Well, it’s the end of another iconic Melbourne Cup day. The stilettos have been broken in, the champagne has been popped and the dresses can’t be returned. That’s it. Until next year…
But the sad reality is that it’s also the end for some of the horses. Although there were no actual deaths on cup day this year, there will be horses that ran in races today who will never see a race track again. Some of them will go on to become parents. Some will make teenage girls eternally happy at Pony Club, some may even become Olympic Dressage or Showjumping champions, but for most, the sad reality is when owners and trainers are no longer turning a profit from a racehorse he, or she, will end up at the slaughterhouse. A noisy trip to the abattoir, followed by hours standing in a concrete pen will end with a bolt to head for animals that were just doing what they were trained to do.
For me, it’s a conundrum. I was born with horses galloping through my veins. I was a competitive Eventing rider until my twenties. There’s an affinity, an understanding, a never-ending wonder at the beauty of a horse that lifts my heart from the ordinary to the wondrous. And it doesn’t matter what it is they are doing, I will be glued to it. It’s the same with Horse Racing, and on Cup day each year, I get caught up in the beauty of the horses and the excitement of the story. I was so happy with today’s Melbourne Cup result for Michelle Payne, for Stevie Payne and for the trainer, Darren Weir. Theirs is a story that everyone can relate to, and the media can have a field day with. I admit, I teared up with emotion for them all. But then came the news that five-time Melbourne Cup runner, Red Cadeaux was injured. A tent was set up just past the finish post on the track to shield the public from his inevitable destruction.
Happily, Red Cadeaux was saved and his injury is now listed as “Non-life-threatening,” but it seems he’s the exception that 127 other Racehorses this year in Australia didn’t get to be. One of which I had the unhappy fortune to witness first hand at Mooney Valley. The speed at which they rolled out a van for a horse in the home straight, who had very obviously broken a leg, astounded me. The tarp screen fashioned on wheels for events like this and the SUV with a purpose-built box trailer attached. No windows. When the back of the trailer was opened it revealed a ramp with a winch for removing the bodies of euthanized horses. All of these things were on the track in under a minute. A well-oiled, well-practised machine that induced death, cleaned up the evidence and left within five minutes so that the next race would not be delayed. I suspect this machine also serves the purpose of minimizing distress for punters. Although, not for their benefit, but for the benefit of the sport. So that we can all go on living in denial, pretending that these animals don’t matter. That they don’t have feelings. But they do.
What disturbed me even more than all of this was two men watching this all unfold next to me. Both craning their necks to get the best view they could of the unfolding tragedy. One of them shouldered the other when the vet emerged from the screen, retrieved a bag and then re-entered the screen. “Here we go. Here we go.” He said with excitement. “He’s gonna get the green dream. He’s gonna get the green dream now.” His mate, smiling too, still stretching his neck to get a better view. For those that don’t know, the Green Dream is Lethabarb, a liquid anaesthetic that’s used to euthanize animals, and so named for its bright green colour.
I admit. I did address these men with a string of words more suited to the farm on which I grew up than the polite society encountered at the races, but I don’t think I’ll ever forget the excitement with which he said it, and I will never, ever, understand it. I sincerely hope that the deaths that occur in the sport haven’t become part of its attraction for some, or the human race really has failed.
I can’t help but love horses. I can’t explain it. I just love them. I do have a problem with the racing industry, but I don’t do anything about it. The difference for me is that when I competed, my horse and I were a team, a partnership, and for some this may be hard to understand, but we were friends, and the money flowed from my pocket, not into it, and therein lies the problem. Horse Racing is a huge revenue stream, for the state, for the country and for the thousands of breeders, jockeys, owners and trainers, and as such, we will never be able to eradicate it.
So for me, the conundrum is best explained as much more bitter than sweet.