Sustainability, thoroughbred racing and the need for change
Nachhaltigkeit, Vollblutrennen und die Notwendigkeit für Wandel
Globally, the thoroughbred breeding and racing industry is reporting a declining trend. A report commissioned by the Jockey Club in the US, known as the McKinsey report, explicitly linked the public’s concern with animal welfare and the use of drugs to declining betting and attendance in the US. In various racing nations in Europe, in Australia and the US, thoroughbred racing is experiencing pressures from external sources and from within, with even industry participants calling for change. The industry is concerned with the integrity of racing. Structural changes, regulation and transparency in reporting are all issues identified in need of improvement in some racing nations. These are important issues and potentially contribute to better welfare outcomes. However, they do not address the principal question emerging from evolving social norms and values of whether thoroughbred racing is ethically justifiable, and if so, how it can be conducted so that it is socially acceptable. To address the declining trend, the McKinsey report framed the suggested strategies around the concept of sustainable growth and thus adopted the rhetoric of sustainable development. The research in this paper takes up the theme of sustainability and applies it to the thoroughbred industry. Elsewhere it has been shown that a focus on growth, as in the sustainable development model, is at the root of unsustainability. Therefore, it is argued in this research that an ecologically oriented sustainability framework is better suited to fully address the ethical and welfare issues in the industry. In this study, it is assumed that society, for the time being, accepts thoroughbred breeding and racing. Under this assumption, the concept of ecological sustainability is applied as a methodological tool by using it as a language system to investigate ethical and welfare issues in the thoroughbred industry. The following recommendations emerge from this research: There is the need for the industry to engage with issues of normativity and to develop alternative models of what constitutes success beyond winning a race. There is also need to advance knowledge production to better understand and respect the experience of thoroughbreds and thoroughbred knowledge systems, determinants of how to remain within the natural physical and emotional limits of the horse, the limits of human uses of horses, and how to promote the flourishing of horse and human-horse relationships in this industry. Engagement with these matters can better address issues of (un)sustainability and move the industry from an economically driven business and management model to a welfare driven model. The discussion of what constitutes a sustainable horseracing industry is inevitable. The question of the continuation of the use of thoroughbreds requires social negotiations in the interest of social sustainability. This is an ongoing dialogue as society’s ethics and values evolve. It would appear that the thoroughbred industry can expect to greatly benefit from proactively engaging with this process.