The Grand National – is it a sport, or torture?

It is not an unusual sight to see a hold up of traffic for a four legged feline or a French bulldog that’s got loose. We are a nation of animal lovers after all. A mans best friend, affection and devotion is more for a creature on four legs than two. So, it is no surprise that every year with out fail Brits begin the ongoing argument about the Grand National’s future as a sporting event, or as a cruel play-off. What do you think?


The Grand National is one of the biggest horse racing events held each year. A set number of 40 components are confronted with around 30 jumps. With a staggering four and a half mile track, it is the longest in the world, and is sure to bring a thrill seeking, shock value day for the 70,000 people that gather to the ground.


Every year around 12,000 foals are born into the Irish and British racing industries each year, with only half that go on to become racing stars. The other half are an unworthy race, to be handed down, neglected or killed. A glamorous life of racing illnesses such as bleeding lungs and gastric ulcers, it’s a whipping good time to be a racehorse. If you manage to jump over every hurdle; the pain staking training regimes, enough to keep the financial interest of trainers, commentators and bookies, then you may be able to save your neck before reaching the race. A horse in the wild lives almost ten years longer than a pampered domestic horse. These animals graze and live in perfect harmony, with gentle running and exercise.


So tell me, would you still love the Olympics if it were a life threatening sport? If on the hurdles Jessica Ennis fell and crushed her vital organs, would you still be cheering? And what about during the 10,000M endurance race that pushes the human body to its limits – if Mo Farrah tumbled over and broke his legs, and consequently had to be shot to prevent any more pain. Would you bat an eyelid?


And yet year after year this happens at the Grand National. 2012 – the same year as the London Olympics – there were two deaths. ‘Synchronised’ was put down soon after suffering the extreme training limits after falling at the tracks first circuit. ‘According to Pete’ was brought down and suffered horrendous pain before being put down during the race. Were you one of the people more concerned about the money lost than the loss of life? How sad is that.


The most recent Grand National was the second consecutive year with no casualties. There were still eight that failed to stay on their feet, and fell beneath a frightening footfall of hoofs. For these horses, it’s back to the start with intense training until next year. Is this okay with you? Is it acceptable for this procedure, pressure and pain to be forced on a living thing?


The Grand National has been a target for protesting by animal rights activists including Animal Aid who have branded the event as a ‘hazardous race in which most horses do not even finish’. Many horses are drugged without consent to mask their pain. There’s no rest for a winner.


The British horseracing authority have said “Racing is a sport with risk, and the Grand National is the most testing race in Great Britain; that is why it has captured the imagination of so many for over a century.” And as true, as this may be, what does it really say about our imaginations, are we really that bored in our lives to find excitement in danger for ‘sport’?


Of course there are a number of other examples here, for many fox hunting is cruel and barbaric. Some might defend it on the grounds that it is linked to rural ways of dealing with foxes. Chasing animals across large distances until they reach their death. You wouldn’t find entertainment like that anywhere else. It’s important to remember that there are two ethical issues here; the first a needless cruelty entailed less noticeable however but equally important is what participation does to the spectator. Aren’t we diminished morally by our very involvement?


Dog racing has also generated a popularity pulling punters in to make some money and have a fun time. There haven’t been any deaths or any punishable jumps that could result in injury. Trainers have never pushed mans best friend past their breaking point. Is it because they are dogs and have a place in our homes and therefore our hearts? The only difference is the medias input in the event. If a horse race were made simpler, like that of a dog’s race, wouldn’t it still be a popular day out fuelled with alcohol and fancy dresses?


It raises fundamental questions about the basis of moral rights. Does a horse not have rights because it is less than a human and therefore can’t possibly have human rights. Taking a whip and causing pain and unnecessary suffering to any feeling being is morally wrong and diminishes the moral standing of the human that causes it.

In fifty years time whose to say we won’t be bored of watching this level of torture, and have taken back to human whippings and public torment, and the children of today becoming the brutes of tomorrow. Do you think people would be interested in a standard race with no risk of life, or is that what they really want to see?

Mankind has always used animals in sport. From the chariot races of ancient Rome to todays Grand National man and horse battle for supremacy. Is it true that only one of this ancient double act has rights? Humans are naturally competitive but horses aren’t. Yet they are the ones pushed to the limit and beyond in equestrian pursuits. It’s a large animal but frail as a pensioner when tumbling over the dreaded beaches brook. The likely hood of them being destroyed after such as accident is high. We treat our elderly quite badly, but were not there yet.

The Grand National permits anyone the power and control over any creature unworthy of human rights. So, how can we prevent the killings and painful infliction of one species of animal and not others? We can’t. The Philosopher Tom Regan argues that for human beings ‘our enjoyment and suffering, our satisfaction and frustration, our continued existence or our untimely death—all make a difference to the quality of our life as lived… and the same is true of … animals … they too must be viewed as the experiencing subjects of a life, with inherent value of their own.’

The media splash animal cruelty and the deaths of impressive animals such as a lion or elephants as a cry of humanity, but fail to neglect the hurt and pain inflicted right in front of their eyes.

There is a blurred line amongst what animals deserve the right to freedom and safety, and what ones are ‘allowed’ to be caged and forced to do, as we ‘the superior species’ want. And without batting an eye we have made ourselves gods, and have gone on to exploit nature.


‘If a man shoots his dog because the animal is no longer capable of service, he does not fail in his duty to the dog, for the dog cannot judge, but his act is inhuman and damages in himself that humanity which it is his duty to show towards mankind.


18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant argues the importance of the treatment of animals affects our treatment on all living things including humans; ‘If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.’


There are, of course, those of you who disagree with my point. Are you one of them? That there are far fewer similarities between us and animals than there are differences. That something living is not entitled to a level of welfare that would matter to them.


You would prefer me to stop, and save my breath for an animal that is more important, or for an animal rights activist who cares as a job. I suppose you would agree that if boxers want to fight and men or audiences are willing to pay to see them where is the harm? After all it is a personal choice to be an audience of these things. So, if it’s okay for the media to show then it mustn’t be cruel, am I right?


The media wouldn’t have been able to show fox hunting as a fun show, because that is cruel and barbaric. So, let me ask you, what makes the televised viewings of horses being killed from intense painstaking races okay?


Horses are made to run just like birds are made to fly, right? They enjoy running full force across a wide, open field even in the wild they do that. Racing isn’t cruel because it is allowing the animal to do something that is second nature. Wouldn’t you agree?


So, what we have here is something that can be compared with boxing and other extreme sports. But here the ethical problem is obvious. It’s the animal that is the extremist. It’s another fixture in the racing ethics seen. The fences are too high, jockeys get trampled, chaos at the start, easy job for the sporting journalists. Another last years report, repeat, nothing new – nothing done.


However you want to phrase it. The day after it’s forgotten, do we really give a fuck? It’s another excuse for moral self-congratulation. We care for a day for the ‘poor horses’ but let’s face it, you’re not going to join some crazy, balaclava wearing, animal rights activist – it’s their job. How much do we really care?


These horses are bred got challenging events such as the Grand National. The history of the horse is chronicle of the tough demands we’ve made on our fellow mammal. Pit ponies, cart horses, war horses only existed because they could meet the difficult requirements made on them – they were only bred for that purpose.


It’s the same with race horses. Why do people decry the Grand National? Simply because it’s a sport, but if we endanger their lives in ‘working’ situations why not it sport? Would the horse care whether it was worked to death in a coalmine or killed in a race – probably not.


It is important to remember that these horses are worth something to someone. To a jockey, an owner and spectators this horse is money and a lively hood. There are a huge amount of jockeys that have spoken out about the race and made the point clear that ‘we’re all doing this job because we love the horses… They’re so well looked after. Better than some children’. Is this how you treat your children? Like a piece of property that’s bred to extreme limits for just one intense race which it may never finish. Well is it?


It is a human’s input that decreases the life span of horses. We wouldn’t stand for it in the wild, but we see it on our doorsteps every year.

The Grand National has compelled the life and death of a living species, for no real necessary reason. It invites Britain to watch, listen and read about the race as horses are pushed to the finish line. If they don’t make it, you wont be disheartened, as fallen horses are just as easily discarded into dog meat – and you get a front row seat to it all.


The entertainment and enjoyment of the race doesn’t permit the enslavement and injuring of live animals. There are other, less bloodthirsty and unmerciful ways to have a spectator horse race, which so far haven’t been any less popular or profitable. When will the cruelty end? When you stop watching.

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