In the middle of the current Australian horseracing season, an ABC current affairs program showed disturbing footage of some racehorses being treated badly before being killed at an abbatoirs. Australians were shocked. Various investigations and enquiries were started. One state racing organisation immediately announced a $25m program for better ‘career options’ and treatment for horses at the end of their racing life. But where do all the horses go after they have raced?
The Basic Facts of the Horse Life Cycle
Using conservative numbers, around 13,000 horses are born in Australia each year. The average horse begins racing as a 2yo and races for around 3-4 years. Horses live for over 25 years on average.
This means:
– Around 40,000 horses would be involved in racing at any one time
– If all horses lived for 25 years, there would be 320,000 horses in Australia
– That’s a lot of ‘career options’ needed for horses to be gainfully employed outside racing

Where Do All the Horses Go?
Here, we are wilfully blind. We don’t want to know. There are a variety of studies, but the results don’t account for either all the horses that exist in Australia (estimated to be around 200,000) or what happens to those which don’t race (not all horses are born to race).
We seem mainly concerned with horses that are raced. One study estimated that around 20% of racehorses went to ‘other equine pursuits’, 20% went to breeding, and 5% were killed. But that only accounts for 45% of the horses!!
We also know that there are a small number of abbatoirs that are licensed to kill horses and it seems they kill around 5,000 horses a year – for pet meat and for export to countries where eating horsemeat is accepted.
Are Horses Different from Cattle or Sheep…or Dogs?
We are quite happy killing cattle and sheep to eat (though please don’t show us how it happens…). Why are horses – which resemble cattle in size and shape – thought of differently? Probably a key reason is that we attach names to many individual horses…and dogs…so that we personalise them, compared to cattle and sheep.
But horses, unlike dogs, cost a fortune to maintain. The RSPCA estimates it costs $ 3,500-7,000 a year. That’s a lot of dog food. Not to mention the need for a lot of land. So, when a race horse – bought to provide entertainment for 3-4 years – ceases to race, that’s a lot to be paying out for the next 20 years till the horse dies naturally. Enter ‘alternative career options’….which include killing, which actually brings some income rather than expense to the owners.
What Are Our Choices?
Unless we want our fields taken up with increasing amounts of retired horses, killing horses – like killing other animals at the end of their useful (from a human perspective) life – is a necessary part of the industry.
Another choice would be to significantly reduce the number of foals. But since prizemoney in the industry occurs when horses are very young, that’s unlikely to occur. When the prizemoney opportunities disappear, the costs continue for many years.
So, face it. Horses are killed. Every year. In largish numbers. That we don’t want to know about. And this will continue, unless the prizemoney in horseracing is reduced, reducing the economic incentive to produce horses.
So Why Was the ABC Program So Emotionally Successful?
The real issue is not killing horses. It is the way in which horses are killed. If horses are killed humanely, painlessly, like cattle and sheep…and dogs and cats and all animals, then there is no story here. (And as few horses were shown, this is likely to be an isolated incident.)
The other issue is…it showed us something that we don’t want to know the truth about. Our pet horses are killed. What did we think happened to them?


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