Herald Scotland reported today that:


 THE Scottish Grand National was marred yesterday by the deaths of two horses after the race, sparking calls for changes to gruelling steeplechase races and the introduction of better animal welfare.


At Ayr yesterday, Regal Heights and Minella Four Star collapsed and died at the end of the four-mile event. Both are thought to have suffered from internal bleeding.


Officials at Ayr Racecourse said last night they were satisfied that the horses’ deaths were “tragedies” which could have happened at any time, and were not a direct result of the race.


Really? “..."tragedies” which could have happened at any time"? Two horses dying of internal bleeding following the same race?

Give me a break.


These deaths come on the heels of the deaths at Aintree a week ago, after two horses were killed after falling at fences during the Grand National.


Which begs the question: What are we doing to our horses, and how can we possibly come up with any rationale for these deaths?


Every time a horse dies on a race course or a cross country course, there is a mad rush of rationalization. Event organizers express the standard deep regret and reiterate their commitment to the welfare of the horses.


Riders, terrified that they will be the next target of animal right groups, defend the horse deaths as part and parcel of riding being a sport with inherent risks.


I've had enough of it.


Look, if horses are dying regularly on jump racing courses, there needs to be a safety overhaul of the courses and the sport needs to be more tightly regulated.


David Muir, equine consultant for the RSPCA, said: “We cannot justify the indefensible. We’ve got to ask if there is something wrong. We have to address the problems and make the sport safer. The industry has a duty of care to the horses. Four deaths in the space of a week is too many.”


Is it really that hard to agree with him?


Last time I checked, horses don't have the option of signing up for the race or bowing out. They depend completely upon us to make the decisions that will profoundly affect  - and possible end - their lives.


This is not a rant to ban jump horse racing or cross country events, but it is me saying to everyone out there - How dare any of us rationalize the death of any horse who dies serving us for our own recreation, sport, entertainment, or pocketbook?


How dare we.













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Comment by Lindsay Day on April 19, 2011 at 10:09am

The sudden death of any horse is a devastating and tragic event – so when 4 horses die during competitive events within a week of each other, questions about the health and safety of these animals during competition are pushed to the foreground.

There are a few things I think are worth noting here. One is that in the two different events we are dealing with two very different causes of death – on the one hand catastrophic injury, and the other, what is referred to as “non-traumatic” sudden death – ie not due to an obvious injury, and which can have varying underlying causes, such as rupture of the pulmonary artery (leading to internal bleeding) or some other internal event (like severe heart rhythm disturbance) that causes sudden heart failure. The exact cause of these latter types of deaths is often a mystery and remains poorly understood in both human and equine athletes. They are also thankfully quite rare.

I can’t speak to the nature of the sporting events in which these deaths took place, but I do believe that a loss of a horse is difficult for everyone. While some individuals involved in equine sports and racing might not care for the welfare of their animals, it has been my experience that most do. I think the loss of a horse is a devastating event for the vast majority of owners and trainers and riders, and not something they would have indifference to.

I think the overwhelming majority of people involved in the industry, and those outside as well, would like to see the best measures taken to ensure the safety of both horse and human athletes.  The trouble with “non-traumatic” sudden death is that the underlying mechanisms in many cases are still poorly understood – these deaths happen to otherwise healthy people and horses that often show no prior signs of illness or disease. Fortunately, there are many dedicated medical professionals and academic researchers that are involved in an ongoing effort to better understand these types of occurrences with the goal of developing strategies for their prevention.

I am saddened to hear of the death of these horses. Perhaps it is time to rethink the nature of some of the sporting events we put them through. But whatever the measures that need to be taken, I think its important to remember that the attribution of blame (be it on individuals, motives, or an industry) does not often lend itself well to finding solutions.


Comment by Sue Baxter on April 18, 2011 at 3:47pm
As in all things, money rules.  Not just in racing.  We force horses beyond their capacity for personal fame and fortune.  As previously said, the horse has no say and probably gains little from the fame and fortune.  This is a values question that every horse owner needs to ask themselves every day.  
Comment by Nicola Barnes on April 18, 2011 at 3:37pm

Dude, galloping full speed into HUGE jumps... BAD!!!

Leaning bak in2 HUGE jumps... BAD!!!


Comment by Jackie Cochran on April 18, 2011 at 8:39am
About leaning back over the jump--this is from the OLD English hunt seat.  After the horse is over the highest part of the jump the rider leans back instead of staying forward.  Often the rider's legs are thrust forward, braced in the stirrups, often with the rider's weight coming back into the saddle just as the horse's hind legs are trying to clear the jump  Often the rider leans so far back he is also pulling hard on the reins.  I have read about/seen 2 old photographic/film studies that show the horse's hind end going lower when the rider leans back, forcing the horse to leap higher or causing the horse to bring down the fence (hopefully not falling) with its hind legs.  The higher the horse has to jump the quicker the horse tires.  Also the steeper angle of the landing puts more strain on the tendons, ligaments, and pulley bones (sesamoids and navicular) of the front legs, and with the rider bracing his legs/feet to the front the landing weight of the rider is not absorbed by the rider's stiff knees, leading to more force on the front legs when the horse lands. 
Comment by Emily Walsh on April 18, 2011 at 6:57am

Whats this leaning back during a jump? Seems like a small way to create big problems.

My instructor spent 2 weeks re-teaching me 2-point when I started releasing to early over small cross-rails. It got to the point when after landing I wasn't coming back to half-seat soon enough

(not sure if its real name is half-seat but its where your entire body is more forward in the saddle, so instead of being back at the seat and cantel you are closer to the pommel. Makes it easier to come out of the saddle and into 2-point and keeps your weight off the horses back for quick jumps. I know it's used at the trot not sure canter as I haven't jumped at the canter.)

Comment by Marlene Thoms on April 17, 2011 at 7:22pm
The bleeding problem is apparently not such a mystery. A quick bit of research informed me that there are medications which could be used in race horses to greatly reduce the incidence of bleeding in horses (apparently it is extremely common). But the drug is not allowed in some countries, is allowed in North America. Seems like a no brainer to me. If most all the horses bleed when racing, either stop all racing, or give them a drug to greatly reduce the harm of bleeding. It also seems more common as the horses age, maybe an age limit would be in order for racing as well. Goodness knows they've earned their retirement.
Comment by Jackie Cochran on April 17, 2011 at 3:47pm

Over a hundred years ago there was developed a system for jumping, the Italian Forward Seat, that was much safer for both the horse and rider over jumps both in the ring and cross-country.  Piero Santini has long discussions in his books about falls of jumping horses, falls that are aggravated by the rider leaning back at ANY part of the jump.  While the FS does not prevent all falls from horse and rider, it does tend to make the falls less deadly for both (there is no guarantee of perfect safety while jumping, sorry, especially at racing speeds.)

The FS never made it to the Grand National, the fences are just too scary, especially the drop fences.  In the past 30 years 3-Day cross country riders started leaning back when landing from a jump.  I guess it was just too scary for them too.  However, since the world recond high jump, 8 ft. 1 1/2 inches was ridden Forward Seat from take off through 4 or 5 strides after landing, with a much steeper descent than seen in the Grand National of the 3-Day drop jumps, I wonder why riders are insisting on riding in such a manner that is more dangerous for both the horse and the rider, leaning back, way back, when the horse is landing.  Not only is it more dangerous, but the horse HAS TO jump higher to clear the fence with his hind legs, and therefore the horse's landing is even steeper than it would be if ridden in a proper FS.  AND the horse gets tireder quicker because it has to make so much effort to clear the jumps.

I totally agree with you that something needs to be done.  PART of the solution may be to ride the fences properly and for the riders to stop looking like the riders in the old English hunting prints, the ones from before the development of the Forward Seat.  This will help save the horses' energy.  I know this viewpoint won't be popular, and that many people will disagree with me especially since I am no longer able to jump.  However, if I ever get to jump again I will never lean back on landing because IT IS NOT SAFE FOR THE HORSE OR THE RIDER.  I have never seen anything that has made me change my opinion about this in over 45 years of being interested in jumping horses.  (NOT 45 years of jumping unfortunately!)

Making the jumps safer is also an excellent idea!   Shorter steeplechases would also help, the horses would not be driven into exhaustion.  Even TBs start giving out physically after two miles at a racing gallop, 4 miles is more like brutal punishment to today's TBs.  The amazing thing is that most the horses in these races survive in spite of everything, not that some die. 

My apologies for the length of my rant.  I don't want the horses to die either.

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