The recent deaths of three horses in jumps racing events have given rise to renewed calls for the banning of the pursuit.
The horse racing fraternity itself is divided between devotees of conventional “flat” racing on the one hand, who can’t see the need to put exhausted horses through the ordeal of jumping steeples in addition to running a few thousand metres at top speed, and hardcore punters on the other hand who see no harm in such an arduous and dangerous trial—after all, they argue, that’s what they’re bred for.
Debate in the community escalates with every equine fatality. Every camp is suspicious of the others’ motives. Anyone who argues that “it is, after all, only an animal” is in danger of being depicted as an insensitive redneck—and in some cases, it’s justified. Anyone appalled by cruelty to animals in any form whatsoever is accused of having secret vegan agendas—and in some cases, it’s justified.
Such debates default quickly to philosophical arguments concerning what it is to be human. We hear jocks positing evolutionary arguments about humans being at the top of the food chain. Their unfeeling message is “get over it”. Animal rights activists are usually the most strident, because, in their eyes, all creatures are “equal”, and a human life has no greater claims than that of an animal.
They’ll often ask how anyone can believe in a God who historically demanded animal sacrifices, and is so cruel as to put living creatures on Earth only to give us carte blanche to eat whatever we like, as described in the Bible’s “vision of Peter” (Acts 10:17).
A greater tragedy than the death of horses, or even human beings, in the long-term is the death of humanity. I don’t see a need for jumps racing, but I question any argument, on any side of the debate, if real compassion is the casualty—and an animal lover can be as lacking in compassion for those who oppose them as the cruellest animal abuser.
I know many people who hunt animals in the wild: ducks, pigs, kangaroos. To hear them speak of their favourite pursuit is to hear what’s in their heart. Some do it for “right” reasons—they kill for food, or to cull burgeoning and often destructive populations. They wouldn’t be seen with anyone who hunted just because they loved seeing an animal suffer. I’ve encountered the odd hunter who does it for the wrong reasons: they love to kill living creatures. Often, their cruelty extends to humans.
The Bible, despite that injunction to eat whatever God has “cleansed” (that is, made acceptable), also counsels us to look to the animal kingdom for lessons; to be aware of life outside the boundaries of humanity, because this affirms our humanity.
Proverbs 12:10 tells us that our attitude to animals is an indication of what’s in our heart. It tells us that a righteous man will care for his animals, yet even when an evil man is kind, his heart is no less cruel. God knows our hearts better than we do.
It doesn’t solve the jumps racing question, but it tells us what our attitude should be.