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Why this image isn't the ugliest side of horse racing

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

A few days ago this image of an Irish horse trainer Gordon Elliot went viral. The horse was called Morgan. Morgan died of a heart attack whilst training.

(Image from the Guardian)

Outrage erupted at this photo and at Elliott's disregard for Morgan's dignity. Due to the public's strong reaction, the Irish Horse Racing Board (IHRB) announced that it was conducting an investigation. The English equivalent banned Elliot until that investigation is completed.

Also emerging this week was a video of amateur jockey Rob James, who previously rode for Elliott, climbing atop a dead racing horse. The IHRB is also conducting an inquiry into this incident.

But I cannot understand why anger is swelling over these immature incidents and not over the actual deaths of the animals.

The actions of Elliott and James are disgusting. I believe all beings deserve dignity in death. But more important than dignity in death is dignity in life. Dignity in life may mean different things to different people, but surely it must always mean not being exploited. These horses were exploited for the sake of entertainment for their entire too-short lives, but the public outcry only came after their suffering ended.

Had Elliott not sat on that horse and taken a photo, had James not taken a video amid the laughter of onlookers, there would be no investigation, no outcry. But these horses would still have died for our sport. The racing industry is on high-alert trying to do damage control, because these images are shattering the perception that the people involved in this dangerous, cruel sport care about these horses. Mick Fitzgerald (former jockey and now racing presenter), being interviewed on Sky At the Races “emotionally reacts” to say how sad he found the incident, how much people needed to understand that these horses were loved and cared for. Yet without missing a beat he went on to talk about how he knew horses that had made the “ultimate sacrifice for the sport… the care and attention they get to the very end, we have to emphasise to everybody watching…”.

Perhaps Fitzgerald is working with a different definition of 'care'. Perhaps he is one of many, many people proving that they only care what happens to a corpse, but not how a corpse comes to be. The cognitive dissonance of the people decrying these images yet supporting the industry that created them is astounding. Where is the outrage at the horses' treatment in life? Even though your unbelievably cruel sport led to a horse "making the ultimate sacrifice", all of that cruelty is acceptable, all of that death is tolerable, so long as no one straddles the corpse and takes a photo for posterity, is that the message? If Morgan were given the choice between a) not having someone sit on his corpse and b) avoiding the circumstances that led to his death in the first place, I guarantee he would have found the latter option far preferable.

The historical record of reactions to racing horses' deaths demonstrates the insincerity of this outrage, especially from the industry and its fans. Just a few weeks ago, a horse named L'Ami Serge suffered a fatal injury at Ascot, leaving fans "heartbroken", according to the Sun. ITV Racing host Ed Chamberlin said the horse was "so loved" by his team, and "they will be absolutely gutted". Chamberlin's concept of love is worrisome to say the least. Regardless, there would be no investigation into this death.

At that same race, a horse named Sevarano had a heart attack. Oliver Sherwood tweeted that everyone was "devastated" about the loss. Particularly ironic was his comment that Sevarano "didn't deserve his life to end this way", as though there was ever a different option, or that he deserved any of the cruelty inflicted upon him before his death. There would be no investigation into this death.

More recently, a horse named Wudyastopasking suffered a fatal injury at a race at Plumpton. Media reported that the race had to be stopped after the horse "sadly suffered a fatal injury" and that "sadly racecourse medics were unable to save" him.[3] Stewards waved flags to stop the race, and there will be an enquiry into that aspect, but there will be investigation into this death.

So please, let's cease the faux outrage and the crocodile tears, and let's condemn those in the industry for this blatant attempt to divert attention from the cruelty and unnecessary existence of this so-called sport. The investigation by the IHRB, regardless of its findings, cannot provide any comfort, because it's predicated on the falsehood that those in the industry care about the horses. That's what it comes down to: If you truly care about horses, about any animal or living being, do you force them to perform an activity that could kill them, for the sake of entertainment? No, no you do not.

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