Melbourne Cup Day is fast approaching. On Tuesday 4 November, millions of people will watch “the race that stops a nation”. Cup Day is an annual event since 1861 and Melbourne has turned it into a public holiday.
Anyone who watches the race (and isn’t too sloshed yet) will notice that the horses get whipped during the race. This is to make them run faster or to prevent them slowing down.
Is this the biggest public display of animal cruelty? Do people not see it, or why do they celebrate this “sport”? After all, most Australians care about animal welfare and we have laws governing animal welfare.
Professor Paul McGreevy from the University of Sydney argues that “Whips hurt horses – if my leg’s anything to go by”. Because there is no evidence to the contrary, his argument goes,
we must assume that, just as I felt pain and distress from the impact of the padded whip, similar whipping in a horse would also cause pain and distress.
The Australian Racing Board does not appear to be interested in investigating the effects of whipping on horses. As Professor McGreevy notes, it declined to participate in a non-invasive study proposed by him, using a thermographic camera on horses before and after races.
Another professor from the University of Sydney, Phil McManus, suggests the “2014 Melbourne Cup can become ‘the race that stops the whip’ “. He comments that
… the culture of the whip is ingrained in horse racing, particularly among jockeys. Since the 1880s a gold-plated whip has been presented to the winning rider of every Melbourne Cup. Much has changed since, but the tradition of presenting jockeys with an encased whip continues.
What needs to change to stop whipping horses? Public perception of the practice. It will stop when a majority of punters consider it an unnecessary and nasty practice.
Sponsors of the event include ASX listed companies – perhaps you want to contact them to express your views on the Melbourne Cup. Or do you think of it as Horse-Whipping Day, as I do?
Anyway, enjoy the public holiday on Tuesday, if you get it. And spare a thought for the horses.