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Melbourne Cup: The race that gets us to stop and think about animals?

By Nicholas Pendergrast - posted Wednesday, 26 October 2011


Both World Vegan Day and the Melbourne Cup fall on 1 November this year. At first glance, these two events may seem unrelated, but there is actually a strong link between the two.

Many Australians celebrate the Melbourne Cup. They dress up, they gamble on the event, and they watch the event with interest. Others have looked behind the glamour and want no part of it due to the cruelty involved in horse racing.

This is for good reason. When you see a horse fall, there are far more implications than just a loss of money if you had bet on that horse. Injuries to both the jockeys and the horses are very common. While both jockeys and horses suffer from these falls, injuries occur under very different circumstances for the two groups. Jockeys voluntarily participate in horse racing knowing the risks involved. In contrast, horses face these risks against their will.

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Once a jockey is injured, they get medical attention. If horses are severely injured, they are killed on site. A white sheet is put up so the crowd doesn't see this ugly side of the horse racing industry. Falls aside, horses are killed once they are no longer useful to the racing industry.

Some people oppose horse racing due to a broader commitment to animal rights. Animal rights means seeking to abolish, and not merely regulate, the exploitation of other animals. But what exactly does animal exploitation mean? What may come to mind is animals being particularly badly treated or facing intense confinement.

While this is part of animal exploitation, exploitation goes far beyond this. Exploitation is defined as 'use or utilisation, especially for profit' and 'selfish utilisation.' Such a definition covers humans using animals as merely a means to our ends for selfish reasons, often for profit and enjoyment. Regardless of how "nicely" or otherwise we treat the animals we use, exploitation remains.

In the context of horse racing, animal rights means opposing the practise outright. It doesn't matter if the horses are whipped a few less times or if other measures are introduced to make horse racing "nicer". According to the animal rights perspective, animals are not here for us to use.

Animal rights gives animals inherent value, rather than just the value we get out of using them. Animals are important because they are sentient beings capable of experiencing pleasure and pain, rather than because we can get profit or enjoyment out of using them for our own ends.

The African American feminist Alice Walker has a famous quote that sums up the animal rights position: "The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men."

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While no one is denying that it is possible to use other animals as merely means to our ends, it is also true that some groups of people have only been seen as valuable to the extent that they can serve another group, rather than having inherent value.

Unfortunately this even continues today in some instances. So while we can use other animals for our own selfish reasons, this doesn't automatically imply that we should. Veganism puts the idea that each animal is a sentient individual (someone) rather than just a resource for us to use (something) into practise in our daily lives.

Veganism means not using animals for food. There are very similar problems for animals in the egg and dairy industries as in the horse racing industry. Just like in the horse racing industry, animals in the egg and dairy products are killed once they are no longer useful to the industry. As soon as they can no longer produce enough eggs or milk to be profitable, they are killed in the same slaughterhouses as animals raised for meat.

Whenever we view animals as just serving a certain purpose for humans rather than possessing inherent value, they are routinely killed once they are no longer serving this purpose.

Veganism goes far beyond diet and is a form of living protest against the injustice of animal exploitation. It is about standing up for all of the animals used by humans, in all of the choices that we make. This includes when we sit down to eat, but also in other choices, such as when we are buying clothes, or when we are choosing which entertainment to go to.

This Melbourne Cup, I encourage people to look behind the glamour of the event and see what horse racing means for animals. As this is also World Vegan Day, it is also a great opportunity to critically consider our views towards other animals.

Do you view other animals as individuals with inherent value, or just things for us to use and kill as we like?

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About the Author

Nick Pendergrast is a PhD candidate who studies and teaches Sociology at Curtin University in Western Australia. His research focuses on the animal advocacy movement, primarily in Australia and the United States, and explores the range of ideologies, activism, organisations, and key actors that make up this movement.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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