Horse racing accident showing two horses falling, one with a broken leg

Putting horse racing out of its misery

Today is the Melbourne Cup. It’s a big deal.

Over 100,000 people will be drinking and gambling themselves silly at a park in Flemington while horses run around being whipped by people wearing colourful pajamas.

It is a glamorous event with fashion, wealth and sex appeal on display, lubricated by corporate and celebrity Australia.

Millions more will tune in for the big race on televisions, radios, phone and tablets. They will gamble their hard earned dollars on the outcome and, as with all gambling, the real winner will be the house.

Not everyone is a fan of horse racing though and animal and anti-gambling campaigners are at the top of that list.

The first group, because of the obvious cruelty of an industry that kills up to 70% of the 18,000 thoroughbred horses born each year (1) and where a horse dies on a racetrack every three days (2).

The latter, because Australians are the world’s biggest gambling losers (3) with a significant chunk being lost on horse racing. I certainly remember heading down to the TAB with Mum on Melbourne Cup day to put a $5 bet on the horse with the best name.

The animal cruelty campaign has made significant progress in recent years with jumps racing taking most of the damage. Only greyhound racing has received more negative publicity in recent years.

Other forms of horse racing have so far dodged the same scrutiny because less horses die in the public eye. They keep the carnage better hidden and sidestep debates on the pain inflicted by whips.

The question for progressive activists is, how can we put an end to this cruel sport once and for all?

Part of the answer is to keep doing what activists are already doing – highlighting the terrible statistics, generating compassion for the beautiful animals suffering for profits and capturing secret footage that exposes the ugly truth of our ‘sport of kings’. There is great work being done by talented people and more power to them.

A few of the leading campaigns include:

This TV advertisement is a good example of the current approach:

This longer video (graphic footage warning) provides a longer version:

Progress is happening, but this industry is not going to be put out of its misery as easily as a failed thoroughbred. It is fighting with all the money, influence and cultural capital it has at its disposal.

Here are three ideas that the anti-racing movement could consider to further improve its effectiveness and move closer to putting an end to the most public celebration of animal abuse we have in this country.

  1.  Unite with anti-gambling campaigners and other allies
    Coalitions are the best way to scale up a campaign and to benefit from shared resources, supporters and people. A coalition that brought together the shared interests of animals and people who are harmed via gambling would everyone.
  2. Create a consumer boycott movement aimed at sponsors
    There is a lot of money in racing. Brands spend big and make more through their involvement. However, there are enough Australians who would be prepared to take individual and collective action to demonstrate to brands that they are also losing business and tarnishing their reputations by sponsoring cruelty.
  3. Find ambassadors and community champions
    It may seem superficial, but we relate to people we recognise. We love the familiar. Other animal rights campaigns have benefitted from celebrity ambassadors and community champions. We need a few who will take a public stand on behalf of our magnificent four-legged friends, both high-profile and ordinary Australians.

Humanity has co-evolved alongside domesticated horses for 4,000-6,000 years and we’ve known them for 30,000 more (4). If you’ve ever spent time with horses you will know what gentle, noble and curious creatures they are.

I would be the first to celebrate an end to horse racing and encourage everyone to learn a little more about this cruel industry and to take some kind of personal action today.

Here are some ideas from Animals Australia:

  1. Pledge to never bet on cruelty
  2. Take action against ‘wastage’
  3. Help end jumps racing carnage
  4. If you have friends, colleagues or family members who go to the races, please send them a link to this page. It will enable them to make an informed choice as to whether they want to continue to support this industry.


(1) Bailey etal.1999: Bourke, J.M. 1995. Wastage in Thoroughbreds.
(3) Matossian, Shaping World History, p. 43



  1. Powerful piece that hits so close to home for me. Thank you!

    • Daniel Scoullar


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