Monday 21 April 2014

You're wrong, Ruby

Horses are not replaceable, and neither are other animals - dogs, cats, or even hamsters. Just because they’re not human doesn’t mean that their lives are any less worthwhile than mine or yours. Animals are sentient beings with the ability to think and feel just like humans. This only goes to show that their lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s.

After all, you merely have to talk to someone who has lost a beloved pet and they’ll undoubtedly tell you that animals are definitely not replaceable. Because they’re not – it’s as simple as that.

This follows jockey Ruby Walsh’s recent comments at the Cheltenham Festival, where he said that horses are replaceable and people are not. Despite receiving a massive backlash Ruby has continued to stick by his controversial comments, angering animal rights activists, anti-racing campaigners, and members of the public alike.

It’s not entirely surprising that Ruby has received so much criticism over his comments, given that the UK is widely known as a nation full of animal lovers. Instead it just goes to show how little he cares about animals, and therefore how out of step he is with the rest of us.

These remarks show an obvious lack of concern for animal welfare from Ruby. Surely being a jockey means he would have formed a bond with the horses he rides? I would have thought that all the hours of training and race preparations he undergoes would have helped him to do that. But apparently this is not the case. Certainly if I were a jockey I would want to get to know the horses so I could learn to recognise each horse’s distinct personality.

Ruby’s comments clearly illustrate that he has got little respect for the horses that have helped to bring him success over his 20 year career. It is disrespectful, not least because it shows that he thinks horses are nothing more than a means to an end – a way for him to make money and be successful. He should not disregard the lives of horses just because they aren’t humans. Horses are not machines, so they don’t deserve to be treated like them.

This just demonstrates Ruby’s complete lack of empathy for the many horses that have died during races. It’s estimated that around 400 horses die every year during or as a result of horseracing. To put that into perspective, 11 horses died at the 2006 Cheltenham Festival and there hasn’t been a Festival without a fatality since.

It’s sad to think that equine tragedies are still so commonplace today - even with all the new safety measures that have been brought in. These supposedly safer racing measures have included the introduction of new starting methods, smaller jumps, and stricter monitoring of the horses’ health.
There is also debate over whether the new measures are actually working. Evidence suggests that in an attempt to make the sport safer, it’s actually becoming more dangerous. For example, fewer and smaller jumps mean the horses are able to run faster for longer. This wears them out more quickly and puts an increased strain on their bodies.

Despite all of this, the statistics don’t lie: the death toll isn’t changing.

Maybe this is because of the people involved in the racing industry. If Ruby is anything to go by they aren’t taking animal welfare seriously at all, which renders the whole concept of improved safety methods pointless. It’s the attitudes that need to adjust, not the rules. If the jockeys aren’t co-operating, nothing will change and horses will continue to die needlessly.

But this isn’t the first time Ruby has caused controversy. Back in 2011 he earned a 5 day suspension for overusing his whip on a horse. He then proceeded to spearhead a call for strike action and tried to overturn a change in the law regarding whip usage by threatening to stop competing in Britain altogether.
Ruby needs to realise that claims like these are only going to make him more unpopular. His high opinion of himself will simply make the inevitable fall in popularity harder to bear.

In an ironic turn of events Ruby fell from his horse during a race a few days after making his comments.  As a result of the fall he sustained injuries including a broken arm and fractured shoulder, which prohibited him from racing for 2 months.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find horses across the country snickering in their stables tonight. Poetic justice? I think so.

Are you a horse-racing fan? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Selfies... them or loathe them, you can’t escape them.

You only have to log in to Facebook to see most of your friend list posing and pouting for the camera. But why have they become so popular?

Five years ago most people would never have heard the word ‘selfie,’ let alone have known what one was. Analysts say that the usage has risen by a staggering 17,000% over the last year.
This is because lots of celebrities started taking selfies and posting them online. Fans saw photos by the likes of Rihanna, Justin Bieber, and Beyonce and started to take their own. Since then, the selfie craze has only got bigger.
2013 was dubbed ‘the year of the selfie’ and it was also the Oxford Dictionary word of the year.

It certainly seems that the selfie has become a firm fixture in the modern world.

Now you can get software that can add everything from filters to backgrounds into a selfie, and with apps like Instagram and SnapChat it has never been easier to share photos.

However, there is a lot of debate about the link between posting selfies online and cyber bullying. People argue that it promotes dissatisfaction and low self-esteem among teenagers, with bullies taking advantage of the anonymity of the internet to target vulnerable people.

Others say that selfies are a good thing as they can help to promote positive body image. One example of this is the body positive movement, which helps people accept and be happy with their body shape.

Now that selfies have become popular people are trying new and inventive ways to put their own twist on the craze. For instance, there are now selfies taken subtly by people at work, in cars, in school...not forgetting the ‘Selfie Olympics,’ where people competed to upload the most inventive selfie.

Arguably the most famous selfie is Ellen DeGeneres’ selfie from the Oscars, which now holds the Twitter record for the most retweeted post ever.

Despite all this, most selfies are still nothing more than harmless photos on social media.

Last year, the selfie of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service made news headlines across the world. It was heavily criticised for being inappropriate because of the circumstances, but they weren’t the only ones.

Until recently, there was a blog comprised of selfies people had taken at funerals. Submissions for the blog are now disabled, but this only happened because of the media’s interest.

Maybe this is a sign that the selfie craze has gone too far. Perhaps it’s time to stop the endless stream of photos and move on.

Besides, it won’t be long before a new trend emerges, and soon everyone will have forgotten about the humble selfie.

What are your thoughts on selfies? Let me know in the comments below!

Tuesday 8 April 2014

End to End - the ultimate British cycling challenge?

For years people have been cycling the length of the UK, from Cornwall’s Lands End to John O’Groats in Scotland. Nowadays it’s seen as the ‘done thing’ – you can’t really call yourself a keen cyclist unless you’ve done the trip. But why is it so popular? And is it really worth it?

To find out I talked to 29 year old Chris Magowan, who undertook the challenge in 2009.

“I loved it,” he told me. “It’s a brilliant way to see the country and I’d encourage anyone to give it a go.” 

Before the journey Chris wasn’t much of a cyclist. At the time he was living in a flat in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, with his friend Chris Kennedy. They were talking about all the things they’d been through together – GCSEs, A Levels, university – and they realised that they had completed everything they set out to do when they were at school, so didn’t have a target to aim for anymore.

So how did that lead to them doing End to End?

“Chris’ colleague Dan jokingly suggested the cycle, and Chris mentioned it expecting me to shoot it down but I said yes, and that was it. As far as I was concerned I was doing it.”

“We also thought it was a good opportunity to raise some money for a local charity. We managed to raise £2200 for the Hospice of St. Francis. I know several of the carers there and know they do a fantastic job - they need the support as the only funding they receive is through donations.”

Since he wasn’t cycling much at the time, Chris did a lot of training to prepare. He told me, “I trained quite a bit, gradually increasing the distances. I went from not riding a bike at all to cycling 10 miles to work.” 

Most people choose to go from Lands End to John O’Groats, but Chris did the trip the other way round, riding north to south. “Initially we decided to go north to south, purely because it sounded like going downhill. I spoke to someone who had done the cycle in both directions and he mentioned that the Cornwall/Devon section is the toughest due to the rolling hills.”

Despite enjoying the whole trip, Chris’ highlights were riding through the Scottish lochs and visiting Chester. “It was the end of our longest day and we walked into town to see all the old Tudor style buildings. Chester was a wonderful place to stay.”

It wasn’t all long days and hard work though, as Chris is quick to point out. “We did silly things to keep each other amused. One of my fondest memories is cycling up Rannoch Moor in the pouring rain singing ‘we all live in a yellow submarine.’ We also created a game of baa-ing at sheep when we passed a field. If we got a reply we got a point.”

It sounds like they had fun. “Except for Chris’ map-reading,” he laughs. “I map-read for the first 10 days but Chris began to whine that he was bored, so I let him map-read on day 11. Within half an hour we were lost in Bristol’s industrial area. After swearing never to let him map-read again, we had to climb over a fence and carry our bikes through a field to get back on the right road.”

They completed the 1024 mile trip in 15 days. “I was surprised how good I felt at the end. I would have been happy to turn around and go back!” He added he’d like to do the trip again, this time the opposite way around. 

So what’s next for Chris?

“I like the idea of cycling to Monaco for the Grand Prix...”

Chris also had some advice for people thinking about doing End to End. “Allow plenty of time to train and contact CTC (Cycle Touring Club) to review the different routes they have. It’s also useful to do a short trial run trip. But most of all, just go for it!”

Have you done the End to End challenge? Let me know in the comments below!