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News Blog Articles Remembering a racehorse called Regal Monarch – killed in the 2017 Melbourne Cup
Remembering a racehorse called Regal Monarch – killed in the 2017 Melbourne Cup

Remembering a racehorse called Regal Monarch – killed in the 2017 Melbourne Cup

November 8th, 2017

Regal Monarch was a five-year-old bay gelding entered into the 2017  Melbourne Cup. Horses are gentle, trusting animals, who often run for  brief periods, when they are startled or feel the need to flee. Highly  social, they hate being left behind by their herd mates. And so Regal  Monarch was trying hard to keep up with his mates, as the closely packed  herd rounded a bend 2 minutes and 25 seconds into Race Four. But then  something happened. Travelling at around 50 km/hr, Regal Monarch fell.  Perhaps he tripped. Or was jostled by another horse. At that speed  anything disrupting rhythm and balance can have catastrophic  consequences, for animals weighing 500 kg or more, further weighted down  by a jockey, saddle and lead weights in saddle pockets. The Melbourne  Cup is a handicap race, and the minimum allowable weight carried by  horses is 50 kg.

Fortunately, Regal Monarch was able to struggle to his feet. Soon  after he was on a horse float being driven to the University of  Melbourne Veterinary Clinic. Perhaps he would be alright after all,  hoped a waiting national and international audience. Sadly, however, it  was not to be. He was euthanased soon after, due to the injuries he had  sustained.

A growing body count

Regal Monarch’s death added to a growing list of horses killed at the Melbourne Cup in recent years. He was the fifth horse killed since 2013. One died  from a heart attack, and four died from injuries, usually broken legs.  Unfortunately, the horse’s body weight makes recovery from leg injuries  extremely difficult, and the prognosis for return to competitive racing  is often poor. Hence euthanasia is the usual decision.

This ever-increasing body count in Australia’s highest profile horse  race should not pass unchallenged. Is it really right that so many  horses are dying for our entertainment?

Horses naturally run, but not at sustained speeds, over the distances  and obstacles in modern racecourses, and not whilst carrying 50+ kg of  weight. The intense and sustained exercise often causing bleeding within  the lungs (known as exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage). This  probably results from high blood pressure within tiny blood vessels over  extended periods. Some studies indicate that virtually every racehorse  suffers from this at some point [1]. As Mundy [2] notes, “Extreme  episodes … can cause massive internal hemorrhage [bleeding] into the  lungs … subsequent asphyxia [breathing difficulty] and death.” Instead  of decreasing the severity of exercise, e.g. by decreasing race lengths,  the standard industry response is to give horses furosemide – a  diuretic drug. This lowers blood pressure by increasing urination.

Beaten and neglected

To encourage tired horses to run, jockeys use whips. Striking a horse  with a padded racing whip is at least aversive, and at worst, painful  [3-5]. As McLean and McGreevy [6] note, from a behavioural science  perspective, for a whip to work, “…it must have acquired the properties  of a punisher at some point in time.” Beating an animal with a stick  would be considered illegal in any other context – and yet, it is  tolerated in horse racing.

When horses are not training or racing, unfortunately they’re often  neglected. Horses are very social animals, and would naturally spend  most of each day outdoors with their herd, grazing. Unfortunately  however, domesticated horses are often kept on their own. In a study of  racehorses on New Zealand’s North Island, Williamson and colleagues [7]  found that 97% of racehorses were confined to an area less than 5 x 5  metres, for more than 12 hours each day, and 50% had no access to  pasture or free exercise.

Highly concentrated diets are also common, and are quickly consumed,  leaving stabled horses with very little to do for most of the day. This  is very unnatural, and results in gastric (stomach) ulcers, and  stereotypical behaviours. These are repetitive behaviors such as  weaving, crib-biting and wind sucking, which are believed to indicate  profound, ongoing stress.

Some parts of the racing industry are particularly egregious. Jump  racing is especially dangerous for horses. In hurdle racing, horses are  required to jump obstacles up to one metre in height, whilst carrying a  minimum weight of 64 kg (jockey and saddle, plus handicap weight). In a  steeplechase, horses jump over fences at least 1.15 m high [8]. Jump  races are also usually longer than flat races. Horses that are tired or  crowded by other horses have a greater risk of falls.

Because of such factors, the risk of fatality in Australian jump  racing is almost 19 times that of flat racing. Catastrophic limb failure  – the main cause of horseracing deaths – is 18 times greater, with  cranial (head and neck) or vertebral (back) injury 120 times greater,  and sudden death (e.g. from heart failure) 3.5 times greater [9].  Because of these severe risks to horses, jump racing has ceased in all  but two Australian states: Victoria and South Australia. However, it  still continues in New Zealand. And our horses also continue to die in  Australian events. Two of the three horses that died in the opening  weeks of the 2016 jump season were from New Zealand: Cliff’s Dream and  Fieldmaster.

The death of Regal Monarch in the 2017 Melbourne Cup, and of all the  horses who died before him in previous years, is a tragedy. The very  least we can do in response is to end the most egregious parts of the  racing industry, such as the use of whips, and jump racing. Please join  our pledge to end jump racing in New Zealand.

Andrew Knight

SAFE, Director of Research and Education

References

  1. Sweeney CR. Exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. (1991). Vet Clin North Am Equine Pract, 7, 93–104.
  2. Mundy GD. (2000). Equine welfare. Racing. J Amer Vet Med Assoc, 216(8), 1243-1246.
  3. Lewin GR and Moshourab R. (2004). Mechanosensation and pain. J Neurobiol. 61, 30–44.
  4. McGreevy PD, Corken RA, Salvin H, et al. (2012). Whip use by jockeys in a sample of Australian thoroughbred races—an observational study. PLoS ONE 7, e33398.
  5. Taylor PM, Crosignani N, Lopes C, et al. (2016). Mechanical nociceptive thresholds using four probe configurations in horses. Vet Anaesth Analg, 43, 99–108.
  6. McLean AN and McGreevy PD. (2010). Ethical equitation: capping the price horses pay for human glory. J Vet Behav: Clin Applications Res, 5(4), 203-209.
  7. Williamson A, Rogers CW and Firth EC. (2007). A survey of feeding,  management and faecal pH of Thoroughbred racehorses in the North Island  of New Zealand. NZ Vet J, 55(6), 337-341.
  1. Ruse K, Davison A and Bridle K. (2015). Jump horse safety:  reconciling public debate and Australian Thoroughbred Jump Racing Data,  2012–2014. Animals, 5(4), 1072-1091.
  2. Boden L, Anderson JA., Charles KL, et al. (2006). Risk of fatality and causes of death of thoroughbred horses associated with racing in Victoria, Australia: 1989–2004. Equine Vet J. 38, 312–318.

 

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