Box office smash sparks animal welfare debate

Animal cruelty charges against a top racing trainer depicted in the Australian biopic Ride Like a Girl have reignited discussions surrounding the training and treatment of horses in the industry.

The film tells the rags to riches story of Michelle Payne who became the first female jockey to win a Melbourne Cup in 2015.

Darren Weir, who had significant involvement in Payne’s victory, was charged this week with nine counts of animal cruelty including causing ‘unreasonable pain or suffering’ to a racehorse.

He was banned from training horses for four years in January 2019.

The film’s premiere was met with protests from The Coalition For The Protection of Horses for using feminism to glorify the industry and justify animal exploitation.

This has not stopped movie-goers from watching the film however, which has received favourable reviews from critics.

Ride Like a Girl is the highest grossing Australian movie of 2019 so far.
Photo: Simone Grogan.

Ride Like a Girl director Rachel Griffiths addressed the protests on ABC Radio Adelaide comparing the activities to that of militant vegans.

The Coalition For The Protection of Horses communications director Kristin Leigh said this was a tactic to shift discussion away from the real issue.

“It’s that way of demonising vegans or anyone who wants to call out animal abuse…rather than really responding to the valid issue we were raising,” she said.

“We will never have a kind and equal world if we’re climbing on the backs of others, literally, to get there. So we felt it was really important to call that out.”

She explained that the film’s celebration of Michelle Payne’s victory was a promotion of animal abuse.

“There’s a lot of women that have achieved wonderful things in other industries that we could be celebrating.

“We don’t see it as something to be proud of because there is suffering of other beings that are involved,” Kristin said.

“So going to see that film is putting money into the pockets of filmmakers that glorify animal abuse.”

Listen to our extended interview with Kristin Leigh here.

Racing media presenter Michael Heaton said that the allegations against one trainer did not represent the entire racing industry.

“The common misconception would be that if Australia’s number one trainer is doing that then every trainer is doing that and I don’t think that’s the case at all, ” Michael said.

“I think it’s like the integrity of any sport there would be a minority that may break the rules.

“The racing industry is pouring millions of dollars every year into the rehoming of race horses and equine welfare.”

He added that the response to Ride Like a Girl had been positive.

“A lot of the industry participants have seen the film and it’s received very good feedback.”

There is no suggestion Michelle Payne was involved in any illegal or unethical conduct. 

Darren Weir is due to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on October 23.