It’s Not ‘Hot’ To Trot
The New Zealand Trotting Cup held at Addington Raceway last Tuesday drew a large crowd. The $750,000 prize money attracted top pacers from around the country and the world, and sweepstakes were held in workplaces all around Canterbury, the home of Harness Racing. Fashion, alcohol and the prospect of making big money in a short time is an irresistible combination for many people. Unsurprisingly, the day ended in a brawl; a man was arrested for disorderly behaviour, and a number of warnings were issued by the police.
Five year old Australian gelding Swayzee won the high-stakes 3200m race, and as he crossed the finish line driver Mark Purdon held his whip above his head - as if inflicting pain and fear were an emblem of triumph instead of shame.
Only in horse racing is it legal to whip an animal repeatedly. Racing Officials defend the whip as a safety measure, but anyone who has seen a horserace – thoroughbred or standardbred – knows it is cracked repeatedly in the final stretches in order to push the horse across the finish line. In thoroughbred racing, horses can be literally flogged.
Another justification for using the whip is that it doesn’t really hurt the horse. Our common sense tells us it does, and this is vindicated by two studies that were carried out in 2020 by Professor Paul McGreevy from the University of Sydney School of Veterinary Science, that showed that horses feel as much pain as humans would when whipped, and furthermore, the whip doesn’t enhance safety at all.
In Harness Racing whips are used in training young horses as well as during races. Painful, punitive, and aversive techniques are commonplace in the horseracing industry, as the priority is to force the horses to perform; their comfort and wellbeing coming a distant second to earning money for those who seek to profit from them.
In Harness Racing, some of the more successful drivers and trainers can earn impressive money, and the lure of the mighty dollar can lead to corrupt practices. Harness racing has long been plagued with scandals. Just this year alone a trainer admitted tubing and injecting his horse with vodka, a driver punched his horse during a race, and an Auckland man with more than 40 years’ experience in the industry was convicted of 30 offences involving 11 horses at his Dairy Flat property, including starving them to the point that a horse was seen eating their own feces.
Using animals for our entertainment and profit places a range of unnatural pressures on them, and endangers their well-being and even their lives. It is 2023, and we should no longer tolerate this in New Zealand.
In a business that is all about winning and gambling, horses are suffering. It’s high time for a ban on all horseracing in this country.
Sandra Kyle is on the Executive and Policy Committees of the Animal Justice Party of Aotearoa New Zealand.