As we wade knee-deep into the gaudy parade of sparkle and spending that is the Spring Racing Carnival, there are many reasons animal lovers (not just vegans) should reconsider taking part in the spectacle.
The Cup is a disgrace. It’s a shame it is not as glaringly obvious to everyone as it is to me. I didn’t always see it this way though. When I first moved to Melbourne eight years ago, I attended The Cup with friends. I was caught up in the whole romantic, vintage-chic notion of it. I giggled at the fact that Melbournians got a day off for the race, I bought a dress, a champagne package, and even wore a (homemade) fascinator. I didn’t gamble: the idea of pushing animals around a track to the point of exhaustion just for the chance to win enough for the next round of champers didn’t sit well with me even then.
It didn’t take long for the veil of glamour to slip from the whole scene. The sun beat down on the punters, scorching our skin and melting the Woolworth’s contrived ‘fancy’ cheese platter packs. Streaky tanned, half-naked girls cackled in the toilets complaining about the lines, their heels and the bogan behaviour of their Bundy-swigging boyfriends. A soundtrack of thundering horses hooves, snap-happy photographers and the fuck-spluttering of angry punters who had just done their dash rang loud in my ears. The horses must be frightened, I remember thinking. Plastic champagne cups, empty beer cans, betting slips and picnic left-overs littered the grounds. The place was trashed. And so were the punters. And the horses? They were thrashed.
“It doesn’t hurt the horses,” I was once told when, as a little girl, I’d asked about the whipping. Bullshit. Whipping the horses over and over inflicts physical and psychological pain. The practise is used to keep the horse pushing on, even when they have nothing left. Exhausted horses run faster and further — increasing their chance of injury — because of the whip. Why would the whip have this power over them if it didn’t cause them distress?
And what if the horse is injured? Fatigued and frightened and forced around the track for the sake of the trainer/owner/jockey’s bottom line, horses are injured all the time in racing. Who could forget the public outcry and shared sorrow that came with the death of Verema who went down in the 2013 Melbourne Cup, right in front of the punter’s eyes. As Gai Waterhouse celebrated her victory and the bolstering of the family coffers, a screen was swiftly set up on the track and the five-year-old mare who had broken her leg was euthanised. A life snuffed out, just like that. That is how injuries are dealt with.
And then there is the term ‘wastage’ — the dirty word the industry never wants you to read. This term applies to horses that are bred for racing but never make it to the racetrack and thoroughbreds leaving the racetrack once their career is over.
“When a thoroughbred destined for racing is born in Australia, its chances of being a successful racehorse are slim. It is estimated that only 300 out of every 1,000 foals produced will ever start in a race. That means of the 15,000 thoroughbred foals born each year in Australia alone, an approximate 10,000 will be ruthlessly discarded and mostly end up at “the doggers.” (horseracingkills.com)
Remember how outraged you were during the great horsemeat scandal of 2013? It is the horse racing industry that serves up a bottomless supply of these intelligent, majestic animals to be ground up into meat. Younger horses tend to be sent to an abattoir to be killed for human consumption whilst older horses usually end up as dog meat.
If you were outraged by the idea of mistakenly eating horsemeat then you should be outraged by the industry that kills thousands every year just for the chance at fame and fortune.
If it’s the allure of old world glamour that draws you in, don’t be fooled. There is nothing fashion-forward about brutality. And while the fat-pocketed few (very few) are rubbing shoulders with celebs in the Birdcage, you’re more likely to be battling with a bare-footed bedazzled drunk over who is next in the never-ending taxi queue. Don’t do it! For the sake of the horses. For the sake of your dignity.
Emma Bailie is a freelance journalist, vegan blogger and travel-memoir writer. She is passionate about animal rights, social justice and the inner peace that can be found when dining on the tragically misrepresented potato. She has to read magazines back to front but she doesn’t quite know why. She prefers her hot chips cold but that’s just between you and her, okay?