Around 25 individuals were arrested on Saturday, April 16, 2022, after animal rights protestors entered Ayr Racecourse in an attempt to prevent the Scottish Grand National. Animal Rising, the group responsible for the demonstration, infiltrated the racetrack by climbing over and under fences shortly before the £200,000 race began. The group claimed that activists attempted to attach themselves to jumps and gates to stop the event. Despite the efforts of the protestors, the race began on schedule at 3:38 pm and was won by Kitty’s Light ridden by Jack Tudor.
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Mairs praised the prompt response of stewards and Police Scotland officers who were able to prevent any disruption caused by the protest. In addition to the failed attempt to disrupt the Scottish Grand National, Mr. Mairs revealed that there was another effort to disrupt a later race by a smaller group of protestors. He confirmed that both incidents resulted in people being safely removed, and there were no reported injuries. The Assistant Chief Constable further disclosed that there were 25 arrests made that day, and inquiries were ongoing.
The Animal Rising group had previously disrupted the Grand National at Aintree just seven days prior to the Scottish Grand National. The protest at Aintree delayed the race by around 15 minutes, and over 100 people were arrested and charged with criminal disruption. During the Aintree protest, activists tried to run onto the racetrack, climbed fences, and two individuals glued themselves to a jump using lock-on devices. Moreover, the demonstrators staged a sit-in protest on the M57, which caused confusion for people travelling to and from the racetrack.
Sarah McCaffrey, a member of Animal Rising, stated that the Aintree protest began a "crucial conversation about our relationship with animals and nature." McCaffrey added that "today we continue that conversation. As a society, we love animals, but we have to find a way to care for them without harming them." The protestor emphasised that the conversation was particularly essential in Scotland, where there was ample potential for nature and wildlife to flourish. McCaffrey further stated that "an end to horse racing, as well as a transition to a plant-based food system, are key elements of this kinder, safer future."
At Aintree, the increased security presence led to 118 arrests made by Merseyside Police. In contrast, only a handful of protestors participated in the Scottish Grand National demonstration, with Ayr’s managing director David Brown praising the swift action of the police and security teams on course. Brown commended the professionalism displayed by the Scottish team and praised how efficiently they managed the situation. He further stated that "the race went off to time, there was no notable delay, and I think for me this is Scotland’s showpiece race, and it all ran to time." Brown highlighted the success of the Scottish Grand National and congratulated Christian Williams, who won it for the second year in a row with Kitty’s Light after finishing second last year.
The Animal Rising group has been criticised for its aggressive methods of activism, which have resulted in the disruption of significant events. The organisation's actions have raised concerns about public safety and the impact they may have on the industries they target. Horse racing is a major industry in Scotland and the United Kingdom, generating substantial revenue and employment opportunities for thousands of people. The protestors' demands to end the sport could have significant consequences, such as job losses and a decline in tourism. However, the Animal Rising group maintains that their primary objective is to bring attention to animal welfare and the treatment of animals in the racing industry.
Animal welfare and the treatment of animals in the racing industry are vital issues that need addressing. The racing industry has made significant efforts to improve animal welfare and safety in recent years, including stricter regulations, improved veterinary care, and greater transparency in reporting injuries. However, there is still much more work to be done to ensure the welfare and safety of horses.
Protests and demonstrations have been effective in raising awareness about animal welfare issues and pushing for change. However, aggressive and disruptive methods can cause harm and disruption. More constructive and productive ways of raising awareness and pushing for change need to be explored. Dialogue between animal welfare groups, industry stakeholders, and policymakers could lead to more productive outcomes for both animals and the industry.