Off The Pace: changing the attitude toward horse racing

A wise person once told me: “if you want to change somebody’s behaviour you must first change their attitude”.

In Blog 1 last week, I discussed research that indicated society’s perception toward horse racing is becoming increasingly negative.

Data can show us what people are doing and saying, but we need to look deeper to work out what influences attitude before we can begin to encourage change.

Our attitude is predominantly shaped by two things: our beliefs and our experiences.

Our beliefs are largely crafted by our upbringing.

I grew up in rural New Zealand on a small farm. From a young age I was lambing ewes, bottle-feeding bobby calves and plucking chickens. The Sunday roast was often born and raised in our backyard. I rode ponies and Dad raced standardbreds. I was fully exposed to the normal livestock/deadstock realities of agriculture.

This is vastly different to my friend who grew up in Potts Point, Sydney. For her, Sunday roast came from aisle four at Woolies. Her perspective of the animal life cycle was shaped by her formal education, and physical interaction with animals was through field trips to a farm or Taronga Zoo.

Based on my upbringing, my beliefs about using animals for a specific purpose are more pragmatic than my friend’s beliefs.

Neither is wrong, neither is right.

What’s important is acknowledging the difference, because it shows us where there are gaps in awareness we can fill with experiences.

My Potts Point friend isn’t immediately anti-racing because of her urbanised upbringing; she just doesn’t know much about it.

Therefore, her future attitude toward the industry – whether she becomes an active participant, remains indifferent or stands out the front of the racecourse with a placard protesting against it, will be formed by her ongoing horse racing experiences.


Image: Lisa Grimm

Our experiences are comprised of a series of ‘micro-moments’ that shape our opinions and decision-making.

“Micro-moments are critical touch points within today’s consumer journey, and when added together, they ultimately determine how that journey ends.” – Think with Google

Today’s battle for hearts, minds, and dollars is won (or lost) in moments of decision-making and preference-shaping that occur throughout our day-to-day lives. Our task is to ensure that positive moments are more frequent and remarkable than negative moments.

The challenge of engaging younger demographics isn’t limited to Australian horse racing; the issue exists across a range of sports and industries.

It is influenced by our changing profile:

  • We are raised differently: Fifty years ago, one in six Australians grew up in a rural environment; today it is one in ten. In 2017, two thirds of Australians reside in a capital city.
  • We digest information differently: the average Australian spends over ten hours online per day. For almost half, checking social media is the first thing they do each morning.
  • And young people have different social standards, globally. A recent Nielsen study found 81% of millennials expect companies to publically state their corporate social responsibility standards.

Over the last several decades, competition for recreational spend has become fiercer than ever. To remain viable in a more sophisticated and competitive market, racing put on a bigger party and wagering promotion increased.

But in the fight for minds and dollars, we forgot about the heart.

Take yourself back a few years… how did your love for horse racing begin?

For me, a deep love of horses transitioned into a passion for the thoroughbred when I first visited Cambridge Stud as a 10-year-old.

I enjoy attending the races to have a drink and a bet, however my ongoing love for the sport has been sustained through Champions like Sunline and Black Caviar. It still blows my mind to watch a foal being born and then stand 30 minutes later.

For you, it may be owning a winner with a group of friends, pulling off a long-range multibet or being trackside when Winx hits top stride.

Image: Bronwen Healy

Horse racing has an incredible capacity to create emotion. It is a sport that makes grown men and women cry.

This emotion is powerful. If captured in engaging content, it can become the vehicle for inspiring positive horse racing moments.

For example, to appeal to my Potts Point friend, a 30 second video of an Instagram influencer meeting Black Caviar’s gorgeous newborn foal will attract her attention and pull her heartstrings.

This video can link to an interactive site that shows the life journey Black Caviar’s foal will eventually complete, from a young foal to racehorse into broodmare.

It can engage her further with a YouTube video of Black Caviar’s incredible racing career. The site could offer the opportunity for my friend to visit a horse stud.

This would be a series of positively influenced moments.

Every sector of the horse racing industry has an abundance of moments for ‘education by entertainment’ that can be distributed to specific audiences.

Image: Bronwen Healy

Equally as important is the consideration of negative moments.

A negative moment could be a newspaper headline about a drug positive, an ill informed Facebook post on two-year-old racing, or witnessing a catastrophic race breakdown.

These will also ultimately contribute to a person’s attitude toward horse racing. Unfortunately, these too are often highly emotive.

The antidote here is to be proactive, so when negative experiences occur, their effects are mitigated. It requires the horse racing industry to be addressing issues long before they hit the media and for accurate content to be immediately available when a person wants to become correctly informed.

In this instance, information transparency is crucial.

There is power in a unified voice, armed with accurate facts.

Considering the shifting social changes of modern Australia, it is interesting to see how another industry is tackling its own challenges.

Meat Livestock Australia is an organisation established to stimulate demand of Australian red meat.

MLA found that Australians living in major cities have little direct knowledge of what happens on farms. The widening disconnect between the people producing food and those consuming it is encouraging misinformation in the marketplace.

As part of MLA’s broad marketing strategy, they empower farmers to become industry advocates. By arming participants with factually correct information, producing education material and resources, farmers are encouraged to speak out. Here is an extract from their website, Target 100:

“It’s easy to complain that city people don’t understand about life on the farm or the issues of agriculture. It’s also frustrating to see incorrect information in the media, but unless we correct this information ourselves, how will the situation change?

It can be as simple as sending a quick email or making a few phone calls to your network of city friends if you see something in the media that is incorrect.

Marketers know that ‘word of mouth’ is the most trusted and effective form of communication and it’s something that producers can easily do. Every time you tell five people something, they are likely to tell more people and so on. So rather than just being frustrated, tell people what is really happening.”

It’s a simple strategy, but effective. It’s also easily applied to the horse racing industry.

Image: Bronwen Healy

Recently, Dr Meredith Flash, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne revealed a list of ‘anti-racing myths’, which scientifically refute the propaganda promoted by activists.

And prior to the Melbourne Cup last year, Dr Natasha Hamilton from the University of Sydney published an opinion piece:

“I, too, used to judge the racing industry harshly, based on what I had seen on TV. This changed the day I set foot on a racetrack for the first time, when I fell completely in love with the industry…

A misconception I commonly hear is “racing two-year-olds is cruel; they aren’t mature enough”. Our group addressed this by comparing the career lengths of 117,000 horses that started racing at different ages. We showed that horses that raced at two years old had significantly longer careers than those that had their first start later in life.”

It is hard to overstate the importance of research produced by Dr Flash and Dr Hamilton; it takes accurate facts to fight untruths currently being circulated.

It also takes an army of passionate ambassadors to distribute those facts and change attitudes. Judging by how widely this blog has been shared over the last week, all over the world, passionate participants is one thing our industry has in abundance.

Off The Pace: changing the attitude toward horse racing