8th horse dies at Hastings Racecourse this year

A total of eight horses have died so far this year at Vancouver’s Hastings Racecourse, according to the Vancouver Humane Society.

The most recent death was on Oct. 15, just one day before the end of the 2023 racing season, says Chantelle Archambeault, communications director for the society.

The same number of deaths occured in last year’s racing season, she says.

“(This) is why it’s so shocking that we aren’t seeing any meaningful changes being made to protect these horses,” she told CityNews. “The fact that these horses are still dying and no meaningful changes have been made, I think is indicative of a larger issue of welfare problems that seriously needs to be addressed.”

Archambeault says the issue is inherent within the entire industry, as the animals are forced into “fast-paced, high-stress situations.”

“They’re put at risk of [losing] their lives every single time they step onto the track,” she said. “And as well as risking their lives, they are facing stress and pain through… training and use of painful tools like whips and bits that really strictly control their movements. So really, there are serious welfare concerns across the industry that need to be addressed.”

Archambeault says the humane society hasn’t looked into how Hastings Racecourse compares to other tracks when it comes to this issue, but she says it’s something they will be studying more.

“These are issues that we’re seeing across the industry,” she said. “The use of thoroughbred racehorses, which experts have pointed out are typically over-bred for speed rather than skeletal strength, this is why their lives are at such high risk of injury. That’s commonplace across the industry.”

Of the deaths, Archambeault says three were due to injuries during races, two were during timed workouts, one was before a race, one was related to an escape from a barn, and one was related to gastrointestinal distress.

David Milburn, president of the Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association of BC, has 12 horses in California and B.C. and has been racing at Hastings for “decades,” he said.

“The Vancouver Humane Society, I respect their work,” he told CityNews. “However, they’re on the wrong track when it comes to Hastings,” he said. “We’re a highly regulated industry, we are government regulated, and heavily regulated, and appropriately so.”

He says this regulation comes from many levels of government.

“Safety is the number one priority: safety for the horses and of course for the jockeys, (both) the equine and the human athletes,” he said.

He notes there is a vet on site that checks every horse that is going to run in a race, and the animals’ blood and urine are tested regularly, When a death happens he says it is taken very seriously.

“Anytime there’s a horse death at the track, it’s absolutely devastating for the groom that works on it, the trainer, the barn staff, the owner, and the entire racing community,” he said. “These horses are absolutely loved, and you will not find better cared-for horses, in my view, anywhere, than at a racetrack.”

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