives in a paddock, looked after by their grateful owners. A lot are retired as riding or breeding horses. But many are loaded onto trucks, and transported very long distances to the few abattoirs that process them. Processing horses for slaughter is not straightforward as they can thrash about, making it difficult for the slaughterers to aim the stun gun at their head before cutting their throats. The main horse slaughterhouse in New Zealand that processed horses for consumption overseas -the euphemistically named ‘Clover Meats’ in Gore - has closed down. Most slaughtered horses in this country are therefore processed for pet food.

This could have been the fate of Regal Monarch, but instead, he died this week in the Melbourne Cup. He started the day young, healthy and vigorous, probably nervous and keyed up for the day ahead of him. Hours later he was lying in agony, ready to receive a bullet to the head or lethal injection. I have written this for Regal Monarch, and the more than 140 other horses who have died this year in Australia and New Zealand as a result of horse racing.

On their behalf I pose the question: How long can we continue to sacrifice the most beautiful and noble of animals for our own pleasure and profit? When will we begin to say ‘Nup’ to the Cup and other deadly horse races.

If not us, who? If not now, when?

Rest in Peace, Regal Monarch. We will not forget you.

Sandra Kyle is a Waikato-based teacher, writer and broadcaster

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