My latest article has just been published: Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants. It has always been very interesting to me to see what kind of images of horses involved in racing the racing industry has used for their messaging. I kept wondering: Don’t they really look at the horse? Are they not worried about the kind of story the horse is telling the outside world about common racing practices? Turns out in some cases they are.

My recently published study, “Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants”, brings into spotlight the impact of common racing practices and the racing industry’s non-recognition of these impacts. It also brings into spotlight the notion of naturalness that appears to gain prominence in the animal welfare literature, and that is an important marker for what the general public considers to be a good animal life.

The study has also further developed a diagnostic tool that can be used to interrogate a discourse in terms of whose interests the particular discourse serves – the animals’ or any others’ interests. This tool can be important because often, the lines are being blurred and so it can assist conceptual awareness and preparedness. The study concludes that the legitimacy of thoroughbred racing will be increasingly questioned as the discourse about common racing practices, animal welfare and protection, and naturalness advances in society at large.

Have you ever looked at images of thoroughbreds in racing and wondered what it actually is that you see?

It is intriguing to see the nature of the images of horses on raceday racing outlets use for their messaging. One might wonder: Doesn’t anybody really look at the horse? Isn’t anybody worried about the kind of story the horse is telling the outside world about common racing practices?

The international thoroughbred industry is concerned about the public’s perception of racing. Their priorities are to address the publicly most visible and known welfare violations. Their attention is focussed on The Big 3: Drugs and medication in racing, injury and death on the racetrack and “wastage” (the fate of thoroughbreds no longer used in racing). But what about common racing practices? Many common day-to-day racing practices also impact thoroughbred welfare.

In this study, I set out to find out how key stakeholders in thoroughbred welfare view common images of thoroughbreds on raceday who display some kind of response to common racing practices. For this study, key industry informants and animal advocacy informants were invited to participate. For the interviews, photographs of thoroughbreds on raceday were used which the informants were asked to describe. “What is it that you see?”

Mostly, the two groups saw something different in the thoroughbred’s behavioural and emotional expressions. They saw differences in the impact of tack, in particular the bits. They assign different relevance to the horse-human interaction and the potential impact of the human on the horse.

I tried to work out what role ideas of naturalness play in what is seen, the idea that horses “love to race”, whether there is an ontological difference made between the thoroughbred and the horse, and what can be done to better protect horses in racing. Some of the impacts of some common practices on the thoroughbreds that are largely unrecognised as a welfare problem are also discussed.

In this study, the concept of naturalness, the idea of what is natural, was used as a lens for the analysis. I have also applied and further developed an analytical tool, the Eight Layers of Engagement with Animal Protection, to add another level of analysis. Both can be adopted to interrogate other human-animal relationships, multispecies communities and animal industries.

Next time you see a thoroughbred in person or in an image on raceday, perhaps ask yourself what it is that you see, before and after you have read this article…

Bergmann, Iris M. 2020. Naturalness and the Legitimacy of Thoroughbred Racing: A Photo-Elicitation Study with Industry and Animal Advocacy Informants. Animals 10(9): 1513. DOI: 10.3390/ani10091513.


Last edited 01/09/2020