Horse riding, it’s like taking ecstacy

June 2, 2009

Tom Whipple
343 words
13 February 2009
The Times
(c) 2009 Times Newspapers Limited. All rights reserved

Every day thousands of Britons risk neurological damage, paralysis and even death for a temporary high. Some wealthy children — girls in particular — are enticed in before they are even teenagers.

Many are attracted by a gateway product that is perfectly legal: the Shetland pony.

Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, which advises the Government, has argued that the risks of horse riding, which he claims accounts for around 10 deaths and 100 road accidents annually, are similar to the risks of taking Ecstasy.

Around 30 people die each year from taking the drug.

Should horse riding therefore be banned? That is a philosophical debate.

Is Professor Nutt correct? That is a statistical debate. This week, after studying Ecstasy use, his council recommended downgrading the drug from Class A to B. The advice was then ignored by the Home Secretary.

Why will no politician even engage with these conclusions? To ignore science is not to ignore just another annoying political argument, it is to ignore our best mechanism for understanding the world: it is to ignore reality.

Here is the reality: one climber dies on Everest for every ten who reach the summit; two motorcyclists die every year in the Isle of Man TT race; competitive male rugby players have around a one in ten chance of injury in each game. These activities are deemed acceptable and encouraged, despite probably carrying more danger than ecstasy use.

If the Government chooses to ignore statistics, it should not be allowed to cite selectively — as it inevitably will — health justifications for maintaining the classification. Its own committee believes that those are not sufficient to justify Class A status for Ecstasy.

The argument now requires a definition as to why risk in some contexts — mountaineering, sailing, horse riding — is laudable, while in others — bare-knuckle boxing, Russian roulette, drug use — it is not. And then, at last, we will have not a scientific argument, but a philosophical one. Discuss.


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