Shooting the slow race horses (Victoria, Australia)

The media title announces “Racing Victoria to send vets to euthanase horses…


It's not against the law to destroy an animal provided that it is humanely done. But what are the ethical issues in shooting slow horses while still breeding them in such large numbers that shooting the slow ones is justified as the preferred option?

“Victoria Racing Club establishes horse welfare fund” and “Racing Victoria launches $25 million racehorse welfare plan” are among the Google headlines alongside the article advising that “Racing Victoria to send vets to euthanase horses on farms”.

Veterinarians will reportedly be sent to Victorian farms “to euthanase retired racehorses to save them from being killed in abattoirs and knackeries, as part of the Victorian racing industry's response to an ABC investigation that exposed cruel treatment of thoroughbreds”.

Take a look at the key points of that article. First of all, there is the apparently responsible position of Racing Victoria who have announced their plan to address the issues that have led to retired racehorses ending up in abattoirs and knackeries. The plan follows the ABC's 7.30 program revealing hundreds of registered racehorses were being discarded at slaughterhouses in New South Wales and Queensland in contravention of racing rules, rehoming policies and animal welfare guarantees.

Have a look at the reassurances reportedly from Racing Victoria. Do you feel adequately reassured?

The second key point in the media article states that “a portion of ticket sales from the Melbourne Cup carnival will go to a new Victoria Racing Club equine wellbeing fund”.

Again, what do you think? Is that enough to fix the issue?

The third key point arguably goes to the root of the problem by turning your mind to the underlying cause of “over-breeding”.

The article raises at host of animal welfare related issues. Those issues range from concerns about reputation (“…the implication that people that work in our industry and the people that love horseracing don't care about horses”), recognition that animals/horses experience more than pain or distress (“…incumbent on us to do what we can to ensure our horses have opportunities for a rewarding life after racing”), and alternative perspectives on the costs and the cure (“…the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses described the Racing Victoria initiative as "a good start" but …there's a huge oversupply of horses each and every year… that needs to be dramatically reduced”).

Overbreeding. Now that's an issue that's come up in animal welfare debates before!

Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick twittered: “"When up to 15,000 horses are bred *each year* there will never be enough homes - no amount of $$ will change that". The RSPCA also said the number of horses being bred should be managed to reduce the need for euthanasia because "$25 million is a lot of money [but] I doubt it will be enough to actually finish the job".


So, what do you think? Are you reassured that the problem of cruelty will be fixed with $25 million and shooting the horses? Or are you still feeling a little uncomfortable with the idea of over-breeding and culling the slow ones?

On one hand, there’s the reality that treatment of animals as commodities is a long-standing practice within human society – and the current rulebook (aka the law) says that it’s not against the law to kill an animal provided that it is done in an acceptably humane way.

On the other hand, that’s not necessarily the end of it. Animal welfare legislation is appropriately very broad in terms of it’s net of potential liability. For example, offences can be applicable not just for what a person actually knew or did or failed to do, but also for what they reasonably “should” have known. So if a person who had care, supervision or control of an animal – either directly or vicariously – “should” have known, for example, that an act or practice would foreseeably result in animal welfare issues, then it might be that a case could be made alleging a breach of animal welfare responsibilities.


“Responsibility” – it’s a key word that generically underpins the law. Understandably it also applies to law involving animal welfare.