“I always said he’d die for you…he’s gone doing what he loved.”

Screen Shot 2018-02-22 at 23.01.06Leighton Aspell riding Thoroughbred Many Clouds (left) in the Cotswold Chase, Cheltenham, 28/01/2017 [1].


A fatal Day at the Races

After winning the race, Many Clouds collapsed and died of a severe pulmonary haemorrhage (bleeding in air passages to the lung) [2]. According to Race Horse Death Watch, a website launched by the organisation Animal Aid to monitor horse fatalities in the UK; 1650 casualties have occurred since 2007[3].

Despite horse injuries and their destruction often being witnessed by attendees, horseracing remains in 2nd place for the UK’s highest attended spectator sports in 2016 with 7.4 million visitors [4]. While horseracing may be an appealing day out, examining individual cases like that of Many Clouds, highlights the exploitation of horses for human entertainment and the necessity for updated regulations and scientific research.


He didn’t know when to quit!”

Being a televised event, members of his team were interviewed following the announcement. An individual described Many Clouds as a “hard horse, that’s what was great about him…it was his downfall as well…he didn’t know when to quit” [5]. Others shared the sentiments of trainer Oliver Sherwood, declaring “I always said he’d die for you…he’s gone doing what he loved”. Thus, suggesting Many Clouds willingly exerted himself beyond his limits, fully comprehending the race, his purpose and with the intention to win for himself and his team [5].

As with several racecourse fatalities subjective claims such as “wanting to win” are offered as an explanation for the horse’s overexertion. These claims show horses are widely accepted as sentient beings, thus perceived as capable of experiencing, distress, fear and pain in addition to their ‘pleasure in winning’. Yet, minimal research in horse psychological and physiology, before, during and after races exists.

Wanting to win or fearing the Whip?

An alternative explanation for the horse’s death could be forced fatigue caused by the use of the whip. The controversial use of the whip is often defended with remarks such as “horses’ have thicker skin” proposing they don’t feel the pain as humans do. An opinion refuted by a comparison study of skin from a horse’s flank area and human’s. Findings presents horses’ as possessing thinner epidermis, therefore, less cells between the painful stimuli (whip) and their sensory fibres. Also, via immunohistochemistry (staining of nerve endings) displayed a higher number of nerve endings in horses’ epidermis where the pain reception occurs [6].  

In 2011, the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) commissioned a review of the whip in cooperation with: World Horse Welfare and Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals [7]. The review states use of the equipment as for purposes of ‘safety, correction and encouragement’ [7]. Also, declaring that if used correctly, should be painless to the animal. The report acknowledges previous failures in regulating the use and recommends that to prevent the counterproductive use of the whip, jockeys and trainers may require more recent training in learning theories to promote proper “encouragement” rather than punishment. Additionally, the proposed regulations halved the number of times a jockey may whip during a race and restricted distances in which whipping can occur (whipping is common to become more frequent after the final jump). Furthermore, the enforcement of financial penalties and riding suspensions for those who breached the regulations were advised [7].

However, reports since 2011 show a reversion to old habits. Amendments were made to the proposed regulations to lessen penalties and reduce the whip restrictions as a result of jockey strikes [8]. Also, the presence wealed horses (an accumulation of fluid in the skin as a reaction to a hit from a whip) running continued to be reported [7] with increases in regulation breaches were recorded as high as 524 times in 2017 [8]. Hence, showing that the use of the whip and overall equine welfare is implicated by training for and participating events.


Ban the whip?

While banning the whip (and horseracing altogether!) would appear ideal to some, if the whip is necessary for safety as reported, the issue may lie with the judging of use of the whip. Improper use can be declared by a steward employed by the BHA who monitors the jockeys during races. Improper use is defined in vague terms by the BHA and enforcement is left to their personal subjectivity [9].  Hence, Animal Aid have motioned a petition for an independent regulatory board to better assess equine welfare [10]. 


How you can help:

  • Sign the petition.

  • Do not attend events or bet on equine events, as this financially supports and raises demand for the industry.




  1. Crowhurst, A. (2017). Many Clouds and Thistleback, Cotswold Chase, Cheltenham. 28 Jan. Available at: https://www.gettyimages.co.uk/license/632904078 [accessed 22 Feb . 2018].
  2. British Horseracing Authority. (2017). Many clouds post mortem concluded. 30 Jan. Available at: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/press_releases/many-clouds-post-mortem-concluded/ [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  3. Animal Aid. (2018a). Race horse death watch. Available at: http://www.horsedeathwatch.com/index.php [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  4. Deloitte. (2016). 70m tickets sold for UK sports event. 14 Dec. Available at: https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/press-releases/articles/70m-tickets-sold-for-uk-sports-event.html [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  5. Racing UK. (2017). Many clouds tragedy at Cheltenham – racing UK. 30 Jan. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IOSHAgZ3_6w [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  6. Tong, L. (2015). Using science to answer the question: does whipping hurt horses? Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/download/Horse_Whipping_report_Dr_Lydia_Tong.pdf [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  7. British Horseracing Authority. (2011). Responsible regulation: a review of the use of the whip in horseracing. Sep. Available at: https://www.britishhorseracing.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/WhipReview.pdf [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  8. Animal Aid. (2018b). Animal aid’s campaign to ban the whip. Available at: https://www.animalaid.org.uk/the-issues/our-campaigns/horse-racing/animal-aids-campaign-ban-whip/ [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  9. British Horseracing Authority. (2016). Schedule 6 – causing interference and improper use of the whip. 01 Jan. Available at: http://rules.britishhorseracing.com/Orders-and-rules%26staticID=126403%26depth=3?zoom_highlight=whip [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].
  10. Pereira, F. (2018). Petitions: create a new independent welfare body to protect racehorse abuse and death. Available at: https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/211950 [accessed 22 Feb. 2018].


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