The RSPCA is calling on all Australian horse racing codes to address the widespread use of tongue ties due to the serious and unnecessary animal welfare issues they are inflicting on horses.
As shown on ABC's Four Corners, a tongue tie is a large elastic band or nylon stocking that is tightly wrapped around a horse’s tongue and then tied around the lower jaw to keep the tongue in place during training or racing.
RSPCA Australia Chief Scientific and Strategy Officer Dr Bidda Jones said tongue tie use results in horses showing signs of pain, anxiety, distress, difficulty swallowing, cuts and lacerations to the tongue, and bruising and swelling.
“While most Australians are opposed to the use of whips in racing because of their welfare impact, most will have no idea what a tongue tie is, let alone that these gruesome devices are being applied to over 30% of racehorses without any requirement for veterinary approval,” said Dr Jones.
“The restriction of blood flow by tongue tie use can cause the tongue to turn blue and can result in permanent tissue damage – and for what? The vast majority of horses do not need it and never get used to them.
“Trainers resort to using a tongue tie with the aim of boosting racing performance, but for the vast majority of horses this is an unnecessary and distressing intervention,” said Dr Jones.
The main justification for using a tongue tie is to prevent ‘choking’, or the airway being obstructed by soft tissue at the back of the horse’s mouth, research indicates that while tongue ties may assist a small proportion of horses, how a tongue tie actually achieves this outcome is unclear, and ties have no beneficial effect on most horses.
“Tongue ties are used by 72% of Thoroughbred trainers and 85% of Standardbred trainers, and once a horse has had a tongue tie applied it is likely to have one put on for every other race,” said Dr Jones.
The RSPCA explains the little-known process as a trainer or similar firmly grabbing hold of a horse’s tongue and twisting a tie, usually made of nylon stocking, leather or elastic, around the base of a horse’s tongue in a figure of eight, then pulling or tying the band over the bottom jaw to hold the tongue in place.
The band is applied as tightly as the trainer or handler decides with no requirement for veterinary assessment or diagnosis before or after use and without any time limits enforced.
“We have previously written to both Racing Australia and Harness Racing Australia raising concerns about their use with no action being taken so far to restrict their use,” said Dr Jones.
“The RSPCA is continuing to call for immediate changes to racing rules to require veterinary approval to use a tongue tie and limits set on the duration of their use, with the long-term goal to see them eliminated from all racing codes.
“We will continue our work to end the widespread use of painful devices that continue to affect the daily welfare of Australian racehorses, including tongue ties and whips.
“It’s time for these ‘performance’ methods to be out in the open and seen by the Australian public for what they really are –painful and unnecessary,” said Dr Jones.