A harness-racing driver who was filmed punching a horse in the head during a race has unsuccessfully appealed his seven-day suspension.
It’s a move animal rights activist are calling “pathetic” given how paltry they say the suspension was in the first place.
“It’s just pathetic to appeal a seven-day sentence for punching a horse in the head,” spokeswoman for Animal Save NZ, Summer Jane, said.
“Seven days is simply not appropriate to send a message that this kind of behaviour is not acceptable…and then for him to appeal it as well.”
Jane said that if there was a video of someone punching a dog or another “companion animal” then there would be public outrage.
“Just because it was a horse competing in a race doesn’t make this any more acceptable,” she said.
Jane went on to say that the Racing Integrity Board’s decision focused primarily on the public perception of the incident as opposed to the animal abuse that had occurred on live television.
Harness-racing driver Jonny Cox was filmed at the Rangiora Raceway in May punching horse Kiwi Hero multiple times during a race.
Kiwi Hero was trailing Cox, who was driving his horse Just Michael, and Cox said that the other driver was getting too close to the point where there could have been a dangerous situation arising.
He told the Racing Integrity Board at a hearing after the race that his actions were for his own safety and for the safety of the other drivers and that he’d called to the other driver to pull back without success.
During the original hearing Cox showed three videos from three other races where a driver had reacted to a trailing horse following too closely and in none of those incidents had the rider been charged.
However, counsel for the board at the original hearing said it was “improper” to strike a horse in the head area “particularly given Industry concerns as to matters of animal welfare and the Appellant’s actions were clearly visible on Trackside television to a wide audience.
“It is the submission of the Respondent, that the actions of the Appellant on this occasion, amounted to a terrible look for Harness Racing.”
Cox was handed down a seven-day suspension but appealed it by way of a rehearing.
During the rehearing the Board looked at the three videos Cox submitted as evidence of other drivers who had reacted to horses that had gotten too close and concluded they were “far less than what the appellant resorted to”.
“Not only that, but attitudes towards animal welfare have stiffened considerably over the last five years,” the Board said in its decision released yesterday.
“It is critical for the Industry to take, and be seen to take, stern measures where any issues of animal welfare arise, in order to maintain its current social licence to operate.”
The Board said it could not see any safety issues which could in any way justify the actions Cox took.
“Perception is reality and it was a poor look for the Industry.”
“In the Appeals Tribunal’s view, it is never acceptable to strike a horse in the head region, whether in a race or not.”
The Board dismissed Cox’s appeal and imposed his seven-day penalty to begin.
Cox did not respond to a request for comment.