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Mark Knight explains why he thinks the abuse and killing of ex-racehorses is a crying shame

Mark Knight, October 24, 2019 5:30PM Herald Sun

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Protesters rally outside the Caulfield Cup after it was revealed ex-racehorses were being abused and killed. Picture: Getty Images media_cameraProtesters rally outside the Caulfield Cup after it was revealed ex-racehorses were being abused and killed. Picture: Getty Images


Reading level: orange

WARNING: Distressing content about cruelty to animals.

On the eve of the Spring Racing Carnival in Melbourne and the Everest race in Sydney, the horse racing industry was rocked* by a story revealing video of retired racehorses being killed on a large scale at an abattoir* in south-east Queensland.

The footage was shocking and showed abattoir workers beating the terrified horses with lengths of pipe and using electric cattle prods* on them.

The story triggered outrage across the country and calls for better ways of dealing with ex-racehorses.

Protesters Rally At Race Days Across Australia Over Horse Racing Cruelty Allegations media_cameraProtesters calling for cruelty to ex-racehorses to end. Picture: Getty Images

I saw the footage, and even though I knew that many racehorses that are not successful or when their racing days are finished, end up in the knackery*, I found this hard to watch.

My family and I have owned horses for more than 30 years. We are not into racing, our horses are for riding. My wife and I have competed in polocrosse* and polo* and our daughter was at pony club from the age of six. She is now 16 and competes in dressage* and showjumping* on a thoroughbred* we own called Elvis.

He, like a lot of the horses we have owned over the years is an ex-racehorse, retrained for a new life after racing.

Another thoroughbred gelding* of ours, Mr Cruz, died of old age at 34 in our paddock. He was an ex-racer who became a good polocrosse pony, then a bush-riding hack* for us. He was much loved by us and had a long and wonderful life after racing, but he was one of the lucky ones. Not all ex-racehorses successfully make the switch to riding hack or dressage mount for various reasons from temperament* to injuries gained from the track. And there are just too many horses to re-home. We’d have one in every backyard.

Mark Knight’s cartoon. Right-click and open in new tab for full-screen image

Mark Knight cartoon on Phar Lap crying media_cameraMark Knight’s cartoon showing Phar Lap crying.

So I came to this story with many thoughts in my head. Most people involved in racing love their horses, and were saddened and angry, as was I.

I thought about the great history of horse racing in this country and the many famous horses from Winx, Black Caviar and Makybe Diva to the first Melbourne Cup winner Archer in 1861. (He won the first two actually!)

But without question, the most famous racehorse in Australian racing history was the big red gelding Phar Lap. He won the Melbourne Cup in 1930 and the public loved him so much that after his death in 1932 his body was preserved and is on show at the Melbourne Museum.

In trying to come up with a cartoon to illustrate the slaughter* of the horses and the public outcry, I wondered what Phar Lap might think.

Horses are herd animals. They stick together for safety. How might the greatest feel about kin in the industry who were not so celebrated and cherished*, but were pushed aside and disposed of?

The simple way was a tear.

So I drew Phar Lap in his display cabinet at the Melbourne Museum at night time when the museum is closed. He stands in the darkness alone, but he is alert, his head up and turning toward something as horses do when they sense danger, ears pricked forward, eyes wide.

And there from the corner of his eye, we see a tear shed.

Phar Lap’s emotional and empathetic* response was symbolic of the public’s feelings on the treatment of former racehorses.


  • rocked: caused great shock
  • abattoir: a place where animals are killed for food
  • prods: a pointed instrument (sometimes electrified) to make animals move
  • knackery: a place that deals with removal and clearing of dead animals that are unfit for humans to eat
  • polocrosse: a team sport that is a combination of polo and lacrosse
  • polo: game resembling hockey but played on horseback
  • dressage: a sport involving the execution of precise movements by a trained horse
  • showjumping: a sport of riding horses over a course of fences and other obstacles
  • thoroughbred: a horse of pure breed
  • gelding: a male horse that has had its testicles removed
  • hack: a worn-out horse
  • temperament: a person or animal’s nature
  • slaughter: kill
  • cherished: adored
  • empathetic: ability to understand and share the feelings of another


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  1.  Why were protesters outside the Caulfield Cup recently?
  2. Name the first horse to win the Melbourne Cup.
  3. Where can you see Phar Lap today?
  4. Horses are herd animals. What does this mean?
  5. Who is Mr Cruz?

to come

1. Caption it!
Cartoonist Mark Knight has used no words to express the emotions and empathy he imagined Phar Lap would be feeling after hearing of the cruel treatment of former racehorses.

Read Mark’s explanation of what the cartoon means again and write two, three or four short sentences, just to make sure you understand what the cartoon is saying.

Using your sentences to help you, write a new caption for the cartoon or a new thought bubbles from Phar Lap that will make Mark’s meaning clearer for children or people who haven’t been reading the news this week.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
Look through the most recent stories on Kids News and choose one to draw a cartoon about. Use Mark’s three-step process to get started:

  • What is my subject?
  • What do I want to say about this issue?
  • How do I say it? Do I use visual metaphors (an image that the viewer is meant to understand as a symbol for something else), multiple panels or symbolism (when one idea, feeling or emotion is represented by something else such as a: picture, character, colour or object)?

Time: allow at least 40 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum links: English, Humanities, Visual Arts, Critical and Creative Thinking

With a partner see if you can you identify all the doing words/verbs in this text. Highlight them in yellow and then make a list of them all down your page. Now see if you and your partner can come up with a synonym for the chosen verb. Make sure it still makes sense in the context it was taken from.

Try to replace some of the original verbs with your synonyms and discuss if any are better and why.

Curriculum Links: English, Big Write and VCOP

HAVE YOUR SAY: How did you feel after reading this story about cruelty to ex-racehorses?
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will show until approved by editors.

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