The pair were staging a publicity stunt to highlight the cruelty of horse racing, and to draw attention to Animal Aid's latest report on the horse racing industry.
But that's what happens in horse racing. According to Animal Aid's report, "This Unsporting Life", on average 375 horses are either victims of fatal accidents on the course, or are killed afterwards due to injuries including broken bones and heart attacks.
But beneath that headline figure lies a much larger story of suffering to line the pockets of the racing and gambling industries. Quoting from the report:
>> What becomes clear from Animal Aid's comprehensive analysis of racing is that it is today
>> thoroughly 'breeder driven'. A hunger for profits has resulted in a mass output of foals
>> that, in Britain and Ireland alone, totals some 16,000 animals annually. Of these, somewhere
>> between one third and one half may ultimately make a racecourse debut. The remainder are
>> essentially a waste by-product. They are killed for pet food, fed to hunting hounds, used
>> for other equestrian events, or sold from owner to owner in a downward spiral of neglect.
The report also takes issue with a number of different types of obstacle which are designed deliberately to trick the horse or rider, and as a result are much more likely to cause an injury or fatality. These include downhill jumps, jumps too close to the start of the race or too close together, and fences which are too stiff and more likely to trip any horse unlucky enough to make contact with one. Remember, a fall at one of these fences will often mean a death sentence (if you're the horse, that is).
The Grand National, an annual race of such prestige that it even happens for people who normally have no interest in horse racing, via sweepstakes being organised in the office and the like, is singled out for criticism:
>> The Grand National's fences are of variable height, with the most imposing being
>> an open ditch known as The Chair. It is some 5 ft 2in. high and has a huge ditch
>> and spread unmatched on any other racecourse around the world. However, there
>> are other daunting fences to be jumped, including the infamous Becher's Brook
>> that has claimed many horses' lives. On approach, Becher's seems like a typical
>> National fence but the catch is on the landing side. Here, not only does the
>> ground drop away so that it is lower than the point from which the horse takes off,
>> but it drops lower on the side nearest the rail - the territory some jockeys would
>> try to claim for the shortest route round. In addition, a water filled ditch lies at the
>> foot of the fence, into which fallen horses have sometimes rolled back. Alterations
>> over recent years have reduced the chances of 'roll-back' and the ditch is itself
>> more shallow than in the past. These changes were made after a fatally injured
>> horse, called Brown Trix, had to have his head held out of the water to save him
>> from drowning, in a year when another horse was killed at the fence. But Becher's
>> remains a very dangerous obstacle. The Canal Turn is another major hazard. On
>> its other side, the course turns 90 degrees. This leads to most jockeys opting for
>> an inside berth, causing horses to bunch and many to fall. The outstanding 'Roll A
>> Joint' died at this fence.
Somehow I don't think I'll be placing any bets on the Grand National.
===== Related links
Read Animal Aid's report, "This Unsporting Life": http://www.animalaid.org.uk/racing/unsporting.htm
Watch a video showing real deaths on the race course: http://www.animalaid.org.uk/racing/video.htm
Sign the petition to ban the Grand National: http://www.animalaid.org.uk/racing/petition.htm
A hiding to nothing - The use of the whip in British horse racing: http://www.animalaid.org.uk/racing/hiding.htm