Last month, images of a horse jumping over a fence and into a startled crowd were shown by media across the world. The incident occurred at an event on May 5 at the Warnambool Carnival’s Grand Annual Steeplechase, when a horse that lost its rider was corralled into an area intended to hold riderless horses. The horse, however, jumped the area’s two-metre fence into the crowd on the other side, before running away onto a suburban street with police in pursuit.

As well as bringing to light the inadequacy of controls in segregating people from animals, the incident has further tarnished the image and reputation of a sport which has already been phased out in all but two Australian states and territories.

Controversy Surrounding Jumps Racing Jumps racing, in which horses race whilst jumping over hurdles, has been met with fierce animal cruelty-based opposition in Australia. A significant number of horses in this country have been injured and put down after breaking bones during races.

In Victoria and South Australia – the only two states in which jumps racing is still contested – 40 horses have reportedly been killed in races during the past four years.

Jumps racing first came under fire after a 1991 Federal Senate inquiry into animal welfare found that the sport should not continue on the grounds of animal cruelty. Following this, jumps racing was phased out in most Australian states.

Risks to the Sport

Although the public safety concerns raised by the May 5 incident are significant, it is animal and jockey safety which pose the biggest risk to the survival of the sport.

Groups such as the RSPCA, Animals Australia, Animal Liberation and The Greens, vocally advocate for a total ban on jumps racing due to the harm done to animals.

Following the 2009 temporary ban in Victoria, the Victoria Racing Board agreed to lift the ban if the industry could demonstrate that:

  • Horse fatality rates were approximately halved
  • Horse fall rates dropped significantly

In addition, other safety measures implemented included:

  • Hurdle modification and an adjustment to the width and angle of the brush
  • Tighter jockey supervision and horse qualification
  • Improved training and facilities

Despite these measures, the number of horses being killed during races was still significant. The survival of the sport depends on whether further improvements can be identified and successfully implemented.

Following the recent Warnambool incident, Victorian Racing Minister, Denis Napthine stated that the incident was an issue of spectator safety. He has asked Racing Victoria for a full investigation into what happened in order to identify any other possible improvements to spectator safety.