A timely reminder of why I hate horse-racing. I’ve been surprisingly reticent when it comes to the topic of animal cruelty, and I can only suppose it’s because it’s one of the few issues that renders me emotionally incontinent. For years I’ve been dissolving into tears at RSPCA adverts, remaining unmoved by any other charity heartstring-tuggers. I give money to animal charities when I can but duck out on their literature because it breaks my heart to see or even think of an animal in pain.
I’ll confess that my aversion to racing is fairly recent – in my younger years we were shielded from the notion of horses being destroyed after races. My grandpa was an avid gambler, much like the others of his generation and geography whose lives revolved around drinking, smoking and punting a bit on the gee-gees. As kids we were largely reliant on him for excursions during my dad’s working hours, and for somewhere to go when we had frazzled every last parental nerve. Summer holidays especially were punctuated by daily trips to Ladrokes or Colvilles, whatever the nearest bookie was. My memories of my grandpa as an active man are limited and shadowy, but I only need to close my eyes and I can see the tobacco and drink stained carpets, the peeling leather stools and clouds of smoke so thick you needed a lighthouse to find your way back out. Hardly an environment for a growing child, but the rules were less stringently applied then, and while I occasionally picked a horse for it’s funny name, it’s not like they were letting me gamble.
Always women behind the counters, with scratchy spiral perms or blow-dried peaks of blonde sponsored by Bostik. Make-up applied by the trowel, floaty blouses that were neither modest nor flattering. Two types of clientele: the dapper retirees, always pressed and Brylcreemed with smoke-stained fingers and a faint smell of whisky (it’s not Scotch back there, remember?); and the ‘rougher’ element, the ones in tracky bottoms and trainers, gambling their giros away.
With these less than salubrious surroundings, you’d think I would have hated it from the start. But without the knowledge of the cruelty, it just looked like horses playing their own kind of sports day. We were nowhere near the ‘horsey’ type, hardly our socioeconomic bracket if you catch my drift. The closest I ever got was handing polo mints to the horses up on the big estate near my high school.
Then in my early teens I read Black Beauty and I realised that people are so very hateful when it comes to animals. Having pets in the house we were taught never to hurt or tease them, and it sickens me to think that there’s a sport which basically involves pushing an animal to its limits in order to win money for the humans who bought it. I don’t see any particular skill in being a jockey, other than being able to force a creature past its limits most effectively, and that’s not something I would brag about. I can’t bear to seem them liberally applying the whip, horses straining to get this whole unpleasant experience over with. When horses break their legs they can’t be put on bed rest with a nice signed cast until it’s all better, they have to be put down.
So that’s why I don’t have a flutter on the Grand National, nor do I ever consider buying a stupid hat for Royal Ascot. It’s cruel and unnecessary, so if you want your kicks go to a football match and bay at highly paid volunteers until they fall over and hurt themselves, yeah? It might stop Ronaldo and Drogba diving if they knew vets were on hand to euthanise them.