Monday, 16 April 2012

The not-so-Grand National

I've got a real soft spot for horses having been lucky enough to have been put in a saddle before I could walk and grew up spending the summer competing at shows or at pony club camp. So when I was asked to be the RSPCA's press officer at the Grand National I leapt at the chance.

Equine Consultant David Muir checking a water jump
 The RSPCA's equine consultant, David Muir (a former mounted police officer and fellow horse nut) has been working with the British Horseracing Authority for more than a decade to bring in dozens of safety improvements and thanks to his tireless work I was treated to a rare behind the scenes tour at Aintree.

I watched the towering, glossy horses trotting through the pre-race vet examine, was shown round the state-of-the art post-race cooling station where sweaty horses are misted and hosed down, and I nearly got drenched by the on-course watering system designed to make sure the going is 'good'. All these improvements are thanks in part to the RSPCA's persistent call for better welfare.

I pulled on my wellies to walk the world-famous course. The fences were massive - I couldn't see over a couple of them and incredibly some are even wider than they are tall.

But my magical moment came on a tour of the stables to meet the horses. They were absolutely stunning, in tip top physical condition and groomed to perfection.

I was lucky enough to stroke last year's winner Bally Briggs and chat to his stable lad who revealed his favourite treat is Polos. There is no doubt that all the people I met that morning love horses, it came shining through speaking to the vets, the grooms and the jockeys.

But sadly that is where my fairytale trip to Aintree ended.

I have nervously watched the Grand National on television countless time, peering between my fingers and willing them all home but standing on that famous course as the 40 horses and their jockeys circled before the starting line was gut-wrenching. I hoped all those beautiful horses would come back safely but knew there was a strong chance they wouldn't.

RSPCA equine officers

As they thundered out of sight I watched the race on a giant screen and listened to updates from the RSPCA equine officers stationed at jumps along the course. Through the crackly radios we heard the heartbreaking news that two horses - According to Pete and one of the favourites Synchronised - had both fractured legs and had to be put to sleep by vets.

While thousands of smartly-dressed race fans cheered the two leaders to a photo-finish in the stands our equine officers saw a very different side to the so-called Grand National behind the ominous screens. And while merry racegoers filed nosily out of Aintree and made their way home two horse boxes left with empty spaces in the back.

Despite all the safety improvements over the years it is obvious that more needs to be done if this world famous race continues.

I'll always remember my first ever day at the races but sadly for all the wrong reasons.

Press officer Cat on a horse...some 10 years ago!

Catherine Peerless, RSPCA Press Officer


  1. ok so you disagree with a horse race because two horses die. I've been campaigning against a clause in the Hunting Act which requires me to shoot all the deer I flush with my dogs. I only flush them to disperse them and have never killed one. I want to manage my land without killing any mammals.

    When I challenged the Hunting Act because of this clause in the courts the RSPCA supported the Government in arguing it was right that the law required all those deer to be shot.

    Please explain - why if two horses dieing is cruel is it not cruel to gun down an entire herd of deer fleeing from hounds where there is a considerable chance of wounding and extreme suffering?

  2. Looks interesting, ill be sure to check it out. Cheltenham tips