On Saturday, the Daily Mirror published a front-page photograph of the racehorse Wigmore Hall with a gun to his head, about to be put down, having broken its leg. Unsurprisingly, the paper’s decision was met with dismay and anger from the racing community. But perhaps more surprising is that the RSPCA appears to be on racing’s side.
In February last year, Melissa Kite wrote in this magazine that she feared that the RSPCA might have set their sights on horse racing. But it seems promising – and strangely sensible – of the RSPCA to have spoken out against both the Mirror and the pressure group Animal Aid, which supplied the photographs. David Muir, the RSPCA’s equine consultant, said in a statement: ‘I can’t see that the vet has done anything wrong, or the racecourse either.’
Of course, neither had. Few people are under the illusion that horses are never put down; the screens that are erected around the horse (or jockey) are to allow medics to concentrate on treating their patient, and to keep the horse calm. No one is pretending that deaths never happen on a racecourse. But fortunately they are rare. Putting down a horse with a broken leg is the kindest thing to do – and shooting probably the most humane way of doing it. What would be far crueller, and horribly unfair on the horse, would be to keep him stabled and in plaster for months to allow his leg to heal. At that speed a horse’s leg probably won’t break cleanly, anyway. It will shatter.
The Mirror’s editor has subsequently commented that that ‘two of the three opinion pieces we carried were in defence of horse racing’.