From the horse's mouth

When it comes to animal welfare, it’s those on the front line who are best qualified to speak out

I HAD justifiably high hopes for Super Cool in the Melbourne Cup. After reading and listening to bookies, I whacked a modest $50 on his nose at $31 – unfortunately, I lost.

My loss, however, was bearable - unlike that of Cup galloper, Verema, who snapped her cannon bone during the race and was put down moments later.

In the wake of Verema’s tragedy, the Australian horse racing industry is enduring more flak as it plunges further into a defensive stance on animal welfare.

Of course, the mud slingers know as much about horses as I do about backing a winner, but their ranting combined with support from select celebrities can shift public opinion.

Meanwhile, the trainers, owners and stablehands do what they can for their love of the animals and industry, and have to defend their right to do so.

Sound familiar?

Last Wednesday, celebrity vet Dr Chris Brown – also known as the Bondi Vet - launched “Just One Percent”, an appeal to get 1 per cent of the $2.3 billion turnover from gambling set aside for the welfare of failed and former racehorses.

Chris, like countless others in the public eye, is responsible for informing, creating and shaping public opinion. Some would say his “dreamy” good looks foster an attraction, his veterinary experience gives him qualification and his TV series and books validate his position to be an authority on all things animal. Thanks to Channel 10, his message echoes through hundreds of thousands of households with far more impact than industry bodies could dream of.

Chris said on national television just 24 hours after the Melbourne Cup that “some ex-racehorses are left to paddocks and they just don’t survive on grass alone, they’re extremely efficient athletes that are used to being fed very concentrated foods. They cannot survive on grass, they usually starve to a very slow death in that situation”.

I can see where he gets that from, the horses in Centennial Park, just near Bondi in Sydney, won’t do too well without being hand fed.

Jokes aside, we’ll now see the racing industry enter an upward struggle to share the truth with Australians who unquestionably absorb these lies.

George Bernard Shaw said “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” And the racing industry is now seeing this at whole new level, a level many of us in agriculture have been dealing with for years.

I’ve owned and cared for up to 30 ex-racers in my time. Some raced for up to nine years, some never made it. Some were firey and full of energy, while some were as quiet as a mouse. One thing they all had in common when on my property is that they lived on grass. I know we’ve trimmed and tampered with breeding, but I figured several thousand years of evolution might outweigh the few hundred years of bucket feeding chaff, grain and lucerne. It works for horses not in heavy work or in foal, which for thousands of ex-racing thoroughbred owners is the case. I know my mob of monogastric ex-racers looked a bit feral and wild in their big paddocks packed with pasture, but geez they were healthy and happy.

It’s also worth noting the Bondi Vet’s “Just One Percent” idea is exactly the same as one the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses allegedly put to the Victoria Racing Club earlier in the year.

This horse welfare gang are a South Melbourne–based vegan group that are struggling with momentum. While on vegans, it was disappointing to see Dr Brown quote figures derived from Animals Australia, as they also never let the truth get in the way of an objective. He also used phrases like “make it happen” in his six minute segment on Channel Ten’s The Project program, which sounds awfully familiar. So what’s going on there?

This idea is commendable, although as always when it comes to animals, there’s a strong misunderstanding from most people as to what does actually happen to ex-racers, and of course the trusty activist groups are always there to put their two bobs’ worth in.

Not forgetting as well there are many ex-racers that are committed to the “circle of life” and pack out our tins of dog food – even Dr Chris has commented publicly that dogs can’t be vegans. His project may have the unintended effect of raising the cost of production of pet food and pull up supply, which in turn will anger many of his loyal fans when they’ll be paying $10 for a tin of dog food.

I hope Chris chooses a moral ground which allows the industry to find a front foot and keeps a bigger picture view on the overall effectiveness, relativity and purpose of the pledge. After all, when it comes to animal welfare, it’s those on the front line who are best qualified to speak out.

Sam Trethewey

Sam Trethewey

grew up farming down south and now commentates on agriculture across Australia
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


Top Ender
12/11/2013 8:31:13 AM

But Sam isnt Dr Dreamboat on the "frontline", I mean he is a Vet first and a TV personality second - surely!!
12/11/2013 9:23:36 AM

You lost me at the suggestion that there would be rioting in the streets if pet food goes up $10 a can. If your answer to the question about whether the racing industry should treat retired racehorses better is to defend current practices as delivering cheap pet food to the masses ... I'm struggling to understand why you have a column here in the first place. It's an argument not only void of ethics but also of intellect.
Rural Jane
12/11/2013 10:35:05 AM

Sam, you're awesome. The world needs more people like you.
12/11/2013 1:54:18 PM

Horse racing - the recirculation of debt...
12/11/2013 2:15:05 PM

Sam you are jumping to conclusions that in the face of reality just don't fly. CPR exists because horses die on the race track. Unacceptable. Racehorses are also started while their bodies are physically immature, esp their vertebrae. Racehorses are whipped! Call that sport? Why is beating a tired horse acceptable? Horse racing is not a sport, it is an industry and to say the people involved "love their horses" is also a falsehood. They might love them if they are winning money but that love evaporates if they are too slow, injured or suffering from gastric ulcers.
What a load of nonsense
14/11/2013 9:13:47 AM

Says who. Where do these idiots come from?
Principle applies to animal advocates
14/11/2013 5:32:51 PM

If we use your principle of those on the front line are best qualified to speak, it applies to the animal advocates who see and report on the brutality and cruelty suffered by animals in live export. They are best qualified to speak because they are independent, unbiased, substantiate the facts and do not have a financial interest.
14/11/2013 8:48:29 PM

Yes Sam, the Australian public do sometimes unquestionably absorb lies - like when told Iraq had WMD or that a tax on the super profits of mining companies is unfair, will destroy investment and cost jobs or that land rights for Aboriginals will see Aussies lose their homes. In regard to the racing industry, video footage showing horses falling in jumps racing and 'pre-loved' animals cruelly discarded at the knackers, is worth a thousand words. If these images are lies, then I am guilty of absorbing them, as with publications referenced on the CPR website.
16/11/2013 4:36:34 PM

I have been a horse owner and rider for 40 years. But I am a realist, and understand that for some, a quick death at an abattoir is a better outcome than mistreatment or starvation. However, when you see a horse which won its connections many hundreds of thousands of dollars (and punters much much more) facing that fate, it makes me a little ill. When "Legends", a retirement home for famous (and very lucrative) horses struggles financially to survive, something is wrong. Why shouldn't a tiny part of their winnings fund a comfortable retirement?
Get MuddyTo think clearly in farming and about farming, you need to get muddy - commit, roll up your sleeves and get involved. SAM TRETHEWEY gets stuck into some of the issues facing those on the land.


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