As the crazy weather fluctuations will attest, Spring is here! And that means the Spring Racing Carnival is being spruiked everywhere. Alongside this promotional campaign, the Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses has been running their own campaign, which has caused quite a lot of controversy, particularly in Victoria, Australian racing’s epicentre.
The heart of the controversy has been over a billboard that was erected on the CityLink Freeway on 6 October, showing a picture of a dead horse and the words ‘IS THE PARTY REALLY WORTH IT?’ Discussion on the group’s Facebook page over the billboard was robust. Advocates of the CPR congratulated their action, while racing supporters claimed that it did not truthfully represent the racing industry.
On 8 October a Facebook page titled REMOVE THE BILLBOARD was set up by members of the racing industry, garnering over 6,000 likes. On 9 October, the billboard was removed after the owner on whose land the billboard stands objected to the content.
The controversy is interesting, because it highlights the contested terrain around representations of horse racing. Individuals within the racing industry feel that they are grossly mis-represented by anti-racing campaigns such as ‘Is the Party Worth It?’, while the CPR, which says it does not object to racing itself, only the welfare issues it engenders, claims such campaigns are important for raising community awareness.
The facts and statistics cited by both groups differ markedly, and this is frequently a point of contention for those who dispute the work of the CPR. In fact the CPR have achieved a protest group of their own, with the Facebook community page Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses – Exposed aiming ‘to carefully examine the claims of, and present a factually based alternate view to, the animal rights groups that protest against the racing industry.' Also on Facebook you will find a number of posts under the hashtag #CPRlies.
An example illustrating both the contested representations and the contested facts began when the National Museum of Australia included a can of horsielicious in their ‘Spirited’ exhibition. This prompted a number of complaints from racing advocates, culminating in a guest blog post on their website written by one of the complainants. This post outlined the largely positive findings of recent research into the post-racing career of a number of ex-racehorses. However, a closer reading of the methodology highlights some significant flaws, demonstrating that this research should not be taken as universal. Firstly, the sample group was selected by the researchers; secondly, it was proportionately tiny, comprising 37 trainers, in a pool of thousands. I mean literally, there are thousands of race horse trainers in Australia, with a cursory glance at the Australian Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainers Directory revealing 961 in NSW alone. Further, this research was commissioned by the Australian Racing Board, which arguably has a vested interest in the results.
Perhaps the best outcome that is being generated by all this controversy is an increased public awareness of the welfare of race horses, both on the track and off. To say the issues don’t exist at all is disingenuous and belies the facts, though the details may be contested. However, if all interested parties – those advocating for racehorses from both within and external to the industry – work towards the common goal of race horse welfare there is no doubt that the real beneficiaries will be the equine athletes themselves.
Edit (July 2015): If this blog was of interest to you, you might find it worthwhile to read two later posts I wrote. The first picks apart the (erroneous) stats used by the CPR, while the second takes a closer look at the pro-racing statistics mentioned above.
 A post by Remove the Billboard dated 13 October read in part ‘…since admin here are involved in the racing industry…’, accessed 15/10/2014 https://www.facebook.com/Removethebillboard/timeline
 ‘Ooh Media forced to withdraw anti-horse racing ad as watchdog confirms 150 complaints,’ Mumbrella, accessed 15/10/2014 http://mumbrella.com.au/ad-watchdog-receives-150-complaints-dead-horse-anti-racing-billboard-255785
 Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses FAQs webpage, accessed 15/10/2014 http://www.horseracingkills.com/about-us/frequently-asked-questions/
 ‘About’, Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses – Exposed Facebook page, accessed 15/10/2014: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Coalition-For-the-Protection-of-Racehorses-Exposed/521074617973062?sk=info
 Australian Thoroughbred Racehorse Trainers Directory, accessed 15/10/2014 http://www.racehorsetrainer.com.au/index.html The listing for NSW comprised 10 separate regional lists, which I counted manually. Because of this, the numbers may be off by one or two.