From the ‘fashion on the fields’ festivals of race week in Melbourne to the ancient Mongolian festival of Nadaam, horse racing has a long history deeply rooted in cultural identity. This heritage and societal association has made it difficult to implement changes that protect the welfare of animals and their riders. Still, we have an opportunity and obligation to adapt new values to cultural traditions—creating a new definition of the sport based on something even more ancient… the kinship and bond between humans and horses.
The question of whether horse racing and horse welfare can coexist is a complex one, but many believe that it is possible.
One of the main concerns regarding horse racing is the risk of injury or even death to the horses. This is why it is important that there are strict regulations in place to ensure the safety of the horses. These regulations cover everything from the condition of the track to the treatment of the horses themselves. In addition, there are organizations dedicated to the welfare of racehorses, such as the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, which provides funding for the rehabilitation and rehoming of retired racehorses.
Another way to ensure horse welfare in horse racing is through the use of technology. For example, some racetracks use sensors to monitor the health and well-being of the horses during races. This allows for quick intervention in the event of an injury or other health issue.
It is clear that there are ways to promote horse welfare in horse racing. By implementing strict regulations and using technology to monitor the health of the horses, it is possible to preserve the cultural significance of this sport while also prioritizing the well-being of the animals involved.
Mandates to ensure the health and safety of jockeys—especially children riders of the Nadaam festival—must also be addressed. Every year a number of jockeys, some as young as five, die or end up with lifelong injuries.¹
We can help drive change in the sport by holding governments accountable to higher welfare standards and raising awareness for the hidden harms of horse racing.
¹ What’s Wrong With Mongolia’s Naadam Festival? Both as a reflection of Mongolia’s historical narrative and as a celebration of its cultural identity, the festival badly needs reform. Written by Munkhnaran Bayarlkhagva, a political analyst and election consultant based in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia for The Diplomat (October 2021).