Campaigners call on BHA to be stripped of regulatory role over racehorse deaths

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ANIMAL welfare campaigners have called on the British Horseracing Authority to be stripped of its responsibility for the well-being of racehorses due to the number of animals being killed on British racecourses such as the one at Kelso.

Since the launch of Animal Aid’s Racehorse Deathwatch website just over four years ago, more than 700 horses have been killed on UK racecourses.

Campaigners claim fatalities are occurring at an average rate of one every other day on the country’s 60 racecourses.

In a statement, Animal Aid said the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), had shown itself to be incapable of tackling the problems that beset the industry.

“It’s time for the government to strip the BHA of its role as the industry’s regulator, and to undertake and put into the public domain a full audit of race horse production, death and injury,” said the organisation.

Asked about fatalities at Kelso since its monitoring of racehorse deaths began just over four years ago, Animal Aid sent TheSouthern the names of 12 horses which had either dropped dead or fallen and had to be destroyed as a result of their injuries during race meetings at Kelso.

Of these 12 horses, Animal Aid says four dropped dead, two were fatally injured, three suffered broken legs, one had a fatal fall, one had a heart attack and one finished lame and subsequently had to be destroyed.

As well as the 12 deaths at Kelso since March 2007, there was one fatality at Hamilton, 15 at Perth, 11 at Musselburgh and 14 at Ayr.

Animal Aid’s horseracing consultant, Dene Stansall told TheSouthern that Kelso was around average on the list of racecourse fatalities.

“I’m guessing, but I think Kelso probably has around 15 race meetings a year, so over four years that’s 60 days racing with 12 deaths,” he said.

“That equates to one horse killed for every five days’ racing. It shows how lethal National Hunt (jump) racing is. If one Scottish league football player died at the same rate of one in every five Saturdays, there would be uproar.”

Asked about the statistics for Kelso, Mr Stansall commented: “Looking at the deaths, clearly there is a problem regarding the number of horses falling with eight of the 12 deaths coming directly from falls.

“The positioning of the fences or the stiffness – how hard they are constructed – could be a problem. Is the course too demanding in this respect?

“This is something for the course inspector and the British Horseracing Authority to deal with as a priority – if not, then they should hand over their welfare responsibility to an independent body.”

However, Paul Struthers, Head of Communications for the BHA, says it is always distressing when a horse suffers a fatal injury in a race, but that horseracing is a sport that carries risk, like any other sport or leisure pursuit involving horses.

“We are open about the risk horses face and all the work we do to minimise risk – it is all published on our website, alongside details of our veterinary work, work with racecourses to minimise risk and Q&As,” he told TheSouthern.

“We are also undertaking a major study – the biggest of its kind – with Glasgow University to analyse injuries in great detail so we can more understand these risks and act accordingly.

“We know that the public expects racing to do everything in its power to reduce risk to horses. That is why we work closely with legitimate welfare organisations.

“There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that there is a common cause to those horses fatally injured at Kelso – they are tragic accidents.

“Animal Aid is not a legitimate welfare organisation, they are an animal rights campaigning group, and their stated aim is to ban racing – any suggestion this is not the case is a disingenuous fabrication.

“Their comments and activity needs to be placed in this context, and the media and British public need to understand this so that their actions can be fully understood.

“Not everyone supports racing, and animal rights activists such as Animal Aid are entitled to its views. The BHA believes that the overwhelming majority of the British public do not subscribe to this view, and want to see racing continue.”