His name was Jet Set and he competed in the Tokyo Olympics. Promised to a glorious future, this horse was ridden by the Swiss rider Robin Godel, who described it as « out of the ordinary ». After falling heavily on landing the jump from the 20th hurdle at the end of the Sea Forest Cross Country course, Jet Set tore a ligament in his front right leg. “Due to the severity of the injury and the pain caused, the horse had to be euthanized shortly after,” Swiss Olympic said in a statement.

Jet Set’s death, if it is undoubtedly medically justified (which we hope!), Is representative of a silent scourge that hangs over equestrian sports: the killing of horses. In 2019, no less than 135 racehorses died on French racetracks, often due to a heart attack, but more generally due to fractures due to falls during obstacle courses, requiring a euthanasia. This figure is only for racehorses and does not include cross … But in either case, pushing horses to the limit of their physical limits is not without consequences …

Euthanasia, the only solution?

But is euthanasia really the only way out for injured horses? In an interview with Sciences et Avenir, veterinary Dr Valérie Picandet (from the Livet Equine Veterinary Hospital Center) stated: “Unfortunately, fractures of the limbs in horses are far from benign because of the weight of the animal. Also, it is very hard to reduce the fracture, that is, to put the bones back in relation to each other, again, because of the size of the animal. » Imposing strict rest, during the time of convalescence, is not always possible either, the horse not being able to lie down for a long time … Very often, when the suffering is too great and the chances of recovery are slim, euthanasia is the only solution.

In its « Practical guide for racetrack veterinarians », the French Equine Veterinary Association devotes an appendix entitled « When to euthanize?» in which we can read:

“The justification for euthanasia is for humanitarian reasons; it is about preventing the horse from excessive and incurable pain and putting an end to it.

Different criteria must be evaluated before any euthanasia:

1) disabling, unbearable, incurable medical condition?

2) poor vital prognosis?

3) risk for the horse itself and / or third parties?

4) need for continual analgesic treatment in order to lead a future life decent?

5) limitation of movement and / or confinement in the box likely in the future? »

The last two points are interesting since a horse that has to take continual treatment can go on living. Ditto if his movements are to be limited in the future. Euthanizing rather than agreeing to come to terms with these conditions, striving to provide the best possible life for the animal, does not seem ethical to us, although each case is different.

… Or the easy way out?

It is to be feared that other parameters are considered, in particular financial aspects: the cost of the surgical intervention and recovery, as well as the loss of earnings if the animal no longer takes part in the competitions… And if the horse is sterilized, there is no longer any hope of being able to count on what his descendants would bring back… This is therefore a real problem: “When the horse which was worth a fortune no longer brings in anything , it becomes useless, so we euthanize it or send it to the slaughterhouse, like the overwhelming majority of equines that have become unprofitable ”, denounces veterinary Dr Thierry Bedossa, President of Agir pour la Vie Animale, indignant at this « utilitarian » vision that we always have of the animal. What is the point of paying heavy veterinary costs for an injured horse and a pension for years, when it will no longer manage any profit? Unfortunately, it is to avoid this financial pit that so many owners of racehorses, but also of ponies and other working and recreational equines, opt for euthanasia or slaughter, the cheapest option.

In its guide, the French Equine Veterinary Association also mentions « economic considerations »: « Immediate euthanasia on the track or at the veterinary service of the racetrack must be justified on humanitarian grounds but the environment of the races, the emotional state of the parties and the financial stakes sometimes influence this decision: sex of the animal (female> male> gelding), quality of the horse (level of group racing or “claim” level), sentimental impact, financial means of the owner, envisaged sports prognosis; breeding or leisure horse career, slaughter premium.

« Slaughter premium »: « A slaughter allowance (1200 euros for galloping races, 1500 euros for trotting races) is paid to the owner of the horse or to the lessor if the horse is rented, for any horse dead on the racetrack or injured during the race having had to be shot by the veterinarian on duty (…). The slaughter premium will also be paid if the slaughter takes place within eight days of the race, insofar as the certificate of the veterinarian who performs the euthanasia, establishes that the lesions observed correspond to those suspected on the day of the race. accident and that they are incurable.  »

What alternative to euthanasia?

An alternative is however possible: a retreat in the countryside, in dedicated places or even in private property. To offer an « ethical » reform to these horses who have generated so much money and given their life to humans, would be the least of thanks! When we know that the PMU generates 11 billion euros in revenue, we can imagine the number of lives that could be saved if part of this sum was devoted to the retirement of racehorses … « A real scandal », laments the Dr Bedossa. At the AVA refuge farm, we took in hundreds of equines that were to be killed. It is in our Normandy pastures that they found a place of tranquility to finish their life, being respected, cared for and loved without anyone expecting anything from them.

The other scandal has to do with the existence of these races, especially obstacle races. « Cross and stepple are extremely dangerous races, for both horses and riders, and although they divide, these practices still have their amateurs », explains Maud Lafon, journalist in the veterinary press. At the Olympics, the obstacles to be overcome can reach up to 3 m wide and 1.60 m high: « jumping such obstacles does not exist in the natural behavior of the horse », points out Dr Bedossa. Heir to centuries of existence, these equestrian sports do not seem to be on the way out.

Otherwise, it is urgent to reduce the risks as much as possible and take action on animal welfare. In 2018 and 2019, our President, Dr Bedossa, had brought his expertise to the Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping on the occasion of the animation of a workshop about animal welfare in horse races.  Agir pour la Vie Animale remains at the disposal of any organization wishing to conduct this kind of workshops.

Finally, about the death of Jet Set, Dr Bedossa specifies: « We do not allow ourselves to judge the abusive nature of this euthanasia and we rely on the expertise of the veterinarians who had to take this terrible decision with the owners. Nevertheless, and knowing the lives of these athletes who keep being moved around for their competitions, we can only fear that the remoteness of the place where this dramatic accident occurred has surely contributed to the decision-making process. Perhaps Jet Set would still be alive if the race had taken place in Europe. This is also what shocks us, this speciesism, this discrimination between the care given to human and non-human athletes ».