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Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants

School of Geosciences, The University of Sydney, 2006 New South Wales, Australia
Animals 2020, 10(9), 1513; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10091513
Received: 24 June 2020 / Revised: 19 August 2020 / Accepted: 22 August 2020 / Published: 26 August 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Animal Welfare)
The international thoroughbred industry is concerned about the public’s perception of racing. Therefore, the industry’s priorities are to address the publicly most visible and known welfare violations. However, common day-to-day racing practices also impact thoroughbred welfare. In this study, key industry informants and animal advocacy informants were interviewed to find out how they view common racing practices. For the interviews, photographs of thoroughbreds on race day were used, which the informants were asked to describe. Results show industry informants often naturalise, normalise, downplay or ignore the horses’ expressions, the impact of handling on the horse and the use of equipment. The animal advocacy informants tend to describe a horse whose nature is violated. In conclusion, the industry informants show limited interest in addressing common racing practices, and this places thoroughbred welfare at risk. Both groups of informants have different ideas about what is natural and what that means for thoroughbred welfare. With society’s understanding of welfare and of racing practices growing, the racing industry may be increasingly questioned about common racing practices. This article discusses the notion of naturalness in more detail and how it can be used to advance thoroughbred protection.
The idea of what is natural has particular relevance in the thoroughbred racing and breeding discourse. It guides breeding regulations; influences how the thoroughbreds’ behaviour is perceived and has implications for husbandry, handling, training and racing practices. This study investigates how key industry and animal advocacy informants based in the US, Australia and the UK conceptualise naturalness within the context of common racing practices that potentially impact the horses’ welfare. The informants were interviewed using semi-structured interviewing and photo-elicitation. Four common images of thoroughbreds on race day were presented to elicit the informants’ responses. Differences emerged between how the two groups tended to describe the images and the role naturalness played in their conceptualisations. The findings were analysed using an updated version of the Layers of Engagement with Animal Protection developed by Bergmann to situate the informants’ conceptualisations of naturalness within the wider thoroughbred protection discourse. In conclusion, the industry informants tended to defend the status quo of common racing practices. They tended to naturalise and normalise these practices and downplay their welfare impact. This poses risks for thoroughbred welfare, which are amplified by misrepresentations of what is natural. With the public’s understanding of welfare and racing practices growing, racing’s legitimacy may be further questioned. Opportunities to leverage the potential of the notion of naturalness for thoroughbred protection are discussed.
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Keywords: thoroughbred welfare; equine welfare; naturalness; thoroughbred racing; photo-elicitation; animal welfare; animal protection; horse-human relationships; human-animal relations thoroughbred welfare; equine welfare; naturalness; thoroughbred racing; photo-elicitation; animal welfare; animal protection; horse-human relationships; human-animal relations
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Bergmann, I.M. Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants. Animals 2020, 10, 1513.

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