It may be a long way from the first fox hunters who wagered that their horses would be fastest between two church steeples to the global event that is the Cheltenham National Hunt Festival, but the passion is the same. The love of horses, the challenge of distance and obstacles, and the thrill of winning.
National Hunt racing, and the Cheltenham Festival in particular, have grown hugely in popularity over the last few decades attracting big crowds and international audiences. Public support for jump racing is widespread and obvious, but it is no surprise that the tiny minority of animal rights activists deploy the usual tactics in attacking racing as they do in attacking any other activity involving animals.
National Hunt racing is a challenging activity. That challenge is what makes it so thrilling both to take part in and to watch. Horses are injured, and sometimes very sadly they die. Horses are also killed in accidents on roads and in fields every day and the response to those accidents cannot be to stop putting horses in fields or taking them on roads. Likewise banning racing is not a logical reaction to a fatal accident on the racecourse.
Racing needs to understand two lessons which have been grasped, to a greater or lesser extent by other activities that come under attack from animal rights activists.
Firstly, that animal rights campaigns, especially those promoted through social media and digital campaigning are not in any way representative of public opinion. Such campaigns are created by a very small proportion of the population and are usually entirely unrepresentative of public attitudes as a whole. Have confidence in the real support that racing has, don’t pander to manufactured dissent which can anyway never be satisfied.
Secondly create high standards based on evidence, deploy them logically and address real issues, not perceived concerns. Racing has incredibly high standards of horse welfare and racecourses are hugely safer environments than they were decades ago. This is a result of the love that everyone in racing has for the horse, not the action of animal rights campaigners, and it must be the expertise and leadership within racing that continues to improve standards.
National Hunt racing is on the crest of a wave and if it continues to follow these basic rules then it will retain its popularity and public support.
You can watch an interview with Bryony Frost at Cheltenham here:
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Photo by: sportinglife.com