Has the world gone mad? Jockey punches horse and receives four-day ban

This ridiculously light punishment was not even given immediately by the Turf Club – the body responsible for all-Ireland flat, national hunt and point-to-point racing – instead, they wished to issue him with a mere caution! How can a four-day ban, let alone a caution, be a suitable reprimand for this callous, unprovoked attack on a defenceless animal?

It was only after the case was reviewed by the registrar of the Irish National Hunt Steeplechase Committee, Josh Byrne, that the original decision was deemed too lenient. And, worse still, it was only after the significant public outcry that the authorities increased the punishment after the video of Russell, where he is shown striking the back of the head of his charger after it ran aggressively at a “show” hurdle before the race had even set off, went viral.

Russell on the defensive!

Worse is still to come; Russell even defended his disgusting actions!

“At that stage she was out of control and if she had continued in that vein during the race then I would have had a very difficult time trying to control her.

“I just needed to let her know there was someone on her back and I thought a slap on the soft of the neck was the appropriate action.” Davy Russell

Shock! Support for Russell

And, to top it all off, he has even been backed up by fellow jockeys and followers of the sport.

“On the video I saw, it looked as if the horse was paying no attention to Davy’s instructions to slow down going into the hurdle.

“I cannot believe what some people are saying. Some of the things I’ve read have been ridiculous. The reaction on social media has been way over the top. There was no malicious intent there and people need to realise that.” Robbie Power, Cheltenham Gold Cup-winner.

Robbie Power declaring there being “no malicious intent” is like Kim Jong-Un saying he is a peaceful man. How those words could even come from someone so respected in the sport like Power is beyond a joke. The reaction on social media is totally and utterly warranted; a horse – a prized asset and, above all, an animal that is pushed to its mental and physical capacity – some horses even to a point of exhaustion or injury that results in their euthanization such as the Brown Panther in the Irish St Leger in September 2015 – deserves to be treated like the heroic animal it is.

Treatment of horses

Whether Kings Dolly was paying attention to Russell’s commands or not, this does not mean that a punch to the head was the right thing to do. Indeed, Russell should never have even taken such a move into thought or consideration. In a sport which has often been thrust into the limelight courtesy of the whipping horses sustain from their jockeys and the general physical limits they are pushed too, this attack has exaggerated the attacks on the sport in general.

The use of the whip in horse racing, for example, has been and continues to be a greatly contentious issue, not just in Britain, but around the world. This passionate debate has been ongoing for decades and is often cited as the reason that many people actively dislike horse racing. In England, new whip rules restrict the number of times a horse may be struck, whilst Norway has banned them altogether. What the sport needs is a rule for all nations, either ban it completely or leave it in.

Punch bags

Whilst the debate over the whip may be slightly off-topic, it concentrates heavily on the furore throughout the world aimed at the attitude that jockeys have towards their horses. The punching of a horse by Russell clearly demonstrates how they are thought of as, literally, punch bags, for jockeys to take out their anger on. The whip may be a tool to make the horse run faster – usually towards the end of a race – but it is clear to the viewer that jockeys use all their force to strike the animal.

“Horses, like any other animal, should be treated with respect, and punching one is disrespectful.” RSPCA equine consultant David Muir.

David Muir has been relatively passive in his response considering he is from the RSPCA; punching a horse is not just disrespectful, it is inhumane and a despicable act. A four-day ban for it, frankly, is condoning the act. Imagine in real life, a thug attacking a horse – he would likely be imprisoned. Barry Rogerson, the Newcastle United fan whom punched a police horse following his side’s defeat in the Tyne-and-Wear derby in 2013, was banned from football for six years and jailed for a year. Yet, Russell gets off scot free.

Even more laughable is the fact that Russell’s suspension will begin in a fortnight’s time, meaning he is free to race in the upcoming Listowel festival. Russell needed to be made an example of, to show the British public – many of whom despise the sport in the first place – that such violence is not tolerated. In giving him what is, essentially four-day leave, the sport has confirmed critics’ arguments and damaged its credibility even further.