4.3.1. Concern for Industry Integrity and Techno–Bio-Medical Control
-axis of Figure 2
represents industry concern for racing integrity. It appears that integrity is the main concern and thoroughbred welfare is a by-product when integrity is being taken care of, although one industry informant based in Australia objects to that suggestion. He claims that racing integrity and equine health and welfare are of “equal standing”, and there is “significant cross over”. As he continues to explain, “if we talk about investment in integrity systems and… the detection of drugs… you don’t want people to cheat and compromise the integrity of the race. At the same time, by stopping them [using] drugs, you are by default protecting welfare because that horse isn’t [running] with drugs in its system.” Overall, track surface is the dominant topic for safety, and drugs for integrity, with drug use making it possible to race unsound horses and to enhance performance.
The dominant welfare model is situated in the lower left quadrant. The majority of industry participants is situated in that lower left quadrant, with integrity being of some concern, and some may be truly concerned about the welfare of the horse. But mostly, there is ongoing resistance to welfare reform from the bottom up, such as resisting racing authorities’ efforts to reduce the use of the whip or to ban it [87
], or resistance to medication reform [39
]. Most industry informants refer to certain individuals or groups of people who they see are corrupting the integrity of racing and compromising thoroughbred welfare. For example, an informant based in the US states there will always be “a certain percentage of awful people... Greed and corruption exist” which he regards simply as a “reflection of cross-section of society, there is good and there is bad, there is competent and there is incompetent and you just hope the good outweighs the bad every single day.” Industry commentators refer to some of them as “colourful [racing] identities” [88
Veterinarians are included in the lower left quadrant, although, as with trainers and owners, this group is not homogenous. Both, an industry and an advocacy informant based in the US, refer to the economic model driving veterinarians’ behaviour. As an informant affiliated with a racing operation in the US states, “veterinarians here are paid to administer medication, “… very rarely… they get paid when they actually perform an analysis of the horse.” A US-based advocacy informant goes a step further and claims “the veterinarians are the enemy of horse welfare”; at the track, “they are there by the dozens... with their pickup trucks full of medication. And they are the ones selling those drugs to keep the horses running. And they are the ones convincing trainers and owners that these horses need this medication.” Indeed, a White Paper of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) identifies the economic model for veterinarians in the US as problematic ([89
], p. 9), and it is being questioned in other racing jurisdictions. While veterinarians are implicated in fraudulent conduct and breaching the rules of racing [90
], their position within the rules of racing is also being questioned. For example, the AAEP themselves is supporter of administration of the drug furosemide, including on race day. Furosemide is administered to more than 90% of horses in the US on race day to address exercise induced pulmonary haemorrhage (EIPH, bleeding from the lungs [92
]), despite it being highly contested, despite it being considered to be a performance enhancer and despite its risks to horse welfare [93
]. In other jurisdictions including the UK and Australia, furosemide is not allowed on race day, but it is during training. The AAEP reinforced in 2019 their position statement in support of the use of furosemide on race day to control EIPH [94
]. Investigating how training and racing can be adjusted to prevent bleeding from the lungs without the intervention of drugs has not been on the agenda of the AAEP or regulators. Instead, the AAEP advocates for research and development of new treatments to help prevent and/or control EIPH. Drugs are being constructed in the interest of horse welfare and euphemistically referred to as “therapeutic medications”. The contestations around furosemide and the position taken by many veterinarians in this matter are only one example of why an industry informant as well as an advocacy informant express a critical perspective on the role of racing veterinarians. It is also well-known within the industry that veterinarians are challenged with the business and ethics of racing and their role within that context, a topic of a seminar conducted by Racing Victoria in 2014, and of a symposium for veterinarians, trainers and owners in Germany in 2015. Veterinarians for horses in sport and entertainment are exposed to pressures and expectation of owners and trainers [95
] and an often-cited position of veterinarians is, “if I don’t do it, someone else will” [96
The industry informants participating in this study appear to be situated in the welfare reform area of Figure 2
, in the lower right quadrant. They are engaged in aspects of reform and maintaining or improving the integrity of racing, they are welcoming of improved systems for safety and integrity, or proactively engage with instituting better systems to improve aftercare prospects for thoroughbreds. They could be considered the progressives of the industry and they are supported by proactive owners and breeders and other industry participants [97
]. They are the supporters, believers in and enablers of technological and biomedical developments. One of the Australian informants reflects this belief in the medical technological intervention to address welfare:
“The amount of veterinary technological advances year after year after year is just phenomenal. When I used to go to the races years ago, almost every race meeting a horse would break down which is horrendous… now with the amount of vet work and the amount of what you can do instantly to fix a horse, you know, the surgical advances, the awareness...”
While some industry informants demonstrate that they consider aspects of the day-to-day care of the thoroughbred, advocacy informants overall demonstrate a more holistic understanding of welfare and quantitatively, devote more of their responses to the need to safeguard the day-to-day well-being of the horse, their species-specific needs, the nature of welfare, and the risks to welfare. Most advocacy informants of this study argue that the current routine practices of husbandry and training compromise welfare. They also demonstrate a richer understanding of sustainability indicators than the industry informants of this study, such as stakeholder engagement, stronger regulation and transparency which they consider indispensable to safeguard thoroughbred welfare. Still, advocacy informants campaign using mostly the most abhorrent practices as a platform to improve thoroughbred protection. They fall short of specifically addressing aspects such as animal agency, telos and animal representation.
There is in principle agreement among the advocacy informants of this study about the role of welfare in safety and integrity, and it is consistent with the views of industry informants. However, it does not have the same relevance for most advocacy informants, as an Australian advocacy informant stresses, welfare issues that are addressed as part of the safety and integrity remit of the industry concern only a small part of welfare.
4.3.2. Concern for Animal Welfare and Animal Integrity
-axis of Figure 2
describes “Concern for animal welfare”. In the upper half, it is paralleled by increasing “Concern for animal integrity”. Industry participants are situated in the lower left and right quadrants of Figure 2
, that means at best, they are concerned with some aspects of animal welfare rather than animal integrity. In the reform area of Figure 2
, industry informants are concerned with basic health and functioning. Animal welfare-oriented advocates are situated in the reform area between animal welfare and animal integrity. Animal rights-oriented advocates are situated at the highest level in terms of animal protection concern, in the upper left and right quadrants, in the reform area. It appears they are not lobbying for a ban of racing in order to signal willingness to participate in a discourse with the industry, and from that position work toward improving welfare. They lobby for eliminating the most abhorrent practices and presumably then also for addressing day-to-day, husbandry and training issues.
The reform area of Figure 2
accommodates the developments in animal welfare science. The industry informants do not draw on animal welfare science and they do not seem to be familiar with the animal welfare science discourse except in one case, where the industry informant with a background in veterinary science refers to positive and negative animal experiences [60
]. They are more concerned with, for example, identifying risk factors for bone fractures and pre-race examination technology. However, animal welfare science plays a significant role in the scholarly sustainability and animal welfare discourse and it can be expected that it will play a larger role in the racing industry some time. Animal welfare science currently integrates three dimensions: Basic health and functioning (especially freedom from disease and injury), affective states (states like pain, distress and pleasure that are experienced as positive or negative) and natural living or naturalness
(the ability of animals to live reasonably natural lives by carrying out natural behaviour and having natural elements in their environment, and a respect for the nature
of the animals themselves) [60
]. It is fair to assume that individuals within the industry engage with these concepts to care for their horses, predominantly because it is deemed necessary to ensure optimal performance.
To date, there have been no minimal welfare standards in the thoroughbred industry. Even the existence of minimum standards is problematic as practices in the animal agricultural sector show. Animal welfare codes are used to legitimise abhorrent treatments of animals and make them sound normal and in the animal’s interest. Haynes [98
] reminds us that animal welfare was conceived as an industry-friendly concept that a priori
does not question the ethics of animal use, and legitimises certain practices based on scientifically presented arguments. As Twine ([29
], p. 145) observes, there is an anthropocentric affinity between animal welfare and (mainstream conceptions of) sustainability (see also Section 1
The reform area of Figure 2
in the lower right quadrant is most likely the area which the industry would consider sustainable in terms of welfare. The preference for techno–bio-medical solutions in that realm is demonstrated with the wish list for future research given by the informant with a veterinarian background, using techno-centred language: The industry needs to do “more to understand the biomechanics of how horses run”, to better understand “the impact of our husbandry practices on our asset”, track management, biometrics utilising GPS tracking, prohibited substances and emerging technologies such as protein drugs and gene doping, the development of biological passports, the impact of the whip on a horse and whether it affects performance, the causes of EIPH and explore “the appropriate mechanisms for intelligence and its use in relation to effective regulation” to combat drug rings. The increasing development of techno–medical–biological exploration and control of the animal body however is far from addressing animal subjectivities, desires, animal agency or interspecies relationships. Thompson ([51
], p. 92) states “a narrowly biological approach even to functional integrity is quite likely to overlook social and cultural dimensions that can cause failure in livestock systems.” With this he refers inter alia
to the social acceptance of industry practices and trust in the industry. This current author argues that based on the discussion in Section 1.1
and Section 2
, the ongoing industry focus on concern for industry integrity and the potentially deepening focus on concern for techno–bio-medical solutions is a dead end for thoroughbred protection, in terms of social acceptance as well as in terms of animal integrity, and certainly in terms of interspecies sustainability (as indicated with horizontal lines in Figure 2
, on the right of the lower right quadrant).
Based on attitude studies [99
] it is assumed that the public is mostly empathising with the horse and is therefore situated in the top left quadrant. The public also emphasises naturalness in terms of behaviour and husbandry [58
]. Although self-report studies in the US find people report low levels of knowledge of animal issues, in particular in relation to horses and dogs in racing [100
], animal advocacy informants in Australia believe the public has become more knowledgeable about welfare issues overall and with knowledge of welfare issues increasing, expectations for welfare are also increasing. It can be assumed that if members of the public learnt more about common practices in husbandry, breeding, training and racing, and if they understood welfare concepts and issues of telos and animal agency, they would tend to gravitate towards arguing for more consideration of telos.
4.3.3. Interspecies Sustainability
The top right quadrant contains the sphere of “Interspecies Sustainability”. Increasing concern for telos (and telos+
) moves us closer to a state of interspecies sustainability. Aspects of it listed there include animal agency, animal integrity, cultures (including animal knowledge systems), relationality, justice, naturalness+
(see Section 2
). These are key concepts standing in for the broad range of interspecies sustainability descriptors listed in Table 1
, Table 2
and Table 3
. Agreeing to focus on the idea of interspecies sustainability and maintaining this focus is already likely to improve animal protection. But, as Vinnari and Vinnari [64
] argue, as long as we don’t acknowledge that animal protection is a distinct sphere of sustainability, it will not be possible to achieve an ethically and morally justified outcome for animals and for the sustainability transition.
The urgency to address thoroughbred welfare is accepted by the industry informants of this study and many industry participants outside this study. They are also fully aware that “more than ever, horse racing is under the microscope by animal welfare groups, the media, and the public” ([39
], p. 9). Administrators and regulators largely have accepted that the concept of social license to operate applies to racing, meaning they accept they require the confidence of the community that racing has the ability to care for horses and successfully self-regulate ([101
], p. 318). Yet, their conceptualisations of sustainability are anthropocentric in focus and inward-looking [36
In contrast to the racing community overall, the informants of this study are in many ways the progressives in the industry and agree with the advocacy informants on many welfare issues and the need to address them, in particular the most egregious welfare violations related to the three main groups of welfare issues, namely the use and potential overuse of drugs and medication, injuries and death on the racetrack, and the aftercare of thoroughbreds exiting the industry [41
]. In fact, on certain issues, some or all industry informants express even more progressive views than some advocacy informants at the welfare end of the spectrum. For example, one advocacy informant based in the UK explains that the “real responsibility” of the owner or the trainer is “when the horse finishes the racing career to ensure that that horse is rehomed or at times euthanised”. Without exception, all industry informants participating in this study strongly advocate for rehoming of thoroughbreds exiting the industry and euthanasia was not brought up as an option.
The industry informants of this study with all their expressed intentions, seem to fight an uphill battle within their industry. Yet in general, they demonstrate limited inclination to relate to key concepts of interspecies sustainability. Even in terms of the idea of naturalness with its seemingly intuitive connotations of the natural and nature, and its links to the horse world through the horse training technique coined natural horsemanship
], seven of the industry informants respond they have not heard of this concept and do not indicate interest in further engaging with this concept. Two others offer suggestions that naturalness is linked to the horse’s natural behaviour and that this is important and should be considered for handling, training and husbandry. One of these two informants remains distant and abstract to the idea of naturalness and its implications, stating in general terms that “understanding natural behaviours is of course very, very relevant to our responsible and ethical use of animals”. The second informant relates it to “natural ways of dealing with horses”, in terms of husbandry and “in terms of the animal being in its natural state that it’s most happy and what it would normally be in without human intervention”. She details practical implications of her idea of naturalness demonstrating easy conceptual access to the concept naturalness.
In contrast to most of the industry informants, the advocacy informants are more at ease with the concept of naturalness and take initiative to engage with it. Only one of this group responds he had not heard of it. All others, even though they do not recognise it in its form of “naturalness”, they relate to it immediately without further prompting talking about differences in its meaning as related to wild horses or domesticated horses, relating it to natural ways of healing from soreness or injury rather than giving them “medication to keep them running”, or in one case, relating it to natural horsemanship. Mostly, they associate with it natural and inherent behavioural needs of horses that need to be catered for and that have important implications to how horses are kept, in particular referring to their social needs as animals who need the direct company of others of their kind. One advocacy informant relates it to handling and training. She emphasises that it is about working with the horses’ natural behaviours not against them which “requires a very good understanding of how they think, how they learn, how they respond. And using that knowledge to work together rather than having more of a control-dominance type relationship.” This questioning of the hierarchy and dominion is taken up by another advocacy informant who links it to “getting back to more humane and more focused on the horse [approaches] rather than [on] the rider but I still see that as exploitation, or, if not exploitation, certainly utilising the horse’s qualities for human benefit”.
Importantly, some advocacy informants feel a sense of unease and violation of aspects of interspecies sustainability such as interspecies relationships and biological integrity. For example, one of the Australian advocacy informants describes how she as a student observed
“some of the handlers were quite rough with [the horses]. You know, they had to be strong and control and dominate them and to me that involved a degree of punishment, using whips and things… At the time, being a student, it didn’t look right to me but then I didn’t question because I didn’t have a particular knowledge about handling horses and horse behaviour. But… I didn’t feel comfortable.”
One of the US-based advocacy informants describes her emotional reaction at the loss of biological integrity of the animal body. She once visited the racehorse Cigar, who during his racing career had been injected with steroids for performance enhancement and this had rendered him infertile. She remembers “feeling just incredibly moved by his whole story” ([41
], p. 128).
In sum, the animal advocacy informants of this study demonstrate ways of thinking about and relating to horses that give them access to key concepts of interspecies sustainability such as intra- and interspecies relationships, biological integrity and naturalness. It can be assumed that this applies to other key concepts as well. However, while advocacy informants relate to aspects of interspecies sustainability, they only make limited use of some of them for their advocacy work. But, importantly, they also question the fundamental tenets of animal use, dominion and hierarchy which is not present in the thinking of the industry informants.
The transition to interspecies sustainability needs to be supported by the socio-cultural and political system, including the judiciary, governance, administration and education [102
]. Strategies include stakeholder participation and the institution of proxies for animals. Interestingly, despite being able to list a diverse range of stakeholders in thoroughbred welfare, not one participant, neither industry nor advocacy informant, names the thoroughbred as a stakeholder in their own right. When asked who represents the horse, industry informants grapple with the idea of animal representation. What follows is an example of an exchange between two informants (I1 and I2) and the researcher (R) that demonstrates this disorientation in terms of animal representation:
- Who do you feel represents the interests of the thoroughbreds in these discussions?
- If you would ask the horse, what would he say who is their advocate?
- [laughs slightly].
- Good question.
- Yeah, I mean, […] the horse’s answer would be the trainer.
- Because that’s where his grain and hay would be coming from. But looking more at the big picture, ehm, I think it would be a [thoroughbred] national organisation like Thoroughbred Charities of America, Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance or a network of advocate organisations that are thinking about his retirement, planning for his future. But then certainly, ultimately, it’s the owner, because the owner is paying the bills. So I don’t know if there is just one person really.
The mandate of both informants in the above exchange within their organisation is weighted toward horse welfare. But the exchange demonstrates that the idea of political animal representation is alien to them as it is to all other industry informants. While they initially try to take the immediate perspective of the horse seeing the trainer feeding him, they ultimately fall back onto the prevalent belief in the ownership model, the horse being a chattel, which they take for granted and not to be questioned. In this model, animal interests are more likely to be seen as less important than human interests, no matter whether, as Francione ([103
], p. 9) states, the animal interest at stake is significant and the human interest at stake is relatively trivial.
Another US-based informant states the horse does not need an “ombudsman”, because, as other informants also say, everyone represents the horse, from all those who come into contact with the horse including owners, trainers, stable staff, jockeys, to racing authorities. This, however, does not guarantee protection of the interests of the thoroughbred. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. As Butler et al. ([81
], p. 4) consider the realities of the thoroughbred industry at the macrolevel, and thoroughbreds’ dependence on the trainer, owner, jockey and stable staff at the microlevel, they suggest thoroughbreds are “subject to asymmetries of power where their genealogy, their working and reproductive life (if they have one) and ultimately their death is dominated by a political ecology of human dominance and exploitation in the same way livestock can be.” This perspective is confirmed by many who have researched aspects of the thoroughbred industry [36
]. Moreover, the majority of the informants of this study make it clear that their concern is weighted towards thoroughbred performance and the economics of the game, rather than the thoroughbred’s interests [41
4.3.4. Identifying Layers of Engagement with Animal Protection
From this study, eight analytical layers of engagement with animal protection are identified. They range from shallower to deeper levels of reflection, from those striving to maintain the status quo (thus necessitating obscuring the real causes of lack of protection), through to reform and to those aiming at transformation. These layers have applicability to the discourse for animal protection in all animal-using and exploiting industries, and for domestic, wild and liminal animals. The layers, represented under the protection headings used in Figure 2
to which they mostly align, are presented in Table 5
The layers identified in the current study can be engaged within a discourse in various combinations concurrently. Layers 1–6 when engaged on their own are based in instrumental rationality, moving toward scientism with Layers 3–6, and all supporting belief in the human right to animal use, with an incremental and reformist approach to improving welfare (Layers 5 and 6), giving priority to resource efficiency (see Section 2.2.1
). This improvement of welfare is heavily weighted toward the human use of the animal rather than the animal’s telos as discussed by Harfeld [68
], or animal culture, knowledge system and self-determination [74
]. Layers 1 and 2 largely do not even operate at the lowest common denominator for animal protection. The thoroughbred industry at large engages mostly with layers 1–4, some industry informants of this study demonstrate consideration of Level 5, and one industry informant tentatively of an aspect of Level 6.
Layers 7 and 8 require a fundamental shift in human attitudes, belief systems and paradigms, moving human society away from anthropocentrism, speciesism, dominion, omniscience and omnipotence. The aim is transformation and engagement with animal protection on the animals’ own terms to transition to interspecies sustainability. This process is part of the project of decolonising the animal that has begun in a variety of fields in the social sciences, political sciences, education, ecology and the humanities [105
]. However, the dominant scholarly discourse of animal welfare is limited to Layers 1–6, as, for example, in Horseman et al. [106
], with their participants’ discourse mostly being limited to Layers 1–5.
It is strongly recommended that future research advance frameworks of interspecies sustainability and centre the experience of the thoroughbred. One approach should be engaging with theories of decolonisation [105
]. Furthermore, this study has considered one aspect of interspecies sustainability in more detail, namely naturalness
. Future research should investigate other aspects such as animal autonomy, animal cultures and knowledge systems, and interspecies relationships, what they are and what they would actually look like in practice, and what strategies are needed to translate them into practice. Butler et al. [81
] found that human-horse relationships and thoroughbred welfare in the thoroughbred racing industry are deeply affected by the lack of recognition, communication and respect for those working on the ground with the thoroughbreds. Considering that most industry informants of this study suggest that everybody, in particular those on the ground working with the horses, represent the horse in some way or another, this dimension of relationship has particular relevance and urgently needs attention, regardless of whether there are intentions to move toward interspecies sustainability or not. Another important approach would be to apply Coulter’s lens of human–animal labour [107
] to the thoroughbreds, the workers, and work in the racing and breeding industries. This has particular relevance in light of the need for ecological restructuring of the economy [108
] for the sustainability transition, and it has implications for human-animal relations. Finally, research is needed into whether and how traditional forms of animal use can or should be transformed into partnerships that are truly equal and co-created [71
] and not based on domination for human benefit. Such explorations in research and practice have begun within certain equine cultures, and there is controversy over particular training techniques claiming to be partnership-based [109
]. In the longer or shorter term, these explorations can be expected to have implications for the future of riding horses. Finally, there is need for the development of research methodologies in the social sciences that centre the animal while being respectful of the animal and consistent with principles of interspecies sustainability.