How a Grand National winner prompted a debate about welfare of racehorses
Arguably, it was the catalyst for a movement that has gathered pace in the last few years with several organisations established to give retired thoroughbreds a happy life after racing.
Before these though, came what is now the British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre (BTRC).
It was established in 1991 to care for the welfare of thoroughbred and retired race horses and became a registered charity in 1994.
However, the organisation might never have been, said Chief Executive Gillian Carlise, speaking at the CLA’s Women’s Networking event at the Great Yorkshire Show.
She said: “At that time the animal welfare landscape was completely different to what it is now.
"Our founder was Carrie Humble, I would not call her a feminist, I would call her a warrior, because that is what she needed to be. Too many women in welfare are labelled crazy old women and dismissed. Nobody would dismiss her, she was hard as nails and swore like a trooper.
“I don’t think our charity would have been established if she was a man, because 30 years ago horse-racing was 100 per cent old boys and it was a different world.”
Women have always been big players in animal welfare. The first female in welfare was the Queen of Sardinia in the 14th century. Battersea Dogs Home was founded by Mary Tealby in 1860 and Jessey Wade started the Cats Protection League in 1927.
However, Ms Carlisle said changes in animal welfare move at rapid speed due to social media and when there is a change in animal welfare, usually an incident triggers it.
Before the days of social media though, Humble took a phone call in 1994 about a horse called Hallo Dandy, the Grand National winner in 1984. After racing he had been given in good faith to new owners for hunting but found in a dreadful condition.
He was gifted to BTRC and became the flagship horse for the charity, living until he was 33, but Hello Dandy sparked a conversation that had not been had before.
Ms Carlisle said: “No-one really talked about that. They were just a by-product of the racing industry. Because of Hallo Dandy, the next big catalyst that affected our charity was a year later. A documentary was made called, ‘They Shoot Race Horses Don’t They’. It was pretty gruesome. The British public were not happy and started asking ‘what are you doing with your racehorses?’”
Other examples of the public getting behind animal welfare changes are in 2013 following the film, Black Fish, about a performing killer whale in captivity. It made people question the practice and in 2016, California began to ban entertainment with orcas.
In 2016 in New South Wales, an article and film about greyhound racing prompted public backlash and greyhound racing was banned in 2019.
The horse-racing world took note.
“For the people who love racing and work in racing, they thought ‘this is real’ and the threat of losing the sport is real and are we next? If the public is not behind it, and it has happened before, they can stop it.”
Current challenges in horse racing are over breeding, use of the whip, after-care and traceability. Should activists say 30,000 horses are slaughtered, while not true, it is hard to defend due to lack of definitive information on the numbers and whereabout of retired racehorses.
However, the Horse Welfare Board is currently asking anybody with a retired racehorse to complete a census with the aim of improving traceability.
At one time, 15,000 horses are registered to race and a third retires each year. For every three horses bred to go racing, only one might become active so two thirds potentially don’t compete. If in future they fall on hard times and become vulnerable they would not qualify to be supported by the industry’s vulnerable horse programme.
Similarly, if a horse is fit and ready, in the box to the race-track but has an accident travelling, gets a career ending injury and can’t compete, it also isn’t supported as it never technically raced.
BTRC believes it is not the animal’s fault and is working to change criteria so any Thoroughbred in need can access the programme. It is proud that for over 30 years they have used their charitable funds to offer a safety-net for any vulnerable Thoroughbred regardless of history and racing careers.
Ms Carlisle added: “What we try to focus on is the future. Where are we going to be ten years from now? We will have to work out where we sit and where are comfort zone and boundaries are in regards animal welfare.