Activists condemn new Grand National safety measures as 'attempt to hide realities of horse racing'

Animal Rising activists are apprehended by police officers at the Grand National Festival, at Aintree.
More than 100 people were arrested at the racecourse in April 2023. Credit: PA Images

Animals rights groups have slammed changes made to the Grand National saying they are "an attempt to hide the realities of horse racing".

A number of safety measures will be introduced into the world-famous race from 2024 in a bid to make it safer for riders and horses.

The Jockey Club, who organise the annual event held at Aintree in Liverpool, stressed the new safety measures were not a consequence of protests held at the racecourse in April.

More than 100 people were arrested after activists from campaign group Animal Rising attempted to scale fences, with some accessing the track and trying to glue themselves to fences.

The Jockey Club said it undertakes a review of the event every year, including input from equine charity World Horse Welfare.

Changes include a reduced field size from 40 to 34, an earlier race time for optimum ground conditions, and course alterations to make the race safer.

But campaign group Animal Aid said the steeplechase remained 'antiquated and outdated', adding they wanted to see it banned.

Dene Stansall from the group said the race "still remains cruel despite these changes that are being made for the 2024 race".

He added: "The Grand National is the most dangerous race in the world.

"History shows that point. By the sheer volume of horses that have been killed is dangerous because each fence is different.

"On all other race courses, all the fences are more or less the same same height so horses are used to jumping those to a degree, but when they come to the Grand National these fences are new obstacles that they've never faced before, they vary in size and stature.

"Its demands are on pushing the horse to their absolute limits."

Animal Rising spokeswoman Louisa Hillwood said: “These changes are nothing more than an attempt to hide the realities of horse racing from the British public.

“Just as factory farms have rebranded themselves as free-range, or cage-free, the Jockey Club is trying to create a fanciful image of the industry.

“All this completely ignores our fundamentally broken relationship with other animals and the natural world.”

Miss Hillwood added: “The Jockey Club needs to pay attention to the 54% of Brits who say that the Grand National is cruel and find a way of showing love for these beautiful animals in a way that isn’t using or harming them.”

The Jockey Club say it undertakes a review of the event every year, including input from equine charity World Horse Welfare.

Chief Executive Nevin Truesdale said: “In making these changes at Aintree, we are underlining our relentless focus on welfare and our commitment to powering the future of British racing.”

Protesters are detained by police during day three of the Grand National Festival. Credit: PA

Animal charity RSPCA also commented on the new changes as "a welcome step".

Director of policy, Emma Slawinski, stressed they still think there is more work to be done.

She said: “This is a welcome step from the Jockey Club and we are very pleased to see the organisation taking horse welfare seriously and making changes to the Grand National as a result, including decreasing the current maximum number of runners.

“We have always urged horse racing authorities to act on the wealth of science and evidence and believe this is the only way to demonstrate a commitment to improving and protecting horse welfare and ensuring a good life for those involved in the sport.

“The British Horse Racing Authority and the Jockey Club will know that the RSPCA will continue to urge them to go further for the good of horse welfare.”

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