Grand National protesters accuse Channel 4 of exploiting deaths of horses

horse racing tpower1978 grand national animal cruelty

Animal rights campaigners gather at broadcaster’s London headquarters to condemn advert that ‘ramps-up’ danger of race


Last year's Grand National favourite, Synchronised, died during the race despite changes being made to make Aintree's course safer. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images

Last year’s Grand National favourite, Synchronised, died during the race despite changes being made to make Aintree’s course safer. Photograph: Carl Recine/Action Images

Animal rights campaigners have staged a protest outside the headquarters of Channel 4, accusing the Grand National broadcaster of cynically exploiting the brutality of the world’s most famous horse race.

Around 80 campaigners gathered in central London to chant “shame on Channel 4” before reading out a list of the 23 horses that have died during the Grand National since 1989.

Andrew Tyler of Animal Aid accused the broadcaster of deliberately ramping up the danger inherent in the steeplechase, in particular condemning a commercial promoting its first broadcast of the steeplechase as “cynical, callous and pretty disgusting.”

The promotional advert shows horses leaping over cars and park benches with several jockeys falling from their steed and concludes with the tagline “the original extreme sport”.

Tyler, director of the UK’s second largest animal rights organisation, said: “Channel 4 are doing what they do best, which is to court controversy in a way that is also designed to generate outrage. The Grand National is extremely hazardous, deliberately so and they are playing up to that fact.”

Two horses died on the Aintree course before the Grand National even began, despite a series of changes to the course that were meant to improve safety. The second death came on Friday when Little Josh, considered a strong jumper, fell at the 15th fence.

One campaigner, Billie Hands, 53, a jewellery designer from London, said: “The race is presented as dangerous and exciting entertainment, but they don’t discuss the deaths. Why don’t they show that? They shouldn’t ignore the deaths.”

Nigel Francis, 52, a financial advisor from Portsmouth, added: “They’ve obviously made a ratings decision but Channel 4 has got a moral and ethical duty to present it in a balanced view.”

Veterinary surgeon Caroline Allen, 38, from London said that she had decided to protest because of wider concerns over equine welfare relating to the way race horses were bred, looked after and treated.

The changes to the Aintree course, including the softening of the infamous Becher’s Brook, came after last year’s favourite, Synchronised, died during the race. The tape of Synchronised’s last minutes, studied by equine psychologists, has been used by critics as proof that the horses have a profound and primitive fear of its notorious fences. Another horse, According to Pete, was put down after he fell at Becher’s Brook in 2012.

The BBC, which used to screen the race, was criticised for effectively ignoring the black-draped enclosures officials erect around stricken horses, and for announcing the deaths hurriedly at the end of the programme.

Animal welfare campaigners argue the National remains unreasonably dangerous because of the height and angle of the fences, the length of the race and the large number of competitors, 40.

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AUTHOR: Jerry Finch
  • Debbie Tracy

    Boy, what on earth has happened to some of the people on this earth, is it always the money, the win, the greed and no care to the great animal that they are riding on trying to serve them anyway they can to the best ability they can do and for what for what everyone!!! This is just so sad…

    April 7, 2013
  • Jade

    Until people start realizing that these are living, breathing, feeling, INTELLIGENT animals, that are willing to go along with what we ask of them without planting their feet and looking at us with that look that says, “ARE YOU NUTS? NO WAY AM I DOING THAT!” and not get beaten for refusing, this cruel sport will continue to draw spectators…alot like the car races … they come to see the wrecks. I have days of feeling ashamed to be human.

    April 7, 2013
  • BlessUsAll

    If the brave, loyal horses are afraid of these jumps, which I fully believe they are, that means that they must have been painfully coerced into racing this course by unfeeling dominators who are posing as horsemen, as sportsmen. Reminds me of how the TWH “trainers” make those horses suffer while performing the “big lick” — and suffer even more (both physically and psychologically) if they don’t get it right.

    I’m grateful to the feisty protesters for holding the cowardly, exploitative media’s feet to the fire. If the TV coverage were to show the grisly truth, an outraged public just might demand that this “sport” be shuttered for good.

    April 7, 2013
  • Marcia

    If those protestors were in America, they might be called “terrorists” for interfering. It seems as long as someone can make a buck ahd have a job, even if it means exploiting animals and causing their death, then it’s okay. We are into a time of “extreme sports” that leads to this kind of abuse. We’re also in a time when caring about animals is evoking the wrath and opposition of all who benefit from that abuse, from factory farmers to puppy mill owners to hunters to these kinds of horse-killing contests backers.

    April 8, 2013
    • BlessUsAll

      Accurate observations, Marcia. Time to move the pendulum back from “extremely selfish” to “extremely loving” and “extremely just,” per Martin Luther King, Jr.’s invocation in the letter he wrote from the Birmingham Jail.

      April 8, 2013