Sports

Thousands of ex-racehorses being sent to abattoirs, BBC investigation claims


An investigation for BBC1’s Panorama, to be broadcast on Monday evening, will claim that “thousands” of ex-racehorses – “most, but not all” of which were previously in training in Ireland – are being sent for slaughter in British abattoirs every year.

The programme, titled The Dark Side Of Horse Racing, is based on footage supplied by the animal rights group Action Aid, which campaigns for an outright ban on horse racing and an end to the slaughter of animals for food. The group planted cameras in an abattoir run by F Drury & Sons, which is licensed to slaughter horses, and claims to have captured “dozens of former racehorses being slaughtered, the majority from Ireland”.

These included three horses that were previously in the care of leading trainer Gordon Elliott, who is currently banned from racing after being pictured sitting on a dead horse on his gallops.

Elliott tells the programme that “none of those animals were sent by me to the abattoir”, while also saying that two – High Expectations and Kiss Me Kayf – were sent to a horse dealer “to be rehomed if possible, and if not, to be humanely euthanised in line with the regulations”. Elliott also says that a third horse had been “given to another rider as requested by its owner” and that he had only learned that it had gone for slaughter in England when contacted by the programme-makers.

The programme also claims to reveal serious breaches of regulations for humane slaughter at the abattoir, including “91 occasions when the cameras recorded a slaughter-man shooting horses, not close up, but from yards away”.

Professor Daniel Mills, a specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine at the University of Lincoln, tells the programme that “it doesn’t look like the horse is even stunned. You can see it’s turning its head. It seems to have got some control actually over its head and neck.

“Taking a shot from a distance at a horse, to me, that’s completely out of order. If you’re going to euthanise a horse, you’ve got to get a bullet in the right place. If that’s representative of how they’re being killed, then we’ve got a really serious problem.”

The investigation also suggests that “many of the racehorses killed while Animal Aid cameras filmed had been transported from Ireland, travelling more than 350 miles by road and sea”, including some which were “carrying career-ending injuries”. It further claims that on at least 26 occasions, horses at the abattoir were killed within sight of each other, another breach of the regulations concerning slaughter.

Dr Hannah Donavan, a vet, tells the programme that “350 miles potentially carrying an injury is not a humane process. This is unnecessary suffering. The bottom line is these horses, if they are to be euthanised, could and should be euthanised at home. Simple as that.”

In all, the investigation claims to have obtained figures showing that “at least 4,000 racehorses have been slaughtered in abattoirs” in the a two-year period since the start of 2019. These included horses which “had previous illustrious racing careers, winning thousands of pounds, and were associated with some of the biggest names in Irish racing.” Monday evening’s programme, commissioned by the BBC from Nine Lives Media, an independent production company, is fronted by Darragh MacIntyre.

Horse Racing Ireland, the British Horseracing Authority and Drury & Sons all provide a response to the programme’s allegations, although HRI is claimed to have failed to respond to questions on the number of racehorses being slaughtered.

Drury & Sons told Panorama: “We take great care to maintain high welfare conditions and do not accept any form of animal abuse. All horses are humanely destroyed and on occasions where issues do occur, we take swift action to review and rectify.”

The BHA tells the programme-makers that it has demonstrated “a clear commitment to improving already high standards of care for racehorses … before, during and after racing”, and that it will “consider carefully any issues raised”.



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